Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Jess Bush on Expanding Chapel's Legacy

Jess Bush is one of two actresses stepping in the shoes of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's playing the legacy character Nurse Christine Chapel in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Barrett-Roddenberry originally played the role in The Original Series, but in the pilot "The Cage", played the original Number One, Una-Chin Riley. The latter is now played by Rebecca Romijn in the Paramount+ series. As Trek fans are familiar with, "The Cage" was repurposed into the season one two-parter "The Menagerie." Bush spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how she got the role and her interpretation from Barrett-Roddenberry's past performances.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Jess Bush on Expanding Chapel's Legacy
Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

"Prior to being cast, I was aware of Star Trek, of course, because it permeates our global culture pretty extensively. But I had no idea just how expansive the universe was until I booked the role and all of these Trekkies started to appear around me," Bush said. "It's like I entered this secret world that exists among us. It's been such a wonderful ride, learning about everything Star Trek and its context culturally and everything that it strived for, for more than 55 years."

As far as landing the role, "It was a short time after I had a conversation with my managers about taking a step back. I was just at a point in my life where I was feeling pretty burnt out and exhausted by the hustle, and I had a conversation to say I'd like to have a bit of a rest," Bush explained. "I said that I only want to go for things that are exciting to us, and lo and behold, they came through with this audition for a Star Trek series. So, I put something down, and about three weeks later, I got a call to have a Zoom meeting with [co-creator and executive producer] Akiva [Goldsman], [co-creator and EP] Alex [Kurtzman], and [EP] Henry [Alonso Myers]. Then, I bloody got it! (Laughs.) I didn't find out that it was Nurse Chapel until I got the deal done!"

star trek
Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel and Babs Olusanmokun as M'Benga of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ ©2022 CBS Studios. All Rights Reserved.

When it came to the research, Bush was meticulous in balancing her study of Barrett-Roddenberry's performances and organically studying Chapel's field. "It's a massive honor to be only the second actor to play Nurse Chapel after Majel Barrett. I think that I was lucky in a sense that I wasn't that aware of Star Trek to begin with, so it wasn't particularly overwhelming," she said. "I watched all her performances. I also read nursing memoirs and continue to read different materials that feed into what it's like to be a medical practitioner in different situations, like a medevac situation. Regarding how much of Nurse Chapel comes through in this current iteration, it was a conversation with Akiva and Henry. It was a balance between honoring Majel's Chapel and making her new. Majel's Chapel definitely had a distinct essence about her, but there was still so much room to explore her backstory, what she was like when she was younger, what she might be like in our time as a young woman, and they gave me a lot of license to explore. It was a fun, collaborative conversation."

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Jess Bush on Expanding Chapel's Legