Metro Weekly

Star Trek Discovery’s Wilson Cruz Keeps Making Television History

For three decades, Wilson Cruz has been combining acting with activism to ensure that the next generation thrives.

Wilson Cruz -- Photo: Yellowbelly Photos
Wilson Cruz — Photo: Yellowbelly Photos

“I love that you think I have more than one home,” laughs Wilson Cruz, settling in at his New York apartment for what will ultimately become a wide-ranging, two-hour Zoom interview. “I am a journeyman actor who has been cobbling together a career for 30 years. That’s what I am.”

Truth is, Wilson Cruz is much more than that. This is the third time Cruz has been featured on a Metro Weekly cover, and he ensures that a conversation with him feels familiar, like time spent with a best friend. Talking with him is also somewhat of a unique event — spirited, unbridled, utterly free of artifice. He is warm. He is welcoming. He is wise.

Cruz would undoubtedly blush at the thought. But it’s true. He is an LGBTQ icon. He is an LGBTQ activist. As an out LGBTQ actor — one of the first — he has amassed a wealth of credits in roles that frequently elevate and celebrate our community.

He’s guest-starred in shows from Grey’s Anatomy to The West Wing and played recurring roles in Noah’s Arc and 13 Reasons Why. Movie credits include 1996’s Johns, 2003’s Party Monster, and the forthcoming Netflix rom-com Mother of the Bride, starring Brooke Shields and Benjamin Bratt.

His profile hit warp drive in recent years thanks to an essential role on Star Trek Discovery, the fifth and final season of which is about to launch on the Paramount+ streaming network. Cruz plays the U.S.S. Discovery’s doctor, Hugh Culber, husband to Paul Stamets, the ship’s brilliant engineer and inventor of its revolutionary “spore drive,” portrayed by fellow out gay actor and longtime friend, Anthony Rapp.

Their characters — not to mention their relationship — is groundbreaking for a Star Trek series, which for much of its decades-long history has avoided LGBTQ content of any kind. Discovery changed all that, not just with Culber and Stamets, but in introducing a nonbinary character, Adira Tal, beautifully personified by Blu del Bario beginning in season three.

The show doesn’t diverge so much from Star Trek’s doctrine as it does expand on it, as a good portion of its action is ultimately set 900 years in the future, truly where no human being has ever gone before. The 50-year-old Cruz is visibly bereft that Discovery has come to an end, but he looks at the series as a milestone for both his career and the greater Star Trek universe.

Cruz first made television history in 1994, in the one-season wonder My So-Called Life. He played Rickie Vasquez, the show’s gay teenage character who was coming to grips with his sexuality. Cruz was the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character on TV, a distinction he wears with pride.

Wilson Cruz -- Photo: Gene Reed
Wilson Cruz — Photo: Gene Reed

From there, he launched a parallel career in activism and has worked intimately with organizations from The National LGBTQ Task Force and GLAAD to GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ visibility and safety in schools. In 2023, he was appointed GLSEN’s board chair.

“What GLSEN does to support young people and students is important,” he says of the organization, which will hold its annual gala in New York on April 29. “They empower young people to become their best version of themselves, to live up to their potential so that they can become great citizens and then become great supporters of young people after them.”

Cruz is outspoken about politics, and it’s not uncommon to see him taking up the fight — with “bark,” as he puts it — on social media. “My father wants me to run for office,” he says. “But that’s not going to happen. I’ve said way too many things online that will come back and bite me in the ass.”

Cruz is worried about our nation’s future and is adamant that people turn up and vote in this election.

“I know that every four years someone says, ‘This is the most important election of our lifetimes,'” he says. “But I hate to tell you that last time was absolutely one of the most important elections in our lifetimes, and this one absolutely is. Because if we get this wrong, there’s no guarantee that we ever get to vote again. And that’s just a fact. [Donald Trump] literally said that he would be a dictator on day one. And if you think that it only meant for one day, you’ve clearly never seen a dictator in your life.”

To those who despise Trump but would prefer to abstain rather than cast a vote for Biden, Cruz is direct.

“Voting is not about falling in love,” he says. “Voting is, whether we like it or not in this country, a binary choice. And our job as citizens is to support the candidate whose priorities and values align as closely with ours as possible.

