While her name may not be one heard regularly around the water cooler (yet!), Stephanie Czajkowski (pronounced “check-house-key” as per her helpful webpage) is a memorable presence on screen.
Perhaps known best for her recurring role as Hammerhead, one of Crazy Jane’s alter personalities on HBO Max’s Doom Patrol, she currently portrays the Vulcan Science Officer, Lt. T’Veen, aboard the USS Titan on Star Trek: Picard.
Speaking with TV Fanatic from her home via Zoom, Czajkowski was generous with her time and thoughtful answers as we delved into her experiences joining the Star Trek family and how it’s influenced her perspective on the fandom, the industry, and her ears!
Czajkowski comes by her love of Star Trek honestly. The franchise has been a part of her life from an early age.
“My father was a very, very big Star Trek fan, so Star Trek had been weaved pretty deftly throughout my life. He passed away in 2017, and when I walked onto that bridge, I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ because I had spent my youth watching reruns with him.
“I remember Star Trek being the first motion picture I ever saw. My father dragged us to that movie, and I remember my brother running around in diapers and me seeing these characters that I had seen and then a bald woman and then a big screen.
“Also, later, my mom was a seamstress, and when [Star Trek V: The] Final Frontier came out, she started making Star Trek IV uniforms for people for conventions.
“That was my first taste of cosplay or Trekkies, and it was the 80s, so it was kind of not something that was in the normal culture. It was new and interesting, and if people felt the need to be disparaging, it was kind of a weird thing.”
Alex Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout production company produces all the Star Trek series and is notoriously… well, secretive when casting for the shows. Did Czajkowski know what she was auditioning for at the time?
“I had a sense that it was something… I didn’t know it was Picard, but I knew the casting director, and I had kept up because I had watched the previous seasons.
“Then when I got the sides, which I thought were dummy sides with different names, I was like, ‘I think this is Star Trek!’ It just felt so authentic to that. ‘And this reminds me of a Vulcan, so I guess I’m just gonna try it this way.’ That’s how it kind of all came together. “
T’Veen is primarily Vulcan with some Deltan ancestry which is evidenced in her baldness. Is that the alien species Czajkowski identifies with most of the many the Federation has made contact with?
“Actually, no. I’m a big fan of Worf. I think Klingon might be more my bailiwick. But I think you get roles when you need them, or you get them when they need to tell you something about your life.
“Playing a Vulcan, playing this species which historically is very emotional, and they keep the top on their emotions, but they’re aware of that. That was the thing that was interesting to me.
“As someone who has anxiety and can get really emotional, it was a good exercise for me in a lot of ways.
“I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but I’ve been spoiled with blessings over the last couple years.
“I had this really weird, what could be termed AWFUL personal stuff — I had this onslaught of cancers, I had people die, — and then I had all these jobs that balanced it out.
“And while they didn’t mirror what I was going through, they were vessels in which to channel and process some of that.
“Teachers always say, ‘If the role is yours, it’s not gonna go away.’ I truly do believe that now. If it’s meant to be yours, it’s meant to be yours. If it’s not, it’s someone else’s, and moving on. It’s a much nicer way to exist in the entertainment field.”
Does Czajkowski draw any parallels between her role as the volatile but protective Hammerhead on Doom Patrol and that of Lt. T’Veen?
“If you know them through the series, they seem so vastly different.
“But in actuality, there are so many similarities there because you’ve got T’Veen who is — if we go to the history and we go to Surak, we go to the Vulcanism and the Age of Enlightenment — that idea of Vulcans feeling things very, very deeply and being aware of them and just suppressing them or being aware of them and able to move about their lives while being aware.
“That depth of feeling, I think, is completely similar to Hammerhead.
“The main difference is how the ability to express those feelings comes out because I’ve always viewed Hammerhead – in terms of being a part of Jane – as someone who feels things very deeply and feels anger.
“Anger is hurt, and it’s so many things than just anger. And, for Hammerhead, it’s expressed just by violence. Yelling, violence, and lots of F-bombs because that is the only tool she has in order to express them.”
One element that was quite different between playing Hammerhead and T’Veen was the time in the makeup chair.
