With the May 5 premiere of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+, Celia Rose Gooding, who played the young Uhura (a role that originated with Nichelle Nichols), made her television debut. But the 22-year-old Westchester, New York-born actress and singer is far from a newcomer, cutting her teeth on Broadway as Frankie in the hit musical. Tooth dropsa performance that earned her a Tony nomination.
Renewed for season two, Strange new world is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, but for Gooding, television is a new frontier — a next step toward her EGOT goals (she’s already a quarter of the way there, with a 2021 Grammy award for a good musical album. most already on her fireplace). In his review of the new Star Trek series, CHEAPDaniel Fienberg’s Daniel Fienberg said, “Gooding is just a general fun, humorous and emotionally available piece that celebrates Nichelle Nichols’ original and makes Uhura her own.” Gooding spoke of the “tough” challenge of stepping into Uhura’s iconic role and the invaluable guidance she received from her mother, Tony Award winner LaChanze.
What does Broadway represent to you?
Broadway has been my haven since I was a little girl. The opportunity to leave my troubles behind the scenes and be transported to a completely different world was everything to me, especially growing up as a young black person in host institutions. Weak whites. Of course, growing up I learned that the things I was trying to avoid were inevitable, but live theater was still a means of escape for me.
When you auditioned for the role of Uhura, what drew you to this character?
Fun fact: I didn’t know I was auditioning for the role of Uhura until I applied. The casting went on in a very interesting way and I think they really gave me a little grace because I auditioned under a pseudonym. But her description of her personality really intrigued me: She’s been described as a bright, young prodigy who is deciding whether where she is right now is the place she wants to be right now. now or not. And as someone who is very young in this industry and still figuring out my clear goals and dreams in this life, I find that a lot of her stories and a lot of her mentality reflect my psyche – in another industry.
You’ve started with Broadway – theater and musicals are really your foundation. What was it like to move from that world to the world of television? Was there anything that surprised or challenged you about making this transition?
Having a stage background, the more I practice, the better my whole body becomes. It is much more physical in nature, as opposed to TV and movies, which are more related to my mind and thoughts. The main difference between theater and film is that with theater you can actually see everything that’s happening on stage at once, whereas film is anything the editors decide to share with you – and everything else is kind of off-camera and up to the viewer’s perception.
How does it feel to take on a role that audiences are already familiar with?
It is truly an honor to know Uhura’s future and how her story ends. But we don’t really learn much about her beginnings in Starfleet, and even in Original line we don’t really know about Uhura as a person. We know her as a communications officer – someone who used to work on the train – but we don’t really know how she got there and who she was before she became a woman. confident, wonderful and graceful female.
Joining something already well established versus starting a new musical and building it from the ground up? At first, I was overwhelmed because it was terrifying to hear that you are stepping into a role that has meant so much to so many people. The social and political aspects of this character and what it meant for a young black man in the 1960s to have a role on screen – it’s hard to believe and overwhelming to know all of that. And in the first season, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to consider who this character is and who she will end up being. But then I have to remind myself that that’s not where I am yet. I have to remind myself that I don’t need to play this character with all the knowledge of her future, because this character still doesn’t know anything about her future. I realized that its work would be shown in aspects of herself as this character ages – and as we continue with the seasons – instead of showing up as clones of the character we found in Original line.
What did winning the Grammy Award do? Tooth drops change for you?
Of course, I am someone with big dreams. Of course I acted like crazy. I have visions, dreams and goals for myself and my future and I would love to be an EGOT at some point. I just didn’t think it would start happening so soon! It feels unreal; I have never considered myself a vocalist; I have always identified myself as an actor with a voice and can sing if asked. So for my first big award, the Grammy, it’s like life is so wild.
Your mom is a Tony Award winner [best actress in a leading role in a musical in 2006 for her role as Celie Harris Johnson in The Color Purple]. What is the best advice your mother gave you?
Having someone as loved and respected in this industry as your mother is a gift. Honestly, it’s a blessing, because there are some things that I don’t know about, and I have someone in my life that I trust to give me an honest sense of what’s going to happen. I think her biggest piece of advice that I remind myself every day, is, “It’s not that deep.”
What do you remember about NYC when shooting in other places, such as in Toronto?
I miss the spontaneity of Manhattan. Almost everything I need is in a few blocks. I miss the city even when I’m at home in Westchester, so it’s definitely going to be hard to be this far away for months at a time. Things close pretty early in Toronto compared to NYC, and the pizza isn’t nearly as good. I miss my friends and community. I am someone who was raised by a village, so being away from them will make some acquaintances.
How has the NYC environment shaped you as a person and as a performer?
Something about the city makes you want to work harder. The knowledge that people around you are also trying to make their dreams come true is inspiration. Working in the city has definitely shaped me into the person I am today. It makes me tougher but also more empathetic. There were many people from all different walks of life who had gathered together on an island. I often have this thought on the train: “Everybody around me has a full life here, just as complicated and layered as mine. I know I will probably never see any of these people again, but we are all on this journey together.” It’s so beautiful.
The edited interview is long and clear.
A version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter May 17 issue. Click here to subscribe.