Star Trek Picard Season 3 is with us, and one of the break-out superstars is Captain Liam Shaw. Some people hate him, others love him, but what we all agree on is that the actor, Todd Stashwick (Star Trek Picard, 12 Monkeys), plays the part perfectly.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the Chicago-born actor and geek out!
What is the most meaningful item in your collection?
You know what? It very well may be my original Kenner Star Wars action figures. From 77 or something? So those I’ve literally carried with me for 45 years. So those mean a lot because they’re… I mean, I have my Mego Star Trek figures, but they’re not the originals, right? Those I re-bought on eBay or were gifted to me. So they’re representative of something very meaningful. But I would say my Star Wars action figures because I’ve had them forever!
[We then geeked out for a bit over his Mego bridge and the tree topper providing sound effects! I showed off my sixth scale Speeder before getting a full tour of the Nerd Lair – it’s incredible. The man has a dragon! I certainly found myself envying the Atari 2600 hooked up to a CRT TV].
So, we both love collecting, and I know you have access to the real thing because, of course, you’re an actor, and a lot of actors do like to take souvenirs from the set after production. So, got to ask, did anything come home with you after Picard wrapped?
No, we’re absolutely not allowed to keep anything from the set.
So you didn’t sneak away a combadge or anything like that?
No. Yeah. No. No, it’s not my property. No, no, no, no. I would never admit to that.
[We can only imagine what goodies now have (but definitely don’t exist) a home in the Nerd Lair!]
Being a Trek fan, you said you have the original Mego figures in the seventies, and of course, you grew up with the movies and The Next Generation; what did it feel like to put that uniform on for the first time and step out onto the set of the bridge of your ship?
You know, it’s obviously a slow process. I mean, I got fitted for my suit. They measured me, and I’d had stages of having it cut to fit me. And then, before all of that, Terry brought me to the set, so I got kind of a private tour of it so that I could kick the tires of the bridge before I actually shot. So, the upside was that none of it felt like a first time, so I could comfortably live in the skin of this character once we got to shooting.
I walked onto the bridge, I knew where everything was, and I knew who was where and what positions were what. And I’d already sat in my chair! But having all of it collectively come together fills your soul. Like it’s that feeling of being connected to a legacy that has brought so much joy to people. Me being one of them. And you feel yourself being part of a continuum; It’s quite beautiful and thrilling. And, you know, I had to separate the six-year-old in me from the adult actor in me, and it was never lost on me while it was happening. I was always appreciative of feeling the gratitude of the event while it was happening.
What was it like working with the original TNG cast?
I have admired their work. You know, I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with people whose work I’ve admired. It’s always nice to meet these people. I’ve been to many cons and whatnot in my life just as a fan; I’ve walked around and been a part of nerd culture as a fan, as much as I have participated in them as an actor. So, it was really nice to meet these people under the circumstances of we’re coworkers. I could extend my compliments to them that I enjoy their work, and at the same time, I got to be chill because we had a job to do. We were all in the same, I was going to say boat, but ship!
We had you know, we had this great writing and these great scenes that we got to do. And I had known Jonathan Frakes prior to it, and Terry Matalas, obviously, I had known for quite some time. It was walking into a very warm, welcoming set.
Was Shaw fully fleshed out when you got the script, or were you allowed to input at all into the character’s development?
Well, obviously, characters happen in stages. No one person is responsible for what the audience finally receives. So, Shaw started in the writer’s room and in the imagination of the writers. And then, they created his backstory, and they created his forward story. So, my job was to be the best custodian of what was on the page. My input comes in performance in how I play the role and what nuance and thoughts I bring to the moment because what they’ve committed to the page differs from what I am experiencing as I interact in real time with the other characters.
How do you, as an actor, prepare to portray Shaw’s trauma in such a convincing way?
I have all the information. Right. So, you know, I know things the audience doesn’t. And so, as an actor, I take all that information, and I process it, and I, you know, you try to think the thoughts that the character’s thinking that’s all based on the information that you have about the character. So, anything that anybody says to him, his response is always going to be seen through a lens of his experiences. When certain things trigger him, or he has to reckon with issues that he’s maybe buried, it will come out in the moment. Despite his need to be professional and to be precise, he’s still a human being.
