Star Trek: Picard's Terry Matalas On Creating 'A Different Kind Of Captain' Just For Todd Stashwick [Exclusive]

If a viewer's only experience with Starfleet captains is Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), one could easily get the impression that everyone in that position is stalwart, professional, clear-headed, and just the right blend of aloof and approachable. Picard was always a stern professional, leading by example and professionalism. He was hardly warm but indicated that he was always open to listening to his crew's suggestions during a crisis. Picard is like the college professor you don't want to disappoint — it feels good to earn his approval because you know his standards are high. 

Of course, several of Picard's professional peers take a very different approach. Capt. Sisko (Avery Brooks) had a short temper and led through heated debate. Sisko was a more passionate captain than Picard, lacking in patience and less worried about propriety. Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was seemingly warm, but over the course of "Star Trek: Voyager," revealed herself to be something of an authoritarian. And then there was Capt. Jellico (Ronny Cox), the commanding officer of the Enterprise-D when Picard was kidnapped by a Cardassian torturer. Jellico demanded formalism and propriety. He was cold, curt, the opposite of jocular. And he never conversed socially. 

The great thing about all these characters and their varied command styles is that there was no "right way" to be captain of a starship. There were just different ways to manage. In true "Star Trek" fashion, a new perspective is exciting and welcome ... even if we wouldn't like the character personally. 

Capt. Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick), newly introduced on "Star Trek: Picard," provides yet another welcome and exciting command perspective: what if a starship captain was kind of an a-hole?

Capt. Liam Shaw

/Film's own Vanessa Armstrong recently spoke with "Star Trek: Picard" showrunner Terry Matalas about Capt. Shaw and the dynamic the new character brings to both the show and the franchise at large. Matalas knew Stashwick from his TV adaptation of "12 Monkeys," and actively created, with the other "Picard" writers, a character that wouldn't just stand in the way of Picard in terms of plot, but stand opposite him in command philosophy. Matalas said: 

"Todd was on my last show, '12 Monkeys,' which was a four season show that was also my baby. When we got in the writers' room, some of those writers are also in this writers' room, and we knew we wanted to create a different kind of captain, a kind of blocking character for Riker and Picard. We thought it would be fascinating to see them throw around their Starfleet weight, and then suddenly there was a guy who was like, 'I don't give a s*** about you.'"

Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Picard, it should be noted, are older, retired Starfleet officers in "Picard," and aren't on active duty. They are respected for their past careers and their "elder statesman" status, but Shaw sees them as last-minute guests on his ship, the USS Titan-A. Picard and Riker are forced to sleep in bunks and have no sway when it comes to command decisions. Capt. Liam Shaw, then, is the captain who prefers structure and propriety to romantic notions like "legacy." 

It's weirdly refreshing to see ordinarily respected "Star Trek" characters taken down a peg. Not everyone, it seems, is going to react with awe and respect just because two old men are on board.

The perfect Stashwick

According to Matalas, Stashwick's curt acting style was perfect to communicate a mood of dismissal and general, callous disrespect. But, y'know, still professional. Matalas said:

"I think I said it just like that in the room and I go, 'Just imagine Captain Stashwick,' is what I said. So we immediately just ran from there, and there was never anyone else up for the role from that moment forward."

It seems that was before Stashwick was actually cast in the role. He was merely used as a guide for Matalas' writers' room. Indeed, the actor's name was used more often than the actual character's name. Luckily, when it came time to actually cast Capt. Shaw, Stashwick was available and willing. Fitting, as the character was modeled on him.

"I think a week later, I kept saying, 'Look, in the writers' room we keep saying Captain Stashwick.' And [other writers are] like, 'Great, I can't wait to see who plays him!' But a month later, when we came to casting, he got the call. There was never anyone else up for the role. It was written specifically for Todd. And I think you could feel it. I think it's what makes it special and I think that's why the audience is certainly responding to it, at least from what I've been able to tell."

Capt. Shaw is, to editorialize, a brilliant character. He's passionate and principled, but a self-described a-hole. Shaw used to be an engineer, so he prefers rules and technical specs to intuition, and is suspicious of warmth. Viewers may hate him, but they will love how rich and well-realized he is. Capt. Shaw is a highlight of the new season, and ambivalence-adoring Trekkies will have a grand time waiting for the moments when he displays genuine command brilliance.