Star Trek: Lower Decks Star Noël Wells Shares The Similarities Between Improv And Starfleet [Exclusive Interview]

The voice cast of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" has quite the challenge: They have to make their animated characters come to life not only in comedic ways, but they have to stay true to the franchise. That's a lot to take on, given the decades of "Star Trek" lore that have gone into making "Lower Decks," but the lower deckers do it with aplomb. Ensigns Boimler (Jack Quaid), Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and Tendi (Noël Wells) might be some of the newest characters to enter the "Star Trek" franchise, but they're also some of the most lovable. Blending ambitious, progressive science fiction with comedy is no easy feat, but between the sharp minds of the writers and the talents of the voice cast, "Lower Decks" manages to be both a great comedy and a brilliant "Star Trek" series. 

Each of the characters has grown tremendously in the first two seasons of "Lower Decks," but perhaps no one has changed as much as Tendi, the sweet science officer with a love of medicine and a rather unsavory pirate background. Tendi has become a fan favorite, as she's eternally enthusiastic about everything and is simply adorable. Season 3 sees Tendi exploring a new side of herself as she moves from medical to working in science, and it gives her all new ways to shine. 

I had the chance to sit down and chat over the phone with actor Noël Wells, who voices the precocious Orion, and she shared her hopes and dreams for the character, her "lower decks" experience in the real world, and the similarities between improv and Starfleet.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

'She's trying to flip the script.'

What do you think Tendi would want to have on her record as the first person to do in Starfleet history?

I mean, she's an Orion, right? So like getting into a leadership role that an Orion has never been in. I mean, I think that's what she's definitely trying to do. She's trying to flip the script on maybe the stereotypes that her race has had to face. So, becoming a captain would probably be something that she would be very interested in, just as far as being a ground breaker.

Do you think Tendi has any hobbies, or interests, or anything that are too nerdy to share with the rest of the lower deckers, or is she pretty much just nerdy on front street?

I think she's just nerdy on front street. She does not hide her excitement.

'She would just get a bunch of key chains'

Speaking of excitement, if she had gotten to spend some more time at the Bozeman Theme Park, what kind of souvenirs would she have considered must haves?

Key chains! When I was a kid, I used to collect key chains when I would visit places, so I just feel like she would just get a bunch of key chains, and stick them on her belt, walk around having them move around.

Tendi and Rutherford have become one of my favorite "Star Trek" duos. They're up there with Kirk and Spock, and Bashir and Garak. Can you tell me a little bit more about developing their relationship?

I knew Eugene [Cordero, the voice of Rutherford] from before, and there was always this inclination that they were going to be [close] ... In the beginning, I believe we recorded one time together, and that was like the one time that we really got to see each other's chemistry. As the seasons went on, and after they were writing it, they definitely were writing the script to have them go in and go out, will they or won't they, on a level. From developing that, I think that the fans love the characters and it's a little bit more fun for us to play into that, and to tease it a little when we're recording the lines to give people what they want. 

'This is a cast of people that love to make each other look good.'

With "Lower Decks" and "Strange New Worlds," it feels like we're back in this golden era of "Trek," back when "Next Gen" and "Deep Space Nine" were both on the air. Why do you think "Star Trek" is really resonating with people again?

I think we're definitely in a time right now in America that... First of all, these shows are so American, on a level they're the peak of the innovation of American entertainment, as well as sci-fi, but also looking toward a more egalitarian time and space where people are working together and there's diversity, and we're talking about challenges and issues that also represent the cultures. So, I think thematically it represents where we are as Americans, and also, we've come through a pandemic, and we need places to explore. 

You've done work with Upright Citizens Brigade and "Saturday Night Live," and I was wondering what you learned about collaboration and teamwork that you could apply to Starfleet.

Yeah, so actually me and Eugene came up in the same comedy circles and got to know each other, and Eugene actually was my improv teacher for maybe one or two classes when I first moved to Los Angeles. So, we came from a similar viewpoint, very much about propping up the other person, and that's important in comedy, and also for the audience. I think that almost everybody on the show comes from a strong, supportive comedy background, like Tawny [Newsome, who plays Mariner] did. I think so much of comedy is supporting the other person. Otherwise, you're going to be on an island on yourself, so you want everybody to win. This is a cast of people that love to make each other look good. 

'I actually worked three different ice cream scooping jobs.'

Did you ever have a lower deck-style job, like busing tables or something, that taught you about being at the bottom of the bottom like the lower deckers?

Yes. I have had so many lower deck-type jobs ... You name it, I've probably done it. I'm trying to think of what would be fun to tell you about, because I truly had so many terrible, terrible jobs. I've done fast food, I used to work in a mall, I actually worked three different ice cream scooping jobs. I've worked at theaters, where I was the person who cleans the theaters at the end of the night, like take the trash out while everybody else is leaving the theater. I mean, I've worked as an editor, which is the lower decks of television or entertainment on some level because you're just the person in the room that's editing together everything else that everybody's doing and making everybody look good but you're on your own. No one would recognize you!

'I like the idea of being on the cutting edge of something'

Would you join Starfleet, if you could? If you could, what kind of officer would you want to be?

I'm trying to think. I would join Starfleet, I like the idea of being on the cutting edge of something, and I'm not exactly sure what kind of officer that would make me, but, I mean, anything that would allow me to explore and/or be diplomatic, and bridging the gaps between conflict. 

So probably command?

Command but like, on the ground?

Kirk was always on the ground. 

Okay, cool.

'Everybody really wants to see me green.'

Is there anything you can tell me about the upcoming live-action crossover? Did they have to paint you green, or is there some other way they did it?

All I can say is that I am not live-action in this. I can't say more but I'm not live-action. 

So, you didn't have to be painted green. That's good.

Not yet, not yet, not yet. I keep getting asked. Everybody really wants to see me green. If people ask me enough times, the people pleaser in me will do whatever you want.

What is something about Tendi that you think might surprise people?

I personally believe Tendi belongs in a position of power, and I think that she's starting to come into her own, but there was sort of an inevitability to it. When we first get to see her she's so wide-eyed, so excited to be there and follows the rules, but she's discovering her true inner wellspring of power, and that it comes so naturally to her. 

New episodes of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" premiere Thursdays on Paramount+.