Rapp recounted how stumbling on MTV reruns of My So-Called Life — in which Cruz made history by being the first out gay actor to play a gay lead in a TV series — salvaged “a really miserable experience” in 1995 when he was filming Twister in Oklahoma.
“It was a lifesaving experience for me as an actor,” Rapp said. After seeing Cruz’s portrayal of Rickie Vasquez, he thought, “This is what I want to be. This is the quality that I want to be a part of.”
It’s a sentiment Cruz has heard and felt before. “That show literally saved my life. So I understand when people say how much it means to them, because it means that much to me,” Cruz replied.
Cruz, a former spokesman for the LGBT media group GLAAD, described himself as an “actorvist.” Both actors, who have spent most of their long acting careers out of the closet, agree that for them, acting and activism go hand-in-hand. This worldview makes them ideally suited for Star Trek: Discovery, which is breaking barriers for a new generation of LGBT people. “We wanted out gay actors playing these parts,” confirmed Harberts, who called this casting another “benchmark” that is “trailblazing a new moment for us in terms of storytelling.”
“If we had given … the arc of this relationship to straight characters, it would be denying our community the chance to elevate gay relationships to something we haven’t seen before,” Harberts said.
Choosing LGBT actors for LGBT roles is “a change” for Hollywood, Wilson noted drily. And each actor’s path to Star Trek: Discovery was not the usual casting process for network television. “Normally, you have to jump through so many hoops,” bemoaned Rapp, who was astonished when he received a straightforward offer.
“I didn’t know there was a new Star Trek! I had no idea!” said Rapp, recounting his reaction to the fateful email. Soon he was chatting about the part on the phone with Bryan Fuller, the show’s original co-creator. Fuller left Star Trek: Discovery to helm American Gods on Starz. But the gay producer’s vision of storylines involving complex moral questions amid a stunning spectral backdrop lives on through Harberts and Berg, who have been longtime collaborators in queer-friendly fan-favorite shows like Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls.
Cruz also worked with this trio on Pushing Daisies and paved his own path to becoming Culber. Early on, he reached out to Fuller through a direct message on Twitter, congratulating him on Discovery and letting him know “that I would be more than happy to be a part of it.” After Rapp’s casting, Cruz called Harberts and Berg to praise them on an “amazing” choice—and to also convey a similar message.
Cruz’s call to the showrunners was unreturned. But eventually, he did receive a message from an excited manager. “You’re going to be on Star Trek!” the rep exclaimed.
When Cruz met with the showrunners, Berg greeted him at the door. “I forgot to call you back. This is your returned phone call,” she said.