Why Star Trek Actress Yetide Badaki Panicked Over Strange New Worlds' Script

In the "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" episode "As Astra per Aspera" (June 22, 2023), Commander Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) faces a court-martial for lying on her Starfleet Academy application. She claimed to be a human, but was, in fact, a genetically enhanced Illyrian. Thanks to the disastrous, long-ago Eugenics Wars, genetic tinkering is strictly verboten in the world of "Star Trek." As such, lying about your genes is a particularly grievous offense. Captain Pike (Anson Mount), wanting to help his first officer, seeks out the legal aid of Neera Ketoul (Yetide Badaki), an Illyrian defense lawyer who will be brave enough to stand up to Starfleet's prosecution. Ketoul was also a childhood friend of Chin-Riley, and they have some bad blood about the latter's need to hide here identity to join Starfleet. 

Neera Ketoul is an interesting character for "Star Trek," as she has made it her job to make civil rights cases ... against the Federation. Despite Trek's Roddenberrian ideals of multiculturalism and togetherness, it seems that the Federation still has some lingering prejudices it needs to excise. Ketoul reminds us that maintaining a utopia is an active, difficult job that requires both vigilance and righteous indignation. Growth is always possible. 

Last year, Badaki spoke with ComicsBeat.net to talk about Neera Ketoul, and how she had a brief moment of panic. Badaki knew that she was only going to play her character for the one episode, but didn't realize until she was handed the script (written by Dana Horgan) that she would have several speeches and monologues. It was way more than she expected to memorize, especially in the limited time she had to prepare. 

When you take on the responsibility, great power will come

Badaki said that she loved the script, and was happy to be involved, but the size of her role was a little intimidating. This wasn't just a standard guest role, but required reciting pages and pages of dialogue. Badaki said: 

"[T]here was a brief moment of panic when I realized how many lines I had, and how many speeches. I was excited about it, but also, that's the part about being a fan of something that you get to work on. There's the love and the joy and you're excited, but you also feel the responsibility to this world. You want to do good by it because it's something that you've loved for so long. And also, wanting to give that experience to the fans, being one of them."

One can only imagine the pressure an actor experiences when becoming involved with such a long-lived entertainment empire like "Star Trek." Trekkies are passionate people who love to argue and nitpick, and if Badaki was also a Trekkie, she would be understandably nervous. 

But then she cycled through to a deep appreciation, saying: 

"[T]here was a slight moment of panic, I'll be honest with you. And then, it just went back into the awe of this space, this world. Getting to do it with this incredible cast. Those were my initial reactions: it was joy; panic; awe." 

Badaki also admitted that she took a great deal of performance inspiration from a known "Star Trek character, namely Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." From Goldberg, she took an element of "kind inscrutability."

Star Trek speeches

When asked how she handled playing Neera Ketoul, Badaki said she was emulating Goldberg's facial tics. Guinan, as Trekkies can tell you, was the bartender on board the Enterprise-D and served as a freelance confidant and therapist for the crew. She was impossibly old, very kind, and frank in giving advice. At the same time, she revealed very little about her personal life (her exact age isn't known) or the adventures she had been on. Badaki liked that warm mystery, and admits to imitating it wholesale. The actress said: 

"Guinan was one [inspiration]. I used a lot of her facial characteristics. Because you always saw this kind of knowing smile, but you never really know what's happening back there. It was a beautiful thing to be able to come in with, with Neera, to use that. And also then the moments that become a little softer and warmer, and empowering another individual — which Guinan always did in Ten Forward — with La'An [the character played by christina Chong]. For La'An not to take in that hate that's coming in from everybody else, and not going into the self-hate space. That was Guinan." 

She also recalled Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) for his ability to stand up to a massive bureaucracy and openly declare that we, as a species, should be able to do better. Physically, she also said she imitated the unique diction of Avery Brooks, who played Captain Sisko on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Neera Ketoul, it seems, was a grand amalgamation of classic "Star Trek" characters, armed with speeches about prejudice and growth. There is nothing more Trek.