“Look, I’m not asking anybody to fall in love with Joe Biden. I’m asking them to do what’s best for them. Do what’s best for the people in your life,” he continues. “Who is going to make your life better? Who is going to make the life of the people you love better, and who’s going to make it worse? It’s really night and day. And if you choose not to vote, you might as well vote for the person who is working against you.”

During our conversation, Cruz notes he has some other projects on the horizon but can’t yet reveal them. In the meantime, he is quietly mourning the end of Discovery with the rest of us, somehow assured that in the Star Trek universe, there is frequently no such thing as finality.

“My phone number and email are exactly the same,” he smiles broadly and brightly. “They know where to find me. I am always ready to put on that white uniform.”

Star Trek Discovery: Wilson Cruz -- Photo: John Medland/Paramount+
Star Trek Discovery, Season 5: Wilson Cruz and Mary Wiseman — Photo: John Medland/Paramount+

METRO WEEKLY: I was looking over your IMDB, and early on, like so many actors, you did a lot of guest stints on popular TV shows. You were even in Grey’s Anatomy.

WILSON CRUZ: You want to know something? In Hollywood, people are always like, “We should work together one day.” People say that to me all the time, and I go, “Mm-hmm,” because it’s well-intentioned, and I’m sure they mean it in some way, but Shonda Rhimes is the only person who said we were going to work together one day and actually follow through.

She wrote this amazing episode — it was right during the conversation around marriage equality, and my role revolved around the difference between domestic partnerships and actual marriage. It was a really great experience.

MW: You were also on The West Wing.

WILSON: I knew you were going to say that. It’s one of my favorite gigs. Can I tell you why?

MW: Please.

WILSON: I did two episodes, but the main episode I was in was called “Access,” I believe, and it revolved around a faux documentary episode around C.J., played by Allison Janney. We got to see C.J.’s life behind the scenes. I played Jack Sosa, who was assistant press secretary for domestic affairs.

It was the only episode of the entire series that they ever allowed improvisation. Usually, it’s precise, but because it was this documentary episode, they wanted it to feel loose and real. Alex Graves, who was the director on the episode, was like, “I’m going to bring you all in each one at a time, and we’re just going to do these interviews and you just answer my questions in character.”

We did this whole improvisation and I answered his questions. The character I played wasn’t necessarily gay, but in that interview, I chose to make him a gay character because we hadn’t seen a gay character on The West Wing — at least not on staff. I had created this whole backstory about how I got into the White House and how I had challenged the White House on some of their LGBTQ stances. He said, “Cut” and was like, “I cannot believe what I just heard.” And the entire thing is in the episode.

MW: You were ready for the White House.

WILSON: That is my job, honey. That is my job.

MW: More recently, your job has been on Star Trek Discovery. Your character, Dr. Hugh Culber, has gone through the wringer on the show. He dies in the first season — that’s not a spoiler anymore — and then comes back to life. But he’s different and has to realign himself. When they first killed Hugh off, did they let you know that you were coming back?

WILSON: I didn’t know right away. In the first season, I was not a series regular, I was a recurring character. I also had another gig at the time, 13 Reasons Why. Star Trek shot in Toronto and 13 Reasons Why shot in Northern California. I was shooting both at the same time. They called me on my first day of shooting the second season of 13 Reasons Why. I had just gone through makeup, my phone rings, and I see it’s [showrunner] Aaron Harberts. I was like, “Maybe he’s calling to wish me luck on my first day.” He was not. He was calling to tell me that my character on Discovery was going to be killed.

I lost it. I couldn’t even fake it. I tried really hard to keep it together and be professional, but I literally lost it because the character of Hugh had already meant so much to me, and I got to work with my friend Anthony [Rapp]. I had bonded with this cast. I had to shake it off because it was my first day at work on 13 Reasons Why. They had to put my makeup back on because I had ruined it.

Two episodes before we shot Hugh’s death [scene], they called me in. They were kind of cagey about it. They said, “Listen, this is Star Trek. Nobody really dies.” I was like, “Oh, what does that mean?” It became very clear that they were going to find a way to bring Hugh back in some form. I didn’t know in what way. Also, I didn’t know if that meant just for the season or going forward.

It became really clear that this character had become a fan favorite, and we wanted to get ahead of the “Bury Your Gays” trope, this trope that continues to be repeated over and over on television and in films where LGBTQ characters are killed off so flippantly.

