I recently had the chance to spend time online with Rachael Ancheril, best known to Star Trek Discovery fans as Commander Nhan, the Barzan Security Officer.
After a brief catch-up as to how we were both coping with lockdown and chatting about my #Bonkers4Burnham tee-shirt we began the interview. As you will see Rachael and I spoke about a number of topics including Trek, other shows Rachael has appeared in and book hoarding!
Rachael, when you joined the cast of Discovery in Season 2 did you expect Nhan to become popular so quickly and were there any initial signs that she had a rapidly growing fanbase??
Ah, no absolutely not. I was not expecting the love that I got. It was very surprising to be honest with you but at the end of the day I’m so glad people like her. It’s a good feeling as an actor when people like your character and it’s very fulfilling as an actor.
That’s great, Nhan has become very popular on Social Media with Nhan pages popping up here and there as well as both amateur and professional artists producing a lot of beautiful artwork..
Oh come on, that’s amazing. I’m not on Facebook, I’m only on Instagram and Twitter so what I see there is what I get but that’s hilarious.
It is pretty cool!
I remember seeing you initially on Heroes Reborn and Wynonna Earp where you played the twins. Is filming Discovery very different from filming either of those shows?
Yes, it’s very different. It’s Epic. Everything about Discovery is grand in size, so the sets, the crew, even the character process is, well I’m in prosthetics so it’s far more involved than I’ve ever had elsewhere. To be honest it shoots more like a film than it does a TV show, things take a little bit longer because there are so many effects and so on. Everything about it is very big.
I remember the first time I stepped on that set and it literally took my breath away and I had no idea where I was going for probably the first three episodes I was in. I got confused in the corridors, but I decided to blame it on Nhan not knowing Discovery but knowing Enterprise.
You are the third person to tell me that they got lost on set and that they were in awe of the grandeur of it all.
It is incredible. Have you had a chance to go by the set?
No. no, I wish!
Maybe one day, but the corridors just go on forever they just keep going. It’s very impressive.
It sounds huge!
Now, with your prosthetics you aren’t in the chair as long as Doug I would imagine?
I’m actually in longer.
Yeh, so for example Ethan, who played Spock. He and I, our prosthetics took longer than the full piece that Doug wears because it’s like a jigsaw puzzle on our faces. Our prosthetics guys and gals have to make sure the pieces are in the right spot because there are no markings on our face to show where everything goes. My process is about 3 hours, maybe longer give or take. I’m in prosthetics for an hour, then beauty and makeup for an hour, then hair for another hour so it’s a long time.
You have a very early start then?
The prosthetics people are so talented and being in early I get to see everyone else which is nice because I like seeing them in the morning and we’re all “Good morning, how are you?”
So when they are all fresh and ready to go.
Do you do any of your own stunts or fight scenes, such as the scene with Nhan and Georgiou fighting against Leland?
I think all actors are probably like this. I would do as much as they let me do but it’s always safety first. So for example in that fight scene we had a moving set- the set was actually rotating.
Oh wow! I never realised.
Oh it was beautiful thing. Terrifying but amazing and there are safety concerns with that. I could give you another example on Wynonna Earp, not that I did stunts on that, but when I was a kid I volunteered at a living history museum but I never wanted to be with the girls only the boys so I used to dress up as a little boy and work in the Blacksmith Shop and then in Wynonna Earp playing a blacksmith I was so excited thinking ‘I can work a forge, I can make a horseshoe nail and I can do all this stuff’ and they were like “No, for safety reasons you can’t”.
I love to do as much as I can and the stunt people are amazing and they know how to take a fall and how to just deal with stuff, but yeah as much as I can.
We learned in Season 3 that Nhan’s family were devastated when she left home to join Starfleet. Were you given the chance to help create a backstory for Nhan?
No. I wish I could say yes but that’s all the writers. As an actor I’ve always felt it’s my job to show up and work with what I’m given so usually when it comes to creating a backstory it is something I only do for the audition process just to give myself something to work with beyond a couple of pages of sides. Everything, that’s all the writers and I have to give credit where credit is due.
I’m kinda hoping that when Nhan gets back to Barzan there is a big statue of her because she made them proud in the end.
Right?! That would be awesome.
Do you have a favourite scene that you have filmed on Discovery?
I think each one is unique in its own way but obviously I love the ones where Nhan can shine even if it’s like for a quick beat or a full scene. I guess every actor feels that way. I loved episode 209, Airiam’s last episode.
Oh yes, Project Daedalus.
I loved that episode and of course I liked my last episode because those are character focussed too. I like being support. As an actor I’m not much of a “Hey, throw me in a lead”, I like being in a supporting role to the main dog and that’s why I like 209 so much.
That was a great episode. Sad, but good.
Have you attended any conventions yet and if so have you had any memorable fan encounters?
