TV Guide interview:
Seven continues to be Jeri Ryan’s lucky number: 25 years after making her debut as the former Borg drone Seven of Nine on the Season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager and immediately becoming one of the franchise’s major fan favorites, Ryan returns to the role once again for the second season of Star Trek: Picard.
And where Season 1 revealed an intriguing new path – and potential new love – for Seven, her story was told in tantalizing glimpses. Season 2, however, leans heavily into Seven’s headspace as she as Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his new allies contend not only with his longtime agitator the Q (John de Lancie) but their shared tormentor the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching), who once assimilated them both into the Collectiive, as well. And as Seven’s romance with Raffi (Michelle Hurd) hits a rocky patch, she’s also – through some time-bending plot twists – confronted with what her life might have been like had she never encountered the Borg and remained fully human.
As Ryan reveals to TV Guide after a quarter-century with Seven of Nine, she’s still excited to dig deeper – and play with more pals from her extended Trek family – as her story continues to unfold in unexpected ways.
We got a taste of where Seven is at this point in her evolution in Season 1, but for Season 2 it looks like we’re going to go down much more road with her. Tell me what was exciting to you about getting to continue to see her story through and the aspects of it that you get to play this time around.
Jeri Ryan: Well, just in general this is such a rare gift to get as an actor, to be able to take a character through this much of her life’s journey and this much growth and development and change. Over a 20-year period – that’s almost unheard of. She’s always, from the beginning, been such a rich character to play anyway, as an actor, because she didn’t even start out human. So literally every aspect of life has been an education for her and a struggle and a challenge. It’s really been a cool journey that she’s been on.
I love this season. They’re exploring and giving her a little taste of what life could have possibly been like had she never been assimilated. Because that’s the experience that she’s never had: just being human, fully human. That the first thing that somebody notices about her when they meet her isn’t the metal implant over her eye, for example, and treating her with, instantly, dread or fear or loathing or distrust, or whatever, any of those emotions that The Borg bring out in people.
So this is, for her, because that’s always been her struggle, is trying to find the balance between her Borg half and her human half, and figuring who she truly is and where she fits in and where she feels most comfortable and finding where she belongs.
One of the great new additions to the Star Trek universe is Michelle Hurd and her character, Raffi. Tell me about that dynamic between Seven and Rafi and between you and Michelle, that has really brought an extra layer of fun and excitement to what you’re getting to do with Seven now?
Ryan: Well, on a personal level, Michelle is just an absolute delight to work with. The two of us really just really clicked and hit it off. And we have the same work style and we’re roughly the same age. We’ve been around a long time. We’ve seen a lot in this industry and we just enjoy being together so much.
And so the relationship for the two of them is easy. That came very, very easily in so much of Season 2. Partly for story but I think that was in part an accommodation to COVID as well. Starting back to work at the height of this pandemic, most of the characters are paired off, one or two characters in most storylines. We get together, but for the most part, our stories are separated out. So basically my entire Season 2 was with Michelle and we had a ball. We just had so much fun.
And I love these two characters together. These are two very strong, very smart, very fully realized women who’ve got their lives. And so now they’re trying to…it’s a very mature relationship, you know what I mean? It’s a very mature representation of a relationship. And I love that. It’s not, “Oh, here’s the white picket fence and they’re so happy, happy, joy, joy. And everything’s great.” Because neither one of us wanted to see that for these characters. It’s just not right. The way this story is playing out is, I think, perfect and real and makes perfect sense.
And of course, Seven is incredibly independent. Rafi, I think less so. She’s got a little more codependency, I think, happening, which is a bit of a struggle for Seven because she’s fiercely independent and she’s been on her own for so long. And it’s that struggle of, also we’re dropping into the middle of this relationship. So at the end of Season One, you saw the very first glimmers of the beginning, in that last episode of Season One. And now we’ve jumped a year plus into the future. So we’re into the middle of this relationship.
And it’s not the honeymoon phase – we’re not seeing that. We’re seeing, “How do I make this work? Can I make this work? How many accommodations am I willing to make in my life? And how much am I willing to give up and willing to sacrifice and willing to compromise?” Which you have to do in every relationship. But it’s figuring that out and what they can do, what they’re willing to do, what they need for themselves. And it was pretty fun to explore all of that.
It’s interesting to see how in the same way that Spock was in the original, Seven’s always been a proxy for the outsider and the misunderstood. And she still grapples with that. And then this show not only depicts that for her as a character but is also going back to the basics of holding up a mirror a little bit to social problems that are very contemporary. Is that the kind of Trek that kept you excited about your involvement in the franchise in the beginning? And what’s it like to get back to telling those kinds of stories?
Ryan: Well, absolutely! When Gene Roddenberry started Star Trek, he was very open about saying that’s what it was here to do. And that’s what it’s done so successfully: it holds a mirror up to society and shows us what we can achieve if we get our crap together, and where we’re screwing it up. And this, because we are traveling back to present-day Los Angeles, it’s a little more in your face, I would say, of holding it up.
