Star Trek has a long history of memorable security chiefs. Chekov, Yar, Worf, Odo, Tuvok. Their names evoke acts of courage, integrity, and sacrifice.
With the arrival of Paramount+'s newest series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, we can add to that legacy La'an Noonien-Singh, played to misanthropic -- at least on first impression -- perfection by the engaging and nuanced Christina Chong.
Speaking with TV Fanatic from her Toronto home while filming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Chong discusses her journey to the Trek-verse, how it differs from the other franchises she has been a part of, and what she's working on when she's not in Starfleet uniform.
Full disclosure: Chong didn't grow up a Trek fan. She remembers her older brother would watch it, but it wasn't something she followed.
"Y’know, I’d see it on in the background, kind of not focussing when he was watching his programs, not giving me the remote. I would see it on there, and I’d be like, ‘No, I want to watch my programs!’
"So I remember it [a bit that way], but it’s a massive part of pop culture. You can’t not be aware of Star Trek, but I didn’t realize how big it was until I actually became a part of it."
She recognizes that ignorance might've been a blessing in this case.
"Coming into it being like ‘Oh my gosh, this big huge franchise with a massive fanbase' would’ve been a bit daunting, I think, so I’m glad I didn’t realize until I’m in it. Step by step, I’m realizing more and more even now, like doing these interviews [and] with the premiere."
Chong is no stranger to major franchise shows. Notably, she portrayed Lorna Bucket on Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 7, a key character who befriends Amy Pond and inadvertently provides the name we come to know Pond's daughter by, River Song.
With those experiences in mind, how does working on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds stand out from other franchises?
"When I accepted the role, I accepted it off of seven pages of dialogue, so I had really not much of an idea of what it would be other than, ‘Oh, it’s a sci-fi show. It’s probably going to be a lot of sci-fi things I’ve got to do.’
"What has surprised me the most is how much and how varied the role is and what I’ve gotten to do. Y’know, Lorna Bucket is very much she is what she is. And with all the other franchises, you’re in it for one reason, you’re playing one particular role, and that’s what it is, and it’s great.
"But this allows me to go to places that I just have so much fun with. You see it more towards the later episodes.
"For me, it’s about the scope of the whole show and the fact that the episodes are so different. They’re like little movies within themselves. I get to work with so many people as well. [La'an] interacts with all the legacy characters. She interacts with everyone, really.
"Because she’s the Chief Security Officer, she gets to go on all the different missions. It’s great stepping onto all the different sets that we have. I love that. I love seeing a set for the first time and being like, ‘Oh. My. Goodness.’
"There’s one particular one on this season that I’m like 'AHHHH!' -- can’t talk about it, obviously."
On Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 1, we discover that La'an has known Una (Rebecca Romijn) for a long time before being assigned to the Enterprise as a part of the mission to rescue her.
Did Chong and Romijn work to develop the personal rapport needed to convey that relationship on screen?
"It was funny because getting to know each other during the first season was tricky because we were in quarantine. It was lockdown here, so we didn’t get to go into each other’s backstory very much, like on a personal level even.
"Rehearsals weren’t really a thing. It was kind of there-before-you-shoot rehearsals. There really wasn’t much time because of COVID, but we did have a few – and since, obviously, we’ve had a lot of -- conversations.
"We are different [people], but we have similarities in our backgrounds and the way we were brought up, so I think we connected on that level which we just naturally bring to our characters.
"For me, I personalized her as like an older-sister-type figure, and I think La’an looks to her for that kind of guidance in a way.
"[Una]’s really -- maybe a little bit Pike as well -- but Una’s the only one she trusts from the onset. That grows, and it’s great how she slowly and gently prods her to step over the next hurdle, [then] step over the next one.
"It was really lovely working with her, and she’s a lot of fun as well."
Chong found some common ground with La'an on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 3 when the character reveals she grew up with the stigma of Augments haunting her because she is a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, the infamous genetically-engineered superhuman dictator involved in Earth's Eugenics Wars.
You’re an abomination. An Augment. That’s what the other kids called me when they heard my name. Augment! Monster! Like you are.La’an
"I lived up North [in the UK] for part of my childhood in Lancashire. It was a small little village that I was brought up in. I think I was the only Chinese kid there, apart from my siblings.
"My mum was here visiting not that long ago, and I was talking to my mum about it. She didn’t really know because as a kid, I never used to go home going, ‘Oh, I got bullied today or whatever.’
"It was just how it was for me at school. It was a daily occurrence when I was little. I would be made fun of for being Chinese.
"And so, [being persecuted for being a Noonien-Singh] was very easy to play because it was like for like. I’d been judged and been bullied for who I was connected to, for my name, for who I was.
"It was my dad. I remember being picked up at school by my dad. I knew the next day would be worse for me. It would be hell because they’d seen my dad, and it would be horrible.
"The world is changing now, but I very much connected to it. And I think Rebecca’s so real with it -- she’s so touching in that episode -- that I think she must have similar experiences, not necessarily with race, but I feel like we all have an element of that.
"We’re all bullied in some way or made to feel not good enough as kids. It’s hard not to avoid those kinds of things, and it makes us who we are, gives us the character that we have.
A glance over Chong's CV reveals an industry veteran with a wide range of interests in creating and performing, honed with an impressive level of training and experience in multiple disciplines.
All the creative energy drives Chong to manifest something wholly her own when she's not immersed on Strange New Worlds.
"I have been working on a project, my own project that I am writing, creating. I’ll be producing, and I’ll be starring as well -- my own [television] show. I can’t talk about the specifics of it yet.
"It’s been in my head for about eight years, but it’s only been really coming to fruition since 2019. I didn’t realize just how long these things take. I was asking the producers and production company, ‘So how long d’you reckon this’ll be?’ And they’re like, ‘Um, quickest it could be is two years.’
"Fast forward three years later, and we’re still kind of plodding along, but it’s getting there. I just love creating something from the ground up. And this is a very, very personal story to me. I can’t say what, but it’s very, very personal.
"In a way, although it’s taken time, it’s found its way so easily because it’s such an important story that needs to be told."
Be sure to catch Chong's continuing adventures as Lt. La'an Noonien-Singh on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds!
New episodes drop every Thursday on Paramount+, and, of course, TV Fanatic will have reviews ready for you to read and respond to!
What are your thoughts on the return of the Noonien-Singh name to Trek? What are your initial impressions of La'an and Chong's portrayal of the Security Chief? Hit our comments with your thoughts, Fanatics!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.