“For Hammerhead, the first year, we didn’t need to shave me down, but we did just because I had gone through chemo, and so my hair [had not grown back] yet, but my hair grows pretty fast actually, so the first step in all of my makeup was shave down all the way to the nub.
“But, definitely, T’Veen took the longest. I think it was about an hour and a half, two hours, maybe two and a half? You don’t think it would be that long because there’s not that much stuff, but I didn’t know how many episodes I’d be in. I didn’t know how long I’d be around.
“The first day, Hugo, my makeup artist, asked, ‘Hey, do you just want to shave off your eyebrow here [indicates a point along the curve] cause then we can just extend it out?’
“I was like, ‘Well… I have a special attachment to my eyebrows because I managed to keep them through chemo, I didn’t want to lose them, and they’re not back to the fullness that they were, so I don’t know, can I decide later?’
“Once you make the choice, once you’re done, you’re done. And so they would shave me all the way down, and then they would cover up my eyebrows with silicone, and then they’d put the other eyebrows on.
“Then they’d have to paint around it all to make sure it matched, and then we had the ears, and then usually I’d mostly be done with makeup by the time we would go for rehearsal.
“I’d get back, and they’d pin my ears back because my ears naturally come out like [this] when I have no hair. You can see it in Hammerhead; they kind of look kind of elf-y.
“I remember going to set for a rehearsal and Terry and the director, Doug, being like, ‘Kinda look a little elf-y.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, don’t I look like Dobby the House Elf?’ [laughs]
“So we actually had to tape them back so that they’re up, but they not like this [demonstrates how much they’d stick out]. So if anyone needs me to play an elf, I’m ready to roll. You just need to put something on the top of my ear, but Vulcan-wise, we gotta tape ’em back a little bit.
On both Doom Patrol and Star Trek: Picard, Czajkowski has portrayed characters embedded in collectives that must work together to succeed in surviving.
“There is a complete sense of ensemble, both with the Underground (who I miss desperately) and this cast and crew. Y’know, Patrick [Stewart], in his interviews, has just talked about how this is not a show that is about any stars. It is truly an ensemble piece.
“And while I know he is speaking to Next Generation because they’re doing an insanely amazing job, that trickles down to us too because, from the onset, from the jump, Terry Matalas, our showrunner, in addition to just including us in everything, was really collaborative, so it was a space in which we all became really close.
“It definitely had a sense of we are fully part of this Star Trek family and not in a way that’s just like, ‘I’m a red shirt.’ I feel seen as T’Veen as a whole character even though my job is to support everything else that’s going on.
“And I think that is illustrated or was certainly made obvious by the fact Terry’s been offering stuff [on social media] like, ‘Meet the Titan Crew!’ I’ve always felt part of it, but to have that extra, ‘Hey, everybody, look!’ has just made it that much more salient.”
Meet Lt. T’Veen, Science Officer. Vulcan. Several Captains fought to have her on their bridge. The Titan won. pic.twitter.com/UUCJxdLwoQ
— Terry Matalas (@TerryMatalas) February 4, 2023
Star Trek has a notoriously dedicated fanbase. Has Czajkowski experienced the full force of that fandom yet?
“As I mentioned before, my mom was making Star Trek uniforms. When she did that, there was an event for the opening for Final Frontier, and there were a lot of fans in costume, so that would be my biggest experience in that world in that specific way.
“One thing I’ve noticed in terms of how social media works is the interaction with fans I’m already having and how lovely it is. At least my experience thus far. Just how deeply they love this franchise. How deeply they love these characters and how open they are to the new ones.
“It’s been like [being] a Star Trek debutante! It’s been a lovely coming out almost.”
With Star Trek: Picard Season 3 being the series’ final season, Paramount set out to make its premiere a truly spectacular send-off with a red-carpet event at TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. For Czajkowski, it was a bit of a surreal experience.
“I’ve gone to other premieres before. [This was] the first event that I’ve ever been invited to as a cast member, which is a different experience. I felt all… bonafide.
“Paramount was kind enough to send cars for us, and you get out, and you walk the line, and you take the pictures.
“If I was going to have a ‘first’ premiere, not only does it get to be Star Trek, but it gets to be Mann’s Chinese. How much better does that get?