And this is a more direct mirror. We don’t have the distance of saying, “Oh, this is hundreds of years in the future. Here’s what it could be.” This is showing us very much where we are now. And these characters comment on where we as a society are finding ourselves right now. I love that. That’s what Star Trek has always done so well, is show us what we can and should do better.
I know your showrunner Akiva Goldsman is Star Trek Fan Number One, and I’m sure came with a degree of openness for your input, as far as what was going to happen this season. Did you get to contribute a lot to the shape and form of Seven’s story for Season 2?
Ryan: I’m in a pretty unique position, I would say. I always have been with this character in that I haven’t had to have a lot of input. I haven’t had to request a lot of changes or things like that because she’s always been so beautifully developed and beautifully written and I’ve really loved her journey. So I haven’t felt like I needed to step in that often. Certainly, the doors are always open.
The one thing that Michelle and I both weighed in on is, with the relationship, we wanted to make sure that it didn’t get too earnest and happy-happy joy-joy, and sunshine and puppies and wrap them up in a neat bow and they’re happily married. That’s not who these women are. That’s not how this relationship, I think, would go in real life. So we wanted to make sure that was a realistic depiction of a relationship. And I think it is. I think they really wrote it beautifully.
Seven and Picard have a unique connection in their relationship with The Borg. And this season seems like it’s really going to dive deep into that. Tell me a little bit that perspective for the two of you in this season’s storyline.
Ryan: Yes, Picard and Seven share a very unique experience. And I think from characters that we would’ve seen, the ones that we know of in the Trek universe, and that we have gotten to know, I think Hugh was maybe the only other character who’s been in this sort of scenario that we’ve seen, that they literally were assimilated by The Borg – a little differently for Seven because her entire life she grew up as a Borg. She was assimilated at age seven.
That connects them. And that struggle and that fighting the call of The Borg is something that they very much have in common. And so having to deal with that enemy that I think they both, at this point in their lives had thought was totally in the past and they wouldn’t have to deal with anymore. And then to realize that you not only have to deal with The Borg Queen, you have to work with her, is a pretty cool struggle, I think, to address for these two.
In the original Voyager episodes, we saw little glimpses of the Annika Hansen that might have been, and that comes around in a fresh way this time. Do you have a way that you think of the Annika side of Seven and how they, even though they’re the same person, relate to one another?
Ryan: No, I don’t really compartmentalize it that way so much when I’m preparing or when I’m thinking about the character. But this is definitely a new experience for her, this season. This is really, the first time that she’s ever gotten to just experience this life as a human. So people just see a person in front of them and they relate to you as just, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s just another person.” And it’s such a new experience for her. And that’s what she’s always so desperately craved. And I think she handles it with varying degrees of grace.
As Seven always does. I know you guys are, if not fully completed filming, right at the end of shooting Season 3.
Ryan: Yes, we are.
Did you come out of Season 2 knowing what was ahead or was there a pause and then Season 3 was figured out? How much continuity was there for you, in making the show, between the two seasons?
Ryan: There was no pause. We did not get a break between Seasons 2 and 3. They shot them continuously without a hiatus. So we just broke for the holiday and that was it.
I think it was a weekend, maybe, between Season 2 and 3 I think that’s all it was. There was no actual hiatus. So while we were probably two-thirds, three-quarters of the way through shooting Season Two, we were having the discussions with the producers about what Season 3 is going to be and what the arc of the characters would be. But there was no downtime. It was a very unusual shooting schedule.
I won’t hit you up for Season 3 spoilers, but I am curious, having the opportunity to complete a full new phase for Seven – maybe not the last, but hopefully we’ll see her again – tell me how you came out of that experience after getting three seasons to revisit this character. Was that a really satisfying thing for you?
Ryan: It’s incredibly satisfying – and I can’t give anything away for Season 3, but I think the fans will be very pleased with Seven’s arc and the send-up that all these characters are getting at the end of this series.
It’s such an interesting and exciting space for Star Trek, which is really one of the first franchises that kicked off these continuations of established series later on: now you’ve got this ever-expanding universe through the streaming service, and the possibilities are endless. Because I know you’ve made friends with people from all across the franchise over your time with it, does it excite you, the different permutations now that are out there? That you might get to do something with, say, Michael Dorn or some of your Voyager castmates? What does that mean to you, as far as the prospects for continuing sci-fi storytelling with this family of people?
Ryan: Well, yes, absolutely. Oddly enough, I think Patrick [Stewart] was the only member of the Next Gen cast that I didn’t know well when we started Picard, because I’m good buddies with all of those guys, and Patrick I’d only ever met once over the years before we started shooting together, which is funny. But my Voyager castmates and my friends that I’ve met from the other series – it’s always a treat when you get the chance to work with your friends in any context, whether it’s Star Trek or anything else. So, that possibility is always super-exciting. So who knows?
Picard Season 2 drops new episodes every Thursday on Paramount+.