Actress Stephanie Czajkowski joins us on Close-Up Culture to chat about her role in the third and final season of the series, Star Trek: Picard.
You star in season 3 of Star Trek: Picard. How excited were you to step into this beloved franchise?
Well “star” might be a bit of stretch. I mean it is called “PICARD”. I would say a fairer estimation would be I’m a supporting player in one of the most iconic reunions in history.
Were you a Trekkie beforehand?
I think my previous statement may answer that, but in all seriousness, Star Trek has been deeply threaded throughout my life. It was one of my father’s favorite shows, I watched the re-runs religiously with him on weekends, and my mother who was an exceptionally talented seamstress did a bustling side business making Starfleet Uniforms from “The Final Frontier”. So yeah, by familial association, I’ve always considered myself a bit of a “Trekkie”, though it wasn’t until I walked on that bridge, I realized how very deep it ran.
You play Vulcan L. T’Veen. What can you reveal about the character and how you prepared for the role?
Lt T’veen is a Vulcan and, in the footsteps of Spock, she is also a science officer, which thrilled the hell out of me. She is clear headed and calm in even the most dire circumstances. I was very fortunate to have my working knowledge of watching the Treks, but also the Production Office Secretary, who was a giant fan, was kind enough to send me a list of all the “Spock Centric” episodes from TOS as well other “Vulcan heavy” episodes to help me get a handle on the history. And in terms of being in alignment with canon, “Memory Alpha and Beta” in Fandom.com was indispensable when it came to developing T’veen.
What was your experience like playing a Vulcan?
In one word: ZEN. I was really struck by the history of Vulcan’s and specifically Surak and the Age of Enlightenment. The idea of how Vulcans were so deeply, violently emotional, and how it almost destroyed them. How meditation became standard practice, in controlling them. I, as a person, have a pretty high level of anxiety, that had also been amplified a bit by a cancer med I was taking. And I found that I was meditating more to get in touch with what I called “The Vulcan Mindset”. It bled into my life in a lovely way, and I have made meditation more of a habit.
What will be your most cherished memory from working on the show?
That’s so unfair, because legitimately I have dozens, but when asked the thing that always comes to mind first is the feeling of sitting on that iconic bridge.
I remember my first day on set, taking a seat at my station and being, I guess, smart enough to, in the midst of the excitement, fully take in where I was. So much history, such a legendary franchise, and here I was stepping in to become a small part of it. I still get choked up talking about it.
And I made a concerted effort to try and take that moment, once every time I was on set, because I realize how easy it could be to let it become “routine” and how, before I knew it we would be wrapped.
I’m forever glad I made myself do that. Because, it is something I will never forget.
Another exciting role saw you play Chyna in the NBC comedy, Young Rock. What was it like being on that set and playing one of the most iconic female wrestlers of all time?
Is it overkill to gush about how much I adore my job? I was only there for one episode this season and every single person on Young Rock made me feel like I’d been part of the cast from day one. Though nothing quite prepared me to walk out in that arena and hear the extras who are also true wrestling fans yell “Chyna ! Oh my god is that Chyna?!”. That energy and passion was surreal and wonderful, and made the infamous ladder match feel that much more authentic.
But It was a truly an honor to play her. Chyna is such a huge presence in wrestling and she is so beloved. When you are lucky enough to try to embody someone as iconic as Joanie, you build the character with as much love and care as you can hoping that you will do her memory justice.
You have an incredibly inspiring story, a lot of which is documented in your podcast, ChemoSkinny. What is the show all about?
The podcast was the seeming natural progression to the blog of the same name, my husband and I wrote as we dealt with the tidal wave of my three consecutive cancer diagnoses. It seemed that we had seen so many blogs about the subject from the patient’s perspective, but rarely from both patient and caregiver at the same time.
Then not long after the final surgery, the pandemic happened, and it afforded us the opportunity to actually process what we’d been through. So the podcast is a darkly funny, (hopefully) telling of my breast cancer adventure. From finding the lump, through the surgeries, chemo, the radiation, and perceived remission.
We talk about what happened, how we felt about it then and looking back what we wish we would have known at the time. And we laugh, ‘cause I mean sometimes it’s all you can do. Cancer treatment is like being in a burning building, you are trying to get out as fast as you can. The “processing” never happens when you want it to, it happens, when it happens.
I hear you are turning the podcast into a movie. Can you reveal anything about that?
Well, we are trying our hardest, that’s for sure. We’re trying to close a pretty decent funding gap (which is sadly not uncommon). What we have found, is that trying to sell a story about cancer that’s not solely focused on the disease itself or anchored in the overdone tropes we’ve historically seen is incredibly challenging. It’s a bit frustrating because the demographic of people experiencing, and specifically living with cancer just keep getting bigger and as someone in it whose part of that demographic, I am not alone in looking for narratives, that don’t just distill the experience down into simply death or remission. But just like this cancer journey, we soldier on.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Hmmm I guess, personally, that I get to travel more and see the people I love who are all over the globe. Professionally that I get to keep embodying more of these fantastic characters, and that we get to see even more of their complexity. That I get to jump back up on the professional stage, it’s been decades since I’ve done a musical.
But honestly Spock said it best: To Live Long, and Prosper.
Thanks for the chat!
For more about STEPHANIE CZAJKOWSKI visit: www.stephanieczajkowski.com