Todd Stashwick interview, Part 2
In this second part of our two-part interview with actor Todd Stashwick, we learn more about Captain Liam Shaw and how he came to the Star Trek universe.
For Todd Stashwick, working on the SyFy series 12 Monkeys was a career-changing experience. During those four years, he developed strong relationships with the show writers and particularly with executive producer Terry Matalas. “We are cut from the same ’80s kid cloth,” he recalled to Screen Rant.
Around July 2021, Matalas told him that they were currently writing a part for him on Season 3 of Picard. “My first response was, that’s awesome, I can’t wait to see who you get to play him… I’ve gotten roles that were written for other actors, so I know how the machine works. I said, ‘Look, it’s an honor to at least be thought of. If it doesn’t pan out, I’m so glad that you at least considered me for the role.’ But lo and behold, Terry is a man of his word. So, in August, I was given the contract.”
Welcome to the Titan-A
Captain Liam Shaw is a complex character full of contradictions, a plum role for an actor. And unlike many episodic television characters, he was a fully realized individual. “Terry gave me a big download on Shaw before we started shooting. It allowed me to inform the performance with his history, experiences, and point of view from day one.
“It’s a testament to the entire writing staff… We had Chris Monfette and Sean Tretta, who had written in my voice and had written characters for me for four seasons of 12 Monkeys prior to getting to Picard… They knew how to pitch to me so that I knew how to connect to the ball. And then the trust that was given to me by the directors and Terry was amazing.”
When Stashwick arrived on the Paramount lot for a costume fitting, Matalas had an additional surprise. “Terry says to me, ‘Hey, do you want to come see your bridge?’ We walked downstairs to the set, and I got to visit my bridge and make it my own before anybody ever got there. So, I was familiar it before I ever had to shoot on set, which was a great thing. I got to sit in the captain’s chair, and I got to work some stuff out. How does Shaw interact around the bridge? How does he sit in this chair?”
Who is Liam Shaw?
Shaw is a different kind of Star Trek captain; one we haven’t seen before. He displays a palpable disdain for Picard, Riker, and especially his First Officer, Seven of Nine, who is ordered to go by her given name, “Annika Hansen”. “But remember, he chose her,” Stashwick explains. “Obviously, some part of him needed therapy, and that’s part of it. But I think Seven externalizes things that Shaw won’t allow himself to be seen yet understands how necessary it is for command. Seven is impulsive, and she shoots from the hip. I think Shaw is a much more considered, thoughtful person. He is an older man. And what we know about his history, without spoiling anything, he is hell-bent on always saving as many people as he can. The safety of his crew is the number one goal. And he recognizes that, in order to do that, he needs the devil on his shoulder of Seven to push him, because he is probably pretty risk-averse, and for good reason.
“But he also knows that you need your first officer to have a different voice. He knows that she will be that necessary voice on the crew that he has resistance to embracing in himself. But he can also defer it as just advice. He can consider it. He trusts her. He knows how good she is, and he knows her strengths. And then another part of her he has to compartmentalize out of, he has to ignore, [and] it’s hard to ignore a part of her that he sees every day.”
Another important difference is Shaw’s professional background. Unlike Star Trek captains who have apparently been on a command path from their days at the Academy, Stashwick explains, “[Shaw is] a grease monkey from Chicago. You know, my dad fixed machines for a living. He would have been a Starfleet engineer. There is a lot of my dad in this character. He’s a guy who isn’t a scholar. He’s hands-on, learns from experience. He thinks about things in practical terms. He’s not lofty, but he is curious.”
Halfway through the season, Shaw’s character undergoes a change that was wonderful for Stashwick to play. “There’s a big turning point for him. He talks about things that he has probably never verbalized before.” Does Shaw come away with a better understanding of Picard and Riker? Stashwick clarifies, “Again, he is risk averse, but he is not above taking them when he starts to see what is at stake on a personal level and a grander level… He does the right thing. Actually, he’s always doing the right thing. But in the beginning, he just doesn’t have all of the information, so he can’t make the right decisions until he knows what’s what. I really love this guy; I love this character.”
“The character is the writers, the actor, the director. It’s a team effort. And I am just doing one part of it. I’m the singer, and they are the composers. So, I have to be the custodian of that territory. Having directors and producer/writers trust you and give you the permission to explore, experiment, try stuff and maybe fail… that is a rare and wonderful thing in this profession.”
When asked if we may see more Shaw in the future, Stashwick replies, “That’s the goal!”
A Special Family
While Stashwick had previously stepped a toe into the Star Trek universe years before, on Star Trek: Enterprise, his relationships on Picard were certainly more robust. “With Enterprise, I was brought in as a two-episode villain arc. It was lovely, and everyone was really nice; I had a great time. But I definitely was a guest in someone else’s home. With Picard, I was invited in as part of the family. It was explicit that it was my home too. A very warm welcome where I was given the same trust and respect as the legacy actors.”
Stashwick relates, “There was this great moment for me. I was sitting in my Captain’s chair, in between takes. Brent Spiner comes walking over and horsing around with Patrick, who was sitting next to me, NOT in the Captain’s chair. So, Patrick leans over and says, ‘Oh, Brent, have you met Todd Stashwick?’ And then he conspiratorially leans in and says, ‘He’s one of us.’ I just walked off into the sea! We’re done! They treated me like one of the family, like I had always been there. And it does not go unappreciated.”
As we conclude our interview, Stashwick takes a moment to share his thoughts on this final season of Picard:
“The beauty of this season is that we are bringing so many legacy characters back and introducing new characters with myself, Ed, and Amanda, and we get ten episodes, as opposed to a two-hour movie. It gives breathing room for everyone to get their due. The creators didn’t treat Shaw with any less care and respect than they did with the legacy characters. So, that is a testament to the trust of the writers and producers that this not just be the Next Generation reunion show. It has to be its own animal, and it has to be Star Trek: Picard.
“The interesting thing is that the first two seasons of this were literally Picard with some supporting characters. The decision to open it up and say, ‘You know, we have one shot at this, so let’s take a big swing.’ It’s big!
“Amanda Plummer was such a treat. I recently rewatched Star Trek VI, and there’s a moment [on Picard] she does what her father did, by spinning around in her chair… It’s such a beautiful tribute. It’s a great nod. The entire season is filled with little moments like that. If you’re not an encyclopedic Trek person, it’s still just damn great entertainment. But if you ARE, it’s just transcendent and even richer. It is Trek made by people who love it, for people who love it.”