I think you do see that kind of dichotomy between the professional officer and the human being reacting to triggering things.
But I do have to ask as well in Episode 1, did that blue stuff taste good?
It was space meat!
Was it Tribble?
It was not Tribble! No, it was, you know, they never give you anything bad just because you have to eat it for more than one take.
Undoubtedly, you will have seen a lot of the early reactions to Shaw, and with your knowledge of what’s to happen across the course of the season, do you think people are judging him too quickly and writing him off?
Oh, no, no. I think I think people are judging him based on the information that they have at the moment. That’s the joy of going on a journey with a character, right? Just like every person you meet, you get first impressions and then as you get to know them, you find out other things about them that will also shape your opinions. So, what’s really fun for me is to go on the initial journey with them. I think this is the joy of a single episode release, which if you had given people a binge, a lot of these conversations we wouldn’t be having. But because we are releasing one at a time, people watch it more than once. They’re replaying the episode, replaying the episode, replaying the episode, and so they get to perseverate on specific moments and dig in and dissect things that you probably wouldn’t have done if you had gotten all ten episodes all at once.
So, what I really enjoy is the people going, ‘he’s a jerk, but he’s not wrong’. Like one person said, ‘what if it was Picard’s ship and two superior officers without orders showed up and said, we’re taking the Enterprise where we want to take it? Picard would have gone. Yeah. No, I don’t think so. And even without any personal baggage, he would say no.
Of course, you’ve worked with Terry Matalas before on the incredible 12 Monkeys.
The character you play in that show was another character that started out looking a bit like a villain and then seemed to have a redemption arc, and by the end of it, was a fan favourite. Is this a similar thing we can expect with Shaw?
What’s different about Shaw is that he’s not a villain. He’s actually the opposite. He’s a good Starfleet captain. So, he’s not like Deacon at all. Deacon was a murderer, a sociopath. So, to compare them, the only thing that’s similar is that I’m the driver of both characters. They both prickly and acerbic and funny, hopefully, and brutally honest. But, I think that’s where the similarities stop. Now, if the journey for the audience is I don’t like this guy and maybe as I get to know them, I start to like them more. Then, yes, that would be a parallel journey, but Deacon was a warlord. So, he’s nothing like Shaw at all except in perhaps delivery. You know, they both speak with salt in their mouth!
What’s your fondest memory of working on 12 Monkeys?
It’s always the people. It’s always the people. I think my fondest memory was getting to go to Prague with everybody and being able to explore this magical city with people that I had spent three years with and that I love. And that’s always what you take away from these experiences. The job is amazing and fun, but it’s always the human beings and experiences.
How did you feel at the end of 12 Monkeys Season 4 with how Deacon’s story wrapped up?
I think he may have the most profound arc of anybody in the show. Like, he’s the only one that went from being a villain in season one to be very altruistic, self-sacrificial, hero. That’s a rare thing to get in this industry. The character with the breadth of his arc.
It was astonishing to see because it also didn’t feel forced. It felt like, oh, no, that makes sense. That’s his logical progression in life.
Yeah. He gets stripped down to his basic human elements, and then you understand why he is the way he is because of the man that raised him. And so your heart breaks for the guy. Then you basically go, well, I don’t know if I was stuck in a post-apocalyptic situation. I might make some of the similar choices that he’s made. He was never a villain in the sense that The Witness was a villain; he wasn’t hellbent on world domination. He wanted to keep people alive. Yeah. All of it was motivated from his father’s treatment of him as a boy and his love for his brother. Like, there’s a lot to sympathize with this guy.
There are so many cult franchises under your belt at this point. You’ve been in Buffy and Supernatural, 12 Monkeys, and Star Trek twice. Is there a franchise missing that you’d love to work on that you haven’t been able to do yet?
It’s a great question! You know, people ask, what do I want to do next? I would say be surprised. The jobs that are the most rewarding are the ones that I didn’t see coming. We just finished season one of Foundation, which was great. I would love to do like a big sword and sorcery thing. That’s one area I haven’t really explored. Like Rings of Power or Game of Thrones. I did audition for Willow. Something like that would be really fun. Yeah, I would like to do that because I’m a D&D kid. I would love to do that and live in that world.
You’re not just an actor, of course; you’re also a writer. How do you separate your writer instincts from an acting part that’s been written by somebody else?