In between the first and the second season, there was a lot of conversation about how Hugh was going to come back, and I had some input. I’m not taking ownership over it, but they told me what they wanted to do, and I, as an actor, had to find a way into that. If death doesn’t change you, I don’t know what does, right?

If you’re faced with that kind of life-altering, traumatizing experience, you have to question everything. I think you become awed by life and you want to make the most of it. If you think even for an instant that the relationship you’re in isn’t necessarily the one you want to be in, then you start to question whether you want to be in it — or is there a way to change it so that you can be more satisfied within it?

That moment in which he decides to stay on the ship [at the end of season two] is a revolutionary moment for him. He decides he wants to stay because he understands how much Paul means to him, and he’s willing to sacrifice everything to go to this new future, which also gives him a clean slate and an opportunity to reinvent himself within his relationship.

Wilson Cruz -- Photo: Yellowbelly Photos
Wilson Cruz — Photo: Yellowbelly Photos

MW: He inevitably serves as an emotional anchor for the crew, especially after the jump in time.

WILSON: And who better than someone who’s been through something even more traumatizing than having to jump into the future? Not only has he jumped into the future, but this is somebody who faced death and came back from it. He sees very quickly in that third season that he is necessary, that these people do need him, and he steps up. That’s what Star Trek, really since its inception, has been about. It’s about how each of us step up and live up to our potential in order to become a part of a team that creates the kind of culture — on our ship, or in our country, if you want to extrapolate it that far — that we all deserve to live in.

MW: In every Star Trek series, the doctor has been an integral and interesting character, starting all the way back with Dr. McCoy from the original series. It’s one of the most important characters within the Star Trek universe. How does it feel to know that you are part of this rare and privileged lineage?

WILSON: Well, now that it’s over, I can say that it was pretty heady. I understood the responsibility. I understood how, for decades, young people would be inspired to become medical professionals because of the doctors that they saw on Star Trek. Like Gates [McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on Next Generation] told me in the very first season, “People are going to want to become a doctor because of you.” I was like, “I don’t know about all that,” but lo and behold, it’s true.

I came to it with great reverence. Me, being who I am, I felt a lot of pressure. I felt some anxiety about it, but that’s just my process, and it allows me to really challenge myself to meet the moment. I wanted Hugh to be flawed in his own way and not perfect, someone who was vulnerable, someone you could see processing.

That’s why, in season four, we see him literally have an anxiety attack on camera. It was important for me because he’s been so busy trying to take care of everybody else — and that’s what doctors do, right? All day, they’re taking care of people, emergencies, people dying, taking care of their staff. At very few moments are they allowed to deal with their own anxieties, their own issues.

I thought it was really brave of them to write a scene where he admits how debilitating the pressure of keeping everybody alive can be at a time when the entire universe, once again, was being threatened, and how that affected him personally. I really wanted him to be three-dimensional in that way. He was not a superhero. He was a human person dealing with superhuman issues and doing the best he could in the moment. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost to it.

MW: You dodged a bullet that they didn’t make you an alien and wear a ton of prosthetic makeup like what Doug Jones wears for Saru.

WILSON: [Laughs.] Well, darling, I have to tell you what they did make me wear created enough anxiety as it is. I mean, what is more anxiety-inducing than white spandex? Please explain that to me. One false move and I’m the Michelin Man in space. Nobody wants to see that. By the way, the costume seemed to get tighter and tighter as the seasons progressed. I was challenged to continue to look good in it.

Star Trek Discovery: Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp -- Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount+
Star Trek Discovery, Season 5: Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp — Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

MW: I think we needed you shirtless in the show.

WILSON: [Laughs.] My shirtless scene ended up on the cutting room floor. In season two, I was shirtless in a mirror, having a moment after I came back to life, and it didn’t make it into the cut because apparently it was…

MW: Not ready for prime time?

WILSON: It was distracting, apparently. That’s all they were saying.

MW: Discovery marked an unprecedented moment for the franchise. Not only did we get a gay couple but also a lesbian character and trans and nonbinary actors playing trans and nonbinary roles. The series really embraced and fulfilled the promise of Star Trek, don’t you think?

WILSON: Yeah, I do. I think that even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t visualize, even during his time, just how much diversity needed to be in Star Trek, but I know that his wish was that we would have infinite combinations. Infinite diversity and infinite combinations. What breaks my heart, if I’m going to be honest, is that it took this long for us to have a gay couple — a gay character — as part of the main cast.

