Unless you’re a Walking Dead diehard you may not know the name Sonequa Martin-Green.
But you soon will.
In person she’s vivacious and drop dead beautiful, excuse the pun, and amazingly articulate.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, she moved to New York, where she met her husband, fellow actor Kenric Green, with whom she has a two-year-old son.
The couple eventually headed for Hollywood where she had guest and recurring parts on Army Wives and The Good Wife before landing her breakthrough role on The Walking Dead in 2012.
Now thanks to her groundbreaking role in the Star Trek reboot Star Trek: Discovery (available on Netflix), in which she plays the commander of the Enterprise, the 32-year-old actress is destined to become a household name. On the show, she plays the role of Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham.
Why the name Michael?
The answer has two parts. Number one, it originates with (showrunner) Bryan Fuller, which is something he likes to do, give male names to a lot of his female leads. And even though he is no longer with the show, they wanted to honour that.
But what I see as more important is that (my character) was named after my father. My father was also Michael Burnham, and I love that my name alone suggests the progression of gender roles in this future. Because in the future, a girl could be named after her dad and a son can be named after his mother.
In the future, things will be more fluid in terms of gender roles.
Tell us about your real parents, your upbringing, how you started?
I grew up in the South, and I didn’t know I was going to be an actor until I was 16. I thought I was going to be a psychologist, which is interesting because it’s very similar to acting. I was fascinated with human behaviour and why people do what they do.
I was in the middle of rehearsal in 10th grade when I had this epiphany. And so I got my theatre degree from the University of Alabama. Being part of The Walking Dead was such a tremendous experience. I like to call it my post graduate degree because I cannot express how much I learned from being on that show in every way.
You are a good leader on Discovery. What is your definition of a good leader in real life?
I think a good leader is someone who connects with and truly engages with every person that is following them and understands that different people need different things.
That is one of the many things that make a good leader, but the most important one is understanding that each person needs a different approach and a different tone and a different strategy. And when you have a lot of people following you, that’s hard work.
Are you a good leader in real life?
I hope so. I try to be. Another big quality any leader needs is to know it’s not about him or her, it’s about us, about what we are all doing together, and that is what really fosters creativity and makes everyone operate at their highest potential.
Are you a sci-fi fan, and how relevant do you think it is in today’s society?
I am a big sci-fi fan, and I think it is very relevant. It allows for really meaningful themes, which are put in a palatable context. When you are in this fantasy world, which requires a lot of imagination on your part, you suspend your belief, and that’s when prevailing themes, hopefully positive ones, are able to get in.
When things are about the real world, there’s a certain amount of resistance, it’s harder to get in. I truly believe sci-fi opens you up.
Do you believe there is life out there?
You know what, I think this universe is entirely too vast for us to understand completely. I personally believe that it’s kind of arrogant for us to think we can know the reaches of the universe and that the knowledge of it is something only we can even attain. So you know what, there might be. I don’t know.
How does it feel to be the first black woman to sit in the captain’s chair in a live-action Star Trek series?
I think all of us stand on the shoulders of the innovations that have always been part of the Star Trek canon. Our show is really a story of coming together and of understanding that we are all one.
It’s just the honour, the privilege to be a part of a story that I truly believe is going to bring people together.
How was it transitioning from a show like The Walking Dead, all gritty and grimy, to a completely different aesthetic on Star Trek: Discovery?
It’s really all about storytelling which shapes, changes and enlightens us.
I just thank God I was able to go from a show where the storytelling was so rich and so dynamic, to another show where the storytelling is equally rich and dynamic. I feel that all stories are gritty. All high-quality stories are gritty, because life is gritty.
So, in that way, I don’t see that much of a difference. It’s a different backdrop, for sure, but I think the complexities of the story, the dynamics of the relationships are the same.
One of my favourites ideas, which we explore on the show, is acculturation which when it happens doesn’t have to be assimilation. And that’s really one of the pillars of Star Trek and what it teaches.
It teaches us that we don’t have to let go of who we are in order to learn who we are becoming. We can have both at the same time. That was touched on a lot on The Walking Dead, and it’s touched on this series in a way we’ve never seen before.