Yesterday was William Shatner’s birthday—happy 84th, Bill!—and what better time to welcome a new Starship captain who happens to be a fellow member of the tribe?
Variety has announced that British actor Jason Isaacs will play Captain Lorca in the forthcoming Trek iteration, Star Trek: Discovery. The show is set to begin airing this fall on CBS’s streaming service/Netflix-equivalent, CBS All-Access. (O brave new world, that has such media delivery systems in ‘t!)
Like Shatner, who grew up in a kosher home in Montreal, Isaacs is a pretty Jewy Jew. He attended King David Primary School, an Orthodox Day School in Liverpool, and went to cheder twice a week. He went on to study law at Bristol University before attending the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. His parents eventually made aliyah and settled near Tel Aviv; he spent time with them, before his mother passed away while filming Dig, the 2015 TV drama set in Jerusalem and created by Homeland’s Gideon Raff.
As a child in the 1940s, Isaacs’s father was bullied by pro-Nazi British youth. As a child in the 1970s, Isaacs himself was bullied by fascist British youth. So it’s ironic, perhaps, that the man’s best-known role is Lucius Malfoy, the vile Voldemort acolyte in the Harry Potter franchise who sneers at mixed-race Mudbloods, believes in eugenics, and is certain that the descendants of Salazar Slytherin are destined to rule the wizarding world with an iron fist. (Malfoy’s long, pin-straight, platinum-blond Aryan locks were Isaacs’s idea.)
“It’s not like I don’t understand racism, fear, bigotry and ignorance,” he told the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. “Being Jewish, I think, has brought me a more nuanced perspective on it than most.”
His own politics are far from Malfoyian. “You can look around the world today and see many politicians standing on that kind of anti-immigration, separatist, backwards-looking platform,” he told the Jewish Journal in 2011. “There’s no shortage of right-wing politicians trying to make people feel more comfortable and superior in these times of great uncertainty and fear.”
An accomplished stage actor, Isaacs also starred in the London premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at the National Theatre in 1993; he played cowardly court clerk Louis, who leaves his lover, Prior Walter, when Prior is diagnosed with AIDS. Isaacs told the director, “Look, I play all these tough guys and thugs … in real life, I am a cringing, neurotic Jewish mess. Can’t I for once play that on stage?”
Though Isaacs will serve as the new Starship’s captain, he’s not the show’s lead. She’s played by Sonequa Martin-Green of The Walking Dead. Inspired by real-life astronaut Mae Jemison and Star Trek: The Original Series’ Uhura Prime, played by Nichelle Nichols, original showrunner Bryan Fuller wanted to cast a woman of color as his star. He also wanted a main character who was younger than the typical captain, not quite as senior, with her own journey of discovery mostly ahead of her. Martin-Green will play a lieutenant commander. Fuller has departed the show (“scheduling conflicts”), but still attached are James Frain (memorably of Orphan Black and True Blood) as Spock’s father Sarek; Rent musical star Anthony Rapp as a “space fungus expert”; noted ass-kicker Michelle Yeoh as the captain of the Starship Shenzhou; and Alec Baldwin’s supercilious assistant on 30 Rock and voice of Baljeet on Phineas and Ferb, Maulik Pancholy, as the Shenzhou’s Chief Medical Officer. Beam me up already.
My colleague Gabriela at Jewcy has ably pointed out all the Jewy-Trekkie convergences. Most of the original series’s writers, and many of the various shows’ and movies’ actors, were Jewish. Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan salute, as we are all sick of hearing by now, came from the priestly blessing of the Kohanim. Nimoy did a photography project about the Shekhina, the divine feminine presence; he also recorded Shakespearean monologues in Yiddish for the National Yiddish Book Center. (Also, I will never miss an opportunity to recommend Fascinating, the moving and very Jewish children’s picture book about his childhood and early career.) This is an illustrious interstellar team Isaacs is joining. Barukh ha-ba!
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.