Well, I don’t. I don’t separate them. They all work together because it’s all the same. It’s all coming from a storytelling need. So, my job as a writer is to make sure that I have enough information out there so that the audience or the writer or the actor, director, or producer reading it gets the understanding of the character that I’ve created or shaped or whatnot. So as an actor, I am reading the script with the writer in mind in many ways going, okay, I want to make sure that I see what their vision is and I see what their intentions are and how I best can then serve that vision as an actor.
I remember reading that you were working on a Star Wars game which never came to light, unfortunately. Can you tell us anything about what it was going to be? What we could have expected?
It was a third-person, action-adventure game, much in the spirit of the kind of games that Amy Hennig crafts. So it was, you know, of that Uncharted cloth. It was an ensemble game set in the world of scoundrels, I believe is the best way to put it. It was set in the more underworld areas of Star Wars. Not the Jedi or Empire of it all. I prefer the scoundrels. That is where my strength lies, I like writing those characters. You know, watching Star Wars, I always saw myself as Solo, not Luke Skywalker. And Amy as well. I think there’s a pulpy spirit of those space pirates.
Yeah, definitely. I really wish they had allowed that to be made. That sounds awesome!
You and me both. Three years of work on that.
Would you write a Star Trek game or book if offered?
You know what? If I’m honest with myself. I’m not sure. I mean, look, I would if somebody said, hey, we want to hire you, I would jump in with both feet. But, it is a realm of writing that is maybe beyond my strengths as a writer. When I listen to all of the military tactical stuff and the Starfleet protocols and all of those things. That is definitely a deeper skillset that I currently have. And I’m always in awe of people that could do it with such aplomb. But again, I certainly would love, you know, if given that challenge, I would try to rise and be that, you know. Something involving the Fenris Rangers, maybe.
One of the biggest games so far this year, Forspoken, which of course, you were involved in. How much involvement did you have with that story, and how did you end up working on it?
That was through Amy that I was brought in. They had been working with a group of writers that were breaking down and building a world. Then they came to Amy and said, hey, would you like to take this worldbuilding and turn it into a story? And Amy brought me on board. And then we broke the story on that and Allison Reimer, who was my official writing partner. and then she and I, after Amy went to go over to Skydance Media, continued that. Allison was on the project with Gary as well. Allison and I then went on to develop the bible of the world and then the script itself. We wrote primarily the cinematics, like many of the side quests and combat dialogue, and stuff like that is all done later in the process. So we did the main story.
We had a great time with it. We loved these characters. We loved this process. I love the world. It was a heck of a lot of fun to try and blend this kind of high fantasy Game of Thrones world with a young woman from contemporary America. It was cool.
We tried to keep it bouncing and buoyant and fun and truthful as to how someone who’s in their early twenties might react to this.
Now you’re working on the Skydance Marvel game, Captain America and Black Panther. You probably aren’t allowed to say anything under pain of death from Marvel, but how involved are you with this project?
I was working on this even when I was doing Forspoken. Amy and I, since I was brought on for Uncharted 4, have developed a very strong collaboration relationship, and we work really well together. And so, I get to, you know, on Star Wars I was what was called a narrative consultant and a writer. I get to be the same with this game. I get to be part of the art meetings and reviewing that and I’m there to kind of toe the line of narrative. I go to the development meetings; I go to the the level design meetings be the voice of the story in these meetings. And Amy of course is that as well but she’s also you know, she’s the creative director. She’s the head of the pyramid here. So, I get to just focus on the story and view all these meetings through the lens of how does the narrative affect this or how does this affect the narrative? So that process is just fantastic. We built a really great writer’s room early on when we were breaking story, we brought in people who had worked on other Marvel projects like Akela Cooper, Niceole Levy, Evan Narcisse, who had actually written some Black Panther comics. Marc Bernardin who wrote on Picard season two and I’ve been friends with for a while. So, it was really great, it’s a big process making video games. It’s a slow process.
How do you prepare for something as big as the Marvel Universe? Have you been reading lots of Captain America and Black Panther comics?