What I do love is that this production, specifically, decided to go all-in because we understood that it was an opportunity with this specific cast to go there. We had the kind of actors and writers and support from the network and from the production company to have these conversations and how we could do them in a way that spoke to the issue, but was also part of the plot without it being forced.

I think, in the end, it became about the relationships. That’s why I think [Paul and Hugh] created this chosen family with Adira [Blu del Barrio] and Gray [Ian Alexander]. That’s what we do as an LGBTQ community — that’s what we’ve always done. An older generation sees the needs of the younger generation, and we fight for more inclusivity and push the needle even further in terms of acceptance and the gaining of rights needed for our community.

For me, it was the generation that was living with and fighting AIDS. I joined that fight and used that fight for more visibility. Now, as an elder, I’m looking at this new generation and am saying, “What do you want? What do you need? What kind of world do you want to create?” They want to expand the conversation in terms of gender, and I couldn’t be more for that.

So that was an easy thing for me to fight for. And so on the ship, the analogy is here’s this young nonbinary person who Paul and Hugh kind of see themselves in and feel protective of. It would be a natural instinct to take them under our wing and protect them, allow them to fulfill their potential, and for us to support them in any way that they needed.

And it happened behind the scenes too. Anthony and I saw ourselves in Blu. Anthony and I are two actors who started as kids, came out very early in our careers, and here was Blu, fresh out of college transitioning as they joined the cast, didn’t even know they were going to transition — they just knew that they were nonbinary, but didn’t know that they were going to go through this transitioning process, but felt such support that they could. So it was easy to extrapolate that to the series.

And it fits so comfortably in the purpose I feel of what Star Trek is, which is to see all of us endeavoring to fulfill our potential so that we could be an effective part of a crew that is charged with saving the universe. Because the only way that works, the only way this crew works, the only way our country works, the only way we get to save the universe or save our country, is if we all dig in and commit ourselves to that mission. And the only way you can commit yourself to the mission is if you fulfill your potential and you’re the best version of yourself.

So how do you do that? You do that by supporting each other, by challenging each other to be better, by congratulating and celebrating people when they achieve, by supporting them and giving them the support they need when they fail so that they can do better next time. That’s what we should be doing as a country. And I think that’s what Star Trek Discovery models for people.

MW: I’ve seen the first four episodes of this season so far and while we can’t discuss them here, I think it’s okay to say that I’m really liking the trajectory of this season so far.

WILSON: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not thrilled that this is our last season, but if we were going to go out, this was a great season to go out on. It’s a high note for us. Everything really came together beautifully and it looks unreal. I mean, the special effects of this season are spectacular.

Wilson Cruz -- Photo: Gene Reed
Wilson Cruz — Photo: Gene Reed

MW: So can you tell us if we’re going to be happy with the way it all ends?

WILSON: I believe you will be, yes. I believe you will be. I was very moved.

MW: Well, you’re now part of its canon, its lore. The fans will forever adore you. What are the fans like? Are they overwhelming?

WILSON: I will say that being a part of My So-Called Life kind of prepared me in a way for diehard fans. You have to remember My So-Called Life was one of the first enormous letter-writing campaigns. This was before the internet. People actually put pen to paper, and apparently, hundreds of thousands of letters made their way to ABC.

But the Star Trek fan base is another story altogether, and I don’t even know how to speak to it because it can be incredibly heart-rending — the things that people share in person at these cons or even online about how the characters move them and help them to be seen in ways that they hadn’t felt before.

It’s incredibly satisfying and really moving, especially around people who’ve said that they’ve been watching since the original, who were LGBTQ people who had longed for that kind of representation and never thought it was going to happen. And it took 52 years. And for them, and for me, that was way too long. But I’m glad it got to be me.

The joy that so many of them felt in seeing our community as a part of the Star Trek universe that is really moving. There is an element of the Star Trek fan base that has some gate-keeping tendencies where if it doesn’t feel like the original, it’s not for them. But like I’ve been saying since the beginning, we never intended our show to be for everybody. That’s why there are so many different series. There’s something for everyone. You have us. You have Strange New Worlds, you have Lower Decks. Soon, you’ll have Starfleet Academy. I mean, there’s something for everyone in this universe. But some fans have not been so kind.