“I feel like, ‘All right, this one’s going to be really hard to top,’ because you get to go through, and you interview, and you talk to people, and then at the end of it, you get to go interact with the fans for the very first time. I just had a ball doing that.
Czajkowski’s other passion is fitness. She not only trains, but she teaches. Fortunately, it’s a pursuit that aligns with her career as an actor.
“I’m like a dog you need to run. I have always been pretty physically adept. I’m just one of those people who has always been active. So it’s a good balance toward keeping me kind of zen.
“I’m pretty tall. I’m 5’10” and pretty muscular, so everything I end up playing lends itself to that physicality. A lot of times, if a breakdown comes down, a lot of times the first thing that is bringing me into that room is my physicality, like my height and stature.
“So it works in equal part with the stuff I’m doing on screen. Also, I do most of my stunts. I’m pretty good at learning them, and they allow me to do anything that doesn’t hurt my face.”
Even though she was immersed in the production for months, Czajkowski is as excited as any Trek fan to watch the episodes as they drop on Paramount+.
“The hard thing about wrapping a year before it airs is you have to keep a lid on the fact that you shot this amazing thing for a year, which was really, really hard.
“But then when it airs, when it drops, you remember that you’ve had the scripts, that you read them, and you remember what it was like on set, but you’ve also done other things and have lived life, so it’s kind of a new discovery at the same time.
“You know what you did. You know what you saw. Because I’m on the bridge, I’m not with Michelle [Hurd] and Michael [Dorn]. I read what happened, but now I get to see it as well. So it’s a double bonus.
“I’m in it. Fans are responding, but I’m responding in the same way.
“At the premiere, we saw two episodes, but I get to see how everything comes along, where the cuts are, and how we craft story because so much of television is also crafting through reaction shots.
“Not everything is about whoever’s talking. You can craft an entire story or a narrative and where you want the audience to go or where you want to try to lead them based on your choices in editing.
“Because we’re not there, it’s a surprise to me as well, and it’s pretty thrilling.”
Near the end of Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 2, the USS Titan’s bridge crew witnesses the moment Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) see each other after decades of estrangement.
From an audience member’s perspective, it is a scene fraught with tension, meaning, and deep sorrow. What was Czajkowski’s take on it from her seat on the bridge?
“This is both my take as T’Veen and how just being on that bridge affected me. There was this sense of being this part of a whole, of being part of this community experience of what was going on.
“That happened a lot on that set, and that was one of those moments. There are other moments, like when we go into the nebula, where it was as real to us in those moments as seeing it.
“I can’t wait to see how we bring it to life because what we were looking at definitely isn’t what we’re going to see on-screen because what we were looking at was just a blue screen.”
With Star Trek: Picard at an end with Season 3, is there another Trek series Czajkowski would like to be a part of? There is no hesitation when she answers.
“Lower Decks! Lower Decks is my favorite! I love Lower Decks so much!
“And you know what, it’s so funny because I was turned onto Lower Decks by one of the guys in our makeup trailer. He’s a huge Trek fan, and he was like, ‘Have you seen Lower Decks?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ And [then] I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is brilliant!’
“So I think it would go Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, Discovery. Because I’m enjoying what they’re doing with Strange New Worlds as well.”
Where else can we catch Czajkowski’s performances?
“Right now, it’s all Trek. I’m interested to see what the year brings me, what the universe has in store.
“What I’ve realized over the last couple of years is, ‘Don’t plan, just be ready to receive,’ because without trying to be all controlly over things, the journey’s been a lot more fun to be on. I’ve had some auditions, and we’ll see what sticks.
“I teach, and I train, so I’m doing that. And I’ve got a couple projects up my sleeve with my husband that we’re trying to get off the ground in terms of both a podcast and then an independent movie.”
Meanwhile, you can see Stephanie Czajkowski on Star Trek: Picard for the next two months, sciencing it up as Lt. T’Veen as the crew fights to survive and save the Federation.
New Star Trek: Picard episodes are available to stream every Thursday on Paramount+. Once you’ve watched, head back here to check out our review!
What are your thoughts on Czajkowski and T’Veen Fanatics? Can you envision her as a part of the next Next Generation? Hit our comments with your takeaways from our interview!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.
Read the full article here