Celia Rose Gooding Is Ready to Step Into Nyota Uhura's Go-Go Boots
From the first moments of its pilot episode, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is ready to set itself apart from the series and movies that came before it. Yes, there are the tailored, color-coded uniforms; the familiar Starfleet logo; and soft glow coming from control panels, but Celia Rose Gooding and her buzzcut make it very clear: this isn't your parents' Star Trek. Gooding is the latest actress to take on the mantle of Nyota Uhura, a groundbreaking character on a groundbreaking show when she made her debut in the 1966's Star Trek (now Star Trek: TOS for "The Original Series" in Trekkie parlance).
"It's incredibly exciting to step into this incredible role with all of the history that comes with it," Gooding tells InStyle. "This role, Uhura, has been a pillar in the entertainment industry for Black people."
Originally portrayed by Nichelle Nichols and later by Zoe Saldaña on the big screen, Uhura was the first Black female lead role on television. When Nichols turned in her resignation letter after TOS's debut season because she wanted to return to the theater, she later told PBS that Martin Luther King Jr. himself urged her not to "abdicate her position" because of the visibility her role gave the Black community. She continued on and would eventually retire from her galactic exploration in 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Strange New Worlds, which premieres May 5 on Paramount+, offers a new take on Uhura — and Gooding's aware of where she sits in the pantheon, ready to show audiences the woman who goes from Cadet Uhura to lieutenant and where that foundation of alluring self-confidence comes from.
"It's not lost on me, the weight and the circumstances that surround this character. And I'm super excited to bring a fresh take to her. Because, even though this was a first in the '60s for this type of role, I also think that when I was young, and when I was a kid watching TV, I always looked for and yearned for characters that looked like me, and were viewed like me, and moved through the world the way I did," Gooding says. She joins Discovery alums Anson Mount (Crossroads fans will recognize him with or without Britney Spears and a glossy pistachio convertible) as he returns to his role as Captain Christopher Pike, Ethan Peck reprising his young Spock, and Rebecca Romijn coming back as Una, Pike's Number One.
Gooding grew up with a Trekkie mom but says that personally, she started watching when Chris Pine's James T. Kirk and his crew arrived in theaters and continued to watch the show's newer series, including Discovery, which she says is most similar in tone to SNW (don't worry, she says she's all caught up thanks to her mother). "I am super excited to continue to shepherd this torch down the line of history, to be a part of the representation that I really, really yearned for as a kid, and hopefully aid a new generation of young Black women and femmes who are yearning for representation of themselves in all genres of entertainment — in sci-fi, in action, in romance, and mystery," she says.
Gooding's buzzed head may have some people questioning if 2022's Uhura is too far from the elegance of Nichols's character or Saldaña's sleek-and-stealthy, no-nonsense version. Gooding explains that her cropped hairstyle came out of the pandemic and not wanting to have to upkeep other styles she'd had (when she was on Broadway in Jagged Little Pill — which earned her a 2020 Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical — she had voluminous curls) and that the Trek team embraced it even though her team initially freaked out.
"I call her Baldy Uhura because it's a sweet little sentiment to me. I think so much of how Black women and femmes are received in this world is dependent and hinging on how they present themselves. And I think that is such a backward way to treat people," Gooding says, acknowledging that fans are probably more accustomed to seeing the character as a glamazon. "Uhura will still be Uhura, no matter if she has straight brown hair down her back like Zoe Saldaña's Uhura; or if she has a gorgeous beehive like Nichelle had; or she has a gorgeous bald head, like a gorgeous, very short-cut Caesar, like I do."
Uhura's updated look — which doesn't completely eschew character signatures like go-go boots, which are present and accounted for — is sure to make headlines. It's something Gooding welcomes because she wants her Uhura to be representative of her audience, like those who came before her. Fans wondering if that Broadway training aligns with Nichols's Uhura and her penchant for performing could be in for a treat, for example. "Fans of seeing Uhura sing are going to be very happy with the show," Gooding says slyly.
"There are so many people, so many young Black people, especially these days, a lot of Black women are rocking their shaved heads. I love that, and I love to be a part of that," Gooding says. "Uhura was a style icon for her time in the '60s, she was so cutting-edge and so fashionable. In 2009, Uhura with that straight brown hair down her back was gorgeous and so typical of 2009. But in 2022, styles and trends have changed, and short Caesar cuts for Black women are really, really well regarded in the Black community."
In addition to showcasing Uhura's origin story, the show carries on the Star Trek ethos of showing an idyllic future where everyone, regardless of race, species, and planet (or galaxy) of origin seems to respect one another ... when they're not aiming their phasers at each other or engaging in starship-on-starship photon torpedo fights. Gooding says having the freedom that comes with a sci-fi setting allows fantastical ideals of tolerance and camaraderie to feel real and, hopefully, be something that makes its way into our reality.
"It allows for a lot more optimism than I think the actual world holds. And that's why it is so popular, the idea of an incredible omni-diversity across race, across identity, across idealization — it's incredibly exciting. That's the world that we all yearn for," she says. "While we know it's not where we are now, it's — if we continue to do right by one another — it's where we can be. Star Trek has been a pioneer in diversity, in the sci-fi genre, and the fact that it's continuing to do so with the representation of different gender identities, different racial identities, and different cultural identities, to continue to be a part of that is such a blessing. And, I can't wait for the real world to catch up to where we are in Star Trek."