MW: In what way?

WILSON: Well, there have been some homophobic, transphobic things that have been said to us and to me directly.

MW: That seems unfathomable to me. I find it difficult to believe that you can be a fan of Star Trek and be a bigot.

WILSON: You would think so. That’s confusing to us as well. Maybe they’re social media trolls, I don’t know. But I think the fact that our show was so different challenged a lot of people, and some of them lashed out. I’m not going to say that I always went high when they went low, but that’s just me. Sometimes I feel like I have to bark back. I think that’s just the activist in me.

MW: I’ve watched you bark back.

WILSON: That’s the ACT UP in me.

MW: Do you get hurt by their comments?

WILSON: I could sit here and say it doesn’t hurt me, but it hurts in the sense that we put so much of ourselves into this show. I know I do. I put so much care and so much thought and so much of myself and my experience and the experience of people I love into this character, into these relationships, that to be attacked feels personal. It is hard for me to separate it. So yes, it can be hurtful.

Now, can I compartmentalize it and stick it in a drawer and let it go afterwards? Yes. But in the moment and reading it, yeah, I get affected by it. But I also remind myself that this is one person. And there are a hundred people who love the show for that one person who felt it necessary to act out in some way. So I remind myself of that. Also, if you’re ruffling feathers, then you’re doing something right.

MW: Are you going to miss working with Anthony?

WILSON: [Gets emotional.] Oh, my God. Working with Anthony Rapp has been one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life. I’ve learned so much from him. I can be really hard on myself. I can overthink things. I come in looking for the problem in order to solve it. And Anthony comes in very zen — that’s who he is. He’s very centered, and he calms me down in a way, puts me at ease in a way that really makes our scenes really natural and easy. And we’ve had some really tough stuff to play and some really beautiful stuff to play and intimate stuff that can be tricky. And I don’t know that I could have done it as well with anybody else, because we have known each other for 27 years now.

I’ve said this before. We truly created this relationship out of the very real love and respect that we have for each other. We didn’t map it out. We just said, I love you. You love me. The basis for every great relationship is friendship and let’s go from there. And that’s what we did. And we took each moment as it came. It was really beautiful.

He taught me as an actor that it’s wonderful to be prepared, and it’s incredible to do all of that work, but that when you come to the set, it’s really about the relationship between you and that person in the room with you and what happens in the moment. He taught me how to trust myself a lot more. I’m a different actor after having worked with him. I’m a more confident actor because of him.

Wilson Cruz -- Photo: Gene Reed
Wilson Cruz — Photo: Gene Reed

MW: I’ve been watching a lot of LGBTQ content on television recently and have noticed a passion and genuineness to how we are being portrayed in relationships. We seem to have evolved to a new level.

WILSON: I want to remind you that [My So-Called Life‘s] Rickie Vasquez never got to kiss anybody. He longed for that. That was also part of the character — he was this kind of removed person and he was still finding himself, and he was still figuring, he was on the journey of self-acceptance. And so you’re not really kissing people, I guess at that point, if you’re not even willing to admit what it is that you want. But I always wonder what would’ve happened if that series had progressed.

You look at Euphoria, those characters. I like to think of Rickie Vasquez as their much older daddy who kind of paved the way. We had to have a Rickie Vasquez who reached into people’s hearts. Before we got to the sex, we had to get to people’s hearts. And I think Rickie really reached into people and allowed them to see his humanity. For a generation of young people, he really defined who a gay person was. For many of those young people, he was the first gay person of their age that they really could point to alongside [The Real World‘s] Pedro Zamora. So we had Rickie Vasquez and Pedro Zamora who humanized this issue.

I remember being in school and being teased for being gay, but the way they teased me was to say that I had AIDS. You know what I mean? That’s what we were dealing with at the time. So I think Rickie laid a path with his heart — big heart — and allowed these new characters to come in and expand on the experience of LGBTQ youth. And what we’re seeing now is revolutionary, and it’s why this generation can expand the conversation now to gender and to trans people, because that is the next conversation. That is how we finally see an inclusive culture, an inclusive country, if we’re willing to do that work.

So much has to be done through politics, through passing laws and bills, but no law can change someone’s mind, right? You have to change hearts and minds in order for legislation to be effective, for people to buy into it. And I think culture, television, film, storytelling does that for people, for us. And then the legislation follows.