No, I haven’t done one of those yet. I’m slightly terrified- I thought for so long that no-one wants to see me, no-one wants to see Nhan but as you said there has been a lot of love that I have received from people so I’m looking forward to starting that when we are allowed to again. But highlights I can think of with fans is when people have sent me pictures of them in a Nhan costume. Nhan is a clothes horse so there are a lot of options there. A lot of different wardrobe changes.
Yes, we’ve noticed!
Yes!! I love seeing the creativity and the amazing talent of people who send me pictures of them in full Nhan gear. Someone had sent me a picture of the breathers and I was shocked because they looked so good and I couldn’t believe that someone could make those. It’s fascinating.
I’ve asked a couple of your fellow cast members this question. I think it was Doug, Ronnie and Sara and would like to hear your answer. Who is the biggest prankster on set and can you remember any particular pranks?
Hmm when it comes to pranksters I’m not too sure. I’ve been privy to sing-a-longs, fashion runway shows in wardrobe and Doug is the fiercest of them all when it comes to runway shows.
I think lots of us have seen a video of that.
Our games of Mafia can also get pretty intense, but prankster I don’t know. Who did the others say was the biggest?
Oh hahaha! Yup I could buy that.
There was talk of someone tying up shoelaces whilst Doug, I think, was asleep.
I don’t often see Mary on set but now I’m gonna have to hit her up for some ideas.
If you could appear on any other Trek show past or present which one would you choose?
Oh TOS for sure. For sure and that would be purely for my mom.
So your mom is a big fan of TOS?
I don’t know if I told you this but Lucille Ball and my mom were the first two I thought of when I booked Discovery.
Without Lucille where would we be and without my mom, she’s the one I watched Star Trek with when I was a kid. She was such a super-fan. When she was a kid she was a super-fan and she was one of the ones that wrote to CBS. My grandad told me this- she was just a little kid and was so upset when they said they were going to cancel it that she wrote in letters upon letters.
That’s pretty cool. Has she made it to the set to visit you yet?
I would have loved her to but she lives too far up north.
What do you see as the main message that Star Trek in general tries to promote?
Inclusion. And that goes for while we are filming as well as the theme that the show puts out.
I agree, that’s one of the biggest if not the biggest issue out there. Everyone wants to join in, to be visible and to be seen.
Last Trek question. Will we EVER find out what the D stands for in Nhan’s name?
Um, when you find that out you’ll have to let me know and if I find out first I’ll let you know.
I think people should make something up and see if it sticks.
(I feel a competition coming on….)
What would be your ultimate role to play either on stage or screen?
If you had asked me this 10 years ago I would have said Cleopatra, but now, I love history- I am a huge history buff so any period piece from ancient history including Egyptians or anything before right up to the 80’s I’m game for.
As an actor I think it’s great to be able to go on set and be transported to a different world and to create a character and transport yourself to that world. So it’s period pieces for me and I would love, love love to do a period piece. It doesn’t even matter what the role is.
As you know, I love books and I love researching and I eat that stuff up. If I could have a role where I could do research on the history and then add that to the character that would be really fun and very fulfilling I think.
Talking about books, I read on your website that you are a bit of a hoarder.
Roughly how many do you have?
I don’t know. This could be a quarantine activity. I’m gonna do that and send you the number but I have hundreds. I’m not kidding, I could open a library. I have lots of different genres and topics. If I love something and I can, I will buy every book on the topic. I also have a very hard time letting go of my books.
Have you got a particular book that you read often?
Ah, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I will want to read a book I’ve not touched in a couple of years. I love bios and read a lot of them. Again, history but it all depends on my mood. It could be a Sunday afternoon and I’ll pick up a trashy novel or something. I’ve just started reading Anne of Green Gables again as it has lots of Canadian history. I’ve also recently read one of Margaret Atwood’s novels ‘Alias Grace’ and I have others of hers to read but dystopian futures scare me a little bit especially now as it hits a little too close to home whilst we’re in quarantine. I went to Anne of Green Gables because it’s light and it’s soft.
Talking of Anne of Green Gables have you seen the recent Netflix show?
Anne with an E? Yes, of course! Being Canadian I had lots of friends in it. I would have loved to have been in it. It’s amazing. I’m a really proud Canadian girl so when we get our history and our stories out it’s really exciting and I love that people love Anne of Green Gables because I have loved her since I was a little kid!
Once again Rachael, thank you for doing this. I know you probably cannot say but I really hope we see both you and Nhan again on Discovery.
Oh thank you so much. Only time will tell is the best that I can say. Thanks for having me on and I look forward to meeting you in person at a con or something one day soon.
I hope you enjoy reading the post. It was my first proper interview and I had a great time with lots of laughs and I hope Rachael had fun too. If popular, I hope to do more in the future- any constructive criticism gratefully received!