That’s exactly what you do. And we’re not set in the MCU. We are its own thing. Which gives us a certain amount of freedom in storytelling because we’re not bound to the events of it. But we also want it to feel as good and as solid and as well thought out as the MCU is, even though we are not an MCU project. You do your research and we work in tandem with Marvel as they are there as our ongoing partners and consultants on this project. We focus on certain eras of comics and certain aspects of comics. And so, yeah, you do your research and then at the same time you go, all right, well, this is also an original story so what new can we add to this? What are the different flavors of these characters that we can bring out that maybe you haven’t seen before? We’re working on something special, you know.
Of course, with all these cool franchises comes a lot of fans. So what’s your most memorable novel or unique kind of fan experience that you’ve had?
I think when I saw people cosplaying as Deacon and sending pictures on Instagram cosplays of Deacon, that always tickles me. That someone in their spare time is pouring over the show to actually then go to their sewing machine or whatever and put together a costume, that always that tickles me. And they’re always just so very kind. Obviously, Now Don’t You Forget About Me is tethered to my existence. I’m often asked to sing that when I make Cameos for people!
[Todd also mentioned he won’t know if ‘older dudes with white beards’ will be cosplaying him or Riker – so make sure to let him know!]
One of your big loves is Dungeons & Dragons. And, of course, you have the Nerd Circus business as well, which is great. What got you into TTRPG?
[A great piece of advice from Todd if you want to play D&D and can’t find a group – teach yourself to become a Dungeon Master, and then you put the group together!]
My cousin, the same cousin that introduced me to Star Trek, who was a few years older than me. I just remember him taking out his dice and his character sheet one day in his apartment. I was just like, what is that? He started to describe it to me. I remember trying to connect like The Hobbit with these dice, like, it didn’t make sense to me. Then, like, a year later, it caught fire. I probably first heard about D&D in ‘78, and then I started playing in ‘79. Then I played pretty strongly for four years, and I came back to it as a grown-up. Years and years later.
[The Stashwick Table, by the way, is a thing of glory, and you can find out more about it at The Weathered Dragon]
If you were going to recommend a comic, a film, and a TV show that every geek should read and watch, what would they be, and why?
Comic, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman because it’s among my top two favourite pieces of literature. A TV show, Battlestar Galactica. The reboot is damn near perfect and just all the things you want. I’m carefully avoiding franchises that I’m in – so obviously Star Trek, obviously 12 Monkeys! Film? You know what? I’m going to avoid all the obvious ones, and if you want to be a hardcore nerd, watch Hawk the Slayer. It is a fantasy, Star Wars rip-off Dungeons & Dragons it was made in the eighties so it’s all like synthy. It is very much a B film, but it meant so much to us D&D nerds of the eighties. Hark the Slayer gets my recommendation. It’s craptastic! It’s not terrible, but it’s very B of its era. Like, it’s it obviously low budget, it has very laughable moments but the spirit of it is great. It is craptastic. Then not-craptastic and actually good, I highly recommend Green Knight that came out a few years back. That would be a good watch for fantasy fans. But Hawk the Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Sand Man.
How did you feel about the developments of Shaw in episode two?
Episode two was really fun because you actually get to see him captaining. In light of this wrench that got thrown into the works of his otherwise, fine day. So, you actually get to see him be the captain and make decisions as a captain. Again, what I love about Shaw is when given all of the information, Shaw makes the right decisions. So, we get to see him be a good captain as opposed to just a jerk.
What advice would you give aspiring writers or aspiring actors?
Well, watch. Watch what you love, watch it, consume it, read it, and then write. Like, write. Just write your own. Find a way to put it out there. Find somebody to put it on the internet. Just write, write, write if you are an aspiring writer. So, consume it. Read books, read Ursula K. Le Guin. Read Philip K. Dick. Read just good science fiction. And Neil Gaiman read great fantasy, read Tolkien. And then watch this stuff. Consume it so that you know what field you’re entering yourself into. Then, like we live in a day and age where we have film studios in our hands so make stuff. Make, make, make. Don’t wait for somebody to give you permission. Just do it.
[You can follow Todd Stashwick on Twitter and Instagram and catch him in Star Trek Picard on Paramount+]
I liked Shaw from the beginning and he’s grown even more in my esteem. One day I’d like to meet him at a Con hopefully near me.
He’s a great guy, and I definitely want to add Shaw to my captain’s autograph collection whenever I get the chance. Hopefully, he has a good rest of story in the remaining episodes!
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