So what’s happening right now is that we are having a cultural conversation about young people and gender, and it’s a conversation that I see on a daily basis with my work at GLSEN, right? The way that our schools are dealing with the controversy, so to speak, and the relationship with parents and school boards and teachers and curriculum. But these young people are literally changing the world. They’re changing the way we see ourselves because they see themselves so fully. And they want us to see them as well.

MW: My sense of you is that you are such an empathetic, caring person that it almost feels natural that you would try to help and move the community forward, Wilson. You seem like that kind of person.

WILSON: I appreciate you saying that. I hope so. I hope that I am an empathetic person. I don’t know how to do my work either way. I don’t know how to do either of those jobs without a sense of empathy. I think it’s required. But also, I have to pay it back, right? When I think about everything that was done to clear a safer path for me, for my generation. I was born in 1973, the year that we were taken out of the DSM. We were removed from the list of diseases.

I’m not ignorant to the fact that my life was so much easier than Frank Kameny’s, for instance. You watch Fellow Travelers and you are reminded of how difficult it was to navigate the world as a queer person with no rights. And what keeps me up at night is that people think that those rights are guaranteed, and we could very easily be seeing a future after November where those rights are being stripped. We have a Supreme Court that has literally said they are willing to do it. So I think all of our jobs right now is to be awake to that fact.

MW: Are you married now? I don’t remember.

WILSON: I have been single for 13 years.

MW: How are you single? I don’t get that.

WILSON: My therapist and I talk about it all the time. I haven’t figured it out either.

MW: Do you date?

WILSON: I would love to actually. I am open to meeting someone, but I have a pretty great life. I’ve had some relationships that have not been great, and so I’ve been gun shy. I think that’s part of it lately. So I’m careful about who I invite into my life. I’m holding out for a hero, as they say.

Mother of the Bride: Wilson Cruz
Mother of the Bride: Michael McDonald and Wilson Cruz – Photo: Netflix

MW: Well, that’s a perfect segue into Mother of the Bride. I really enjoyed seeing Brooke Shields. I grew up at a time when Brooke Shields to me was The Blue Lagoon. And this movie, I think, was very sly about that — there is a moment at Lover’s Cove that feels right out of The Blue Lagoon. It’s a little visual throwback.

WILSON: [Laughs.] Totally! I didn’t even think about that. I didn’t even make that connection. But you’re absolutely right.

For me, Brooke Shields was Calvin Klein jeans. All I ever wanted — and could not afford — was a pair of Calvin Klein jeans. I’ve told her, I was like, obsessed with her as a teenager. I loved me some Brooke Shields. So meeting her was crazy, and I met her on my very first day in Thailand. I arrived in the middle of the night, and they were all having a dinner. I was like, “Benjamin Bratt and Brooke Shields,” and my head kind of exploded.

She could not have been more generous, more lovely to work with. She was a producer on this. This is her baby. She was the hardest working person on this movie. And she was so much fun to be around.

We were in Thailand, and I have to tell you, it was hot as hell. It was right before the monsoon season. Most of the movie is shot outdoors. So it would start pouring and we’d have to run, cover everything, and then just sit there and wait for it to pass before we could start up again. People would be fanning you at all times because they didn’t want the clothes to look sweaty. I mean, it was hot. And not just regular hot. It was humid. It was like humid-hot. But it was beautiful. It wasn’t a rough gig. I mean, we shot at two resorts. I got a massage almost every other day.

MW: I love the fact that there’s a gay couple in this and no big deal made over it. It’s part of their friendship group.

WILSON: There’s no big [coming-out] conversation between Benjamin Bratt, whose brother I play. There’s not like a sit-down where we have a heart-to-heart. There’s none of that. I think we had a very sibling energy about us. We still do. I love him. He was the main reason why I wanted to do this movie. I’ve been such a Benjamin Bratt fan for so long, and I was like, “Oh, I get to be his brother. Are you fucking kidding me?” And he’s exactly as charming as you expect him to be. He just oozes charm. He’s so debonair. And he looks amazing. He looks amazing. I mean, it’s crazy.
MW: I enjoyed seeing Michael McDonald too, although I’ll say that if I was on a set with Michael McDonald, I’d be constantly say, “Do Stuart, do Stuart, do Stuart!”

WILSON: But you know what? You didn’t have to because he’s one of the most natural improvisers in the world. He will go off on a tangent, and I mean literally you’re just like eating popcorn watching. His imagination is insane. We laughed. We just laughed the entire time. He was hilarious.

MW: Thailand just — we have an article up today — made the first steps to approving same-sex marriage.

WILSON: Oh, yes, I saw that. When you’re there, you can see how incredibly accepting it is. We went to a few drag shows there. It’s just part of the world and the culture. I mean, it’s interesting because you can see that there is a fluidity to gender there, and it’s not like they’re having a conversation. It’s just cultural. I think it’s been a part of who they have always been, that there has been an acceptance of a fluidity of gender, and it’s really beautiful. There’s no gawking or anything like this. It’s just the way it is.

MW: I couldn’t help but notice, but most of the time your shirt is off or open. Was that yours or the director’s decision?

WILSON: [Laughs.] I don’t know that there was ever a question about whether or not it was going to have to be open or not. The girls had to breathe.

MW: You play a lot of gay roles. Do you get tired of being cast as the gay man? I hope that’s not an offensive question.

WILSON: No, I’m not offended. I do play people who happen to be gay most of the time. But I am about to do a movie in the summer where I’m not playing a person who happens to be gay. I’m playing a real life person who happens to be straight and a police officer.

I only have so much say as to what I’m allowed to do in this industry unless I write it and produce it myself, which I haven’t done yet. So the roles that come to me are the roles that come to me. I try to diversify them in my own way and make them singular and precise. They’re all different to me in my head.

But I play people. Now, do I see my work as an artist as political? Yes. I use my work, my characters, to say something about our community most of the time. So it’s why I chose to make my character on The West Wing gay when I didn’t have to. It’s an opportunity for us to be visible. I see my work as a way of having a conversation with the American public about who we are. Because the truth is, most of the time that we see a gay person or a queer person on TV, it’s still usually a gay white man.

So I get to help people understand that we’re more than that. Here’s what I’m going to say. The fact that most of my characters have been gay has been the least interesting thing about all of them. I think the fact that Hugh is gay is literally the least interesting thing about him. He is gay and he’s in love, but he could have been in love with a straight woman and he would’ve been exactly the same person, for me anyway.

The fact that Rickie Vasquez was gay is also the least interesting thing about him. For me, that was a journey of self-acceptance. He just happened to be a gay boy who is learning to accept himself, but young people, of all different stripes, are on that same journey.

I think when creators and producers or writers are looking for actors to play certain roles, and one of them happens to be gay, I end up on a list, and they bring me in and see if what I bring to it is right for them or not, and I’m okay with that. I’m also on the list when they’re looking for a Latino, and I think sometimes they’re like, “Oh, Wilson, that’s interesting.” I also know for a fact that sometimes there’ll be a character where they’re looking for a woman of color or something and they’ll put me on the list and go, “Oh, that might be a different way to go.” You know what I mean? I give people options.

So my job is not necessarily to play a character, it’s to play a human. And if they happen to be gay, that’s just one of the hundreds of things that I consider when I develop the character.

MW: I want to end by coming back to Star Trek. What farewell would you like to say to the fans of Discovery?

WILSON: I’m just grateful, right? I’m grateful that they went on this ridiculous ride with us. I’m grateful that they supported me through this ridiculously epic journey that this character went through and took the leaps of the imagination that it required.

I’m grateful to those fans out there who fought for this relationship, who defended it vocally online and offline. I’m grateful to all those people who came to me at the conventions and greeted me with hugs when it wasn’t COVID time.

I’m grateful to these fans who saw themselves in this character of Hugh, who opened themselves up to being vulnerable because he modeled that for them. I’m grateful to these families, these parents who used Discovery and this relationship and these characters to have a conversation with their own kids about their gender or their different family.

I’m just really grateful for the entire experience, and the fans are an enormous part of that. I’m just grateful.

New episodes of Star Trek Discovery, Season 5, debut weekly on Paramount+. Seasons 1-4 are streaming in their entirety. Visit

Mother of the Bride will premiere on Netflix on May 9. Visit

The GLSEN Respect Awards Gala, hosted by Peppermint, will be held on Monday, April 29, at Gotham Hall, 1356 Broadway, in New York City. Visit

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!