Playing The First Openly Gay character on a Star Trek TV series, Science Officer Lieutenant Stamets in CBS’s new Star Trek: Discovery, Anthony Rapp is poised to become an icon to a whole new generation and fan base. Of course, the openly gay NYC-based actor already has a slew of iconic films and stage productions to his credit, including the original Broadway production and cinematic adaptation of RENT (in which he originated the role of Mark Cohen), 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting, 1993’s Dazed and Confused, and 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.
Born in Illinois, Rapp juggles his appearances in big-budget Hollywood, Broadway, and TV productions (including a loathsome turn as a eugenics proponent, Dr. Thurman Dexler, in 2015’s season two of Steven Soderbergh’s outstanding Cinemax series, The Knick), with scrappy, low-budget fare. Last year saw him star in a pair of excellent gay indie films: writer/director John G. Young’s bwoy as a grief-stricken, sexually confused suburbanite who becomes infatuated with a manipulative Jamaican via the Internet, and Joshua Tunick’s same-sex wedding drama, Do You Take This Man.
While on location in Toronto, before going to see his RENT and If/Then-co-star Idina Menzel perform, Rapp joined us in the VIP lounge to dish on Trek, online scammers, and which Trump supporting actor would never be welcome on the starbridge.
First, tell us a little about Lt. Stamets.
His name is inspired by a real mycologist named Paul Stamets. He’s a science officer with a specialty in the somewhat esoteric field of astromycology. That’s a scientist doing bleeding-edge work in the field of mushrooms [and fungi], and how they can affect and benefit our world for the good. There are interesting applications of my field in the show, and my character is the first openly gay character on a Star Trek TV series.
Did you pursue this role or did it come your way?
It literally was just offered to me. I didn’t even know they were doing a new Trek series. I got a late-night message, about whether I was interested. I was like, uhhuh! I had to sign an NDA (non-dosclosure agreement) to even look at the material, and the app they sent it on was self-destructing. Of course, I said yes. I’m not dumb. I’m also a huge fan, a geek from when I was a little kid. It felt like such a crazy thing to fall out of nowhere into my life.
Does Lt. Stamets have a romantic interest?
Yes, but I’m not allowed to say who plays that role.[Editor’s Note: At this year’s San Diego Comic Con it was revealed that out actor Wilson Cruz would be playing that role.]
Are you aware of all the gay porno graphic ‘slash’ fiction and artwork involving male Star Trek characters, and are you looking forward to seeing steamy slash involving Lt. Stamets?
No. No. No. I know of slash, and that Star Trek is essentially where it all started. I’ve come across some fun Internet cartoons of Kirk and Spock or Bones and Spock, etc. I think it’s inevitable, though.
It’s inevitable, indeed. You cannot stop it. But if you could make a slash suggestion, which pairings, with Stamets would you request?
No requests. They’re my friends. It’s weird!
If there were one technology from the future that you could access now, what would it be?
I do know Star Trek has influenced inventors and scientists to come up with all kinds of technologies. This thing about transporting or teleporting things is pretty remarkable. That would make things a lot simpler in many ways and the world greener without needing all those fossil fuels for transportation. Apparently, some scientists just teleported a particle through time and space.
What’s your coping mechanism for the nonstop flow of crazy, scary, upsetting Trump news? We all on the cast of Star Trek share a disdain and horror at what’s going on, so we can look at each other like, ‘did you see this?’ Also Stephen Colbert’s monologues, they are cathartic.
In its way does Star Trek address the Trump present we’re in now and offer a more hopeful future?
I think that’s baked into the DNA of it. Some dark stuff happens in the course of our story, and I think some of it might resonate with current events. I met a bunch of the writers, the whole team is so virulently anti-Trump and what’s going on, and for positive progress…in the spirit of everything we’re doing.
Might there be a deeply closeted Trump supporter on the Star Trek team, though
Not at all. Truly. I would know. No one is that good an actor. We’re all too mad and vocal about it all the time. Everyone on the cast re-tweets everything, and talks about it. There’s no one hiding. I’d like to think we can open our hearts with love to everyone, but that would be challenging.
So I guess James Woods will not be making an appearance this season.
No, he will not be in Star Trek. James Woods can come nowhere near this.
You starred as a gay man about to tie the knot in Do You Take This Man. Do you personally have a dream wedding in mind, and where would it happen? I don’t know for sure where. The best weddings I’ve been to felt like a real expression of a couple. These two people are in a place, setting, and style that feels very at home to them, and that’s what I’d want it to be. Special, intimate, and an expression of the joint personality of the two of us.
In bwoy your character, Brad, has an online relationship with a Jamaican man who manipulates him into sending money, although Brad is also a liar who misrepresents himself. Did you prepare for the role by contacting some dodgy profiles overseas?
No, I didn’t do any direct research for the role. Something about the script really rang true for me about the way people act out. [How they] both conceal and reveal themselves, especially in our modern online dating culture. I thought it was honest, layered, and sad, in interesting ways, and I felt like I had a sense of who Brad is even though I can’t say a lot directly related to my life.
Have you used Grindr, and was being recognized an issue?
Yes. Good things can come from it, but for someone in my position it’s fraught and problematic. I’m not single now, but even if I were, I wouldn’t use it again.
Did you ever find out someone was using your photo or identity on Grindr?
People have done that on Facebook. Once I was at a signing thing and someone came up and he was like, ‘hey, its Christopher, we were talking online last night.’ I said, ‘no, we weren’t.’ There was someone on Facebook who had messaged him and not only did this person pose as me, but told him to come say hi! I felt bad. I’ve always been willing to talk to people, and on Twitter I’ll have little interactions and it feels safe and public. I avail myself to that. I don’t know if it was the same person, but there was a fake Facebook profile for me and they would post status updates like, ‘I slept in today, rehearsal later.’ Life updates! It was crazy. I never found out who it was. And if this is what I’m encountering, can you imagine [how it is for] people who are like 2,000 times as famous as I am?
What’s your boyfriend’s name, and how long has it been?
Ken. About a year and a half, it’s going well, and he works from home so he can travel easily to be with me in Toronto when I work on the show. He’s not in showbiz, which I’m kinda happy about, because showbiz is crazy!
RENT has been performed all over the world. What is the farthest-flung place you toured and have been in a performance of it?
Seoul and Tokyo. I prefer Tokyo to Seoul. It’s got more character, the food is better, more vibe. But I’ve worked in South Korea three times and what’s impressive is that not long ago their country was in ruins after the Korean War. Just 50 or 60 years ago. How far they’ve come in so short a time is remarkable. That energy of ‘we’re going forward at a breakneck pace’ permeates the experience of being there.
Back home in New York City, what are a few favorite local spots you would recommend for visitors?
The Highline. It’s beautiful, it’s original, it’s a great way to experience neighborhoods in the city, and a great example of urban reclamation. I always say, please don’t just go to Times Square and stay there. Go to other neighborhoods: SoHo, NoHo, Union Square. I also think the 9/11 Memorial is perfect and beautiful. It should be seen by everyone, especially at night. Italian restaurant Vic’s is a neighborhood joint that I love. It used to be called Five Points, and they changed the menu slightly since. It’s still a great place for comfortable, deliciously prepared food and has a good vibe. For drinks, the Crosby Hotel has a backyard patio bar that’s nice to sit out in the spring, summer, and fall.
Final question. Where would you have your last meal and what dish would you order?
I would go to The French Laundry in Yountville, CA., and have their incredible set menu. I’ve been lucky enough to go a couple of times, and it’s been amazing. [I loved] a truffled pasta with a soft-boiled egg over it, and they took a piece of black truffle the size of my fist and shaved slices over it. I cried. I ate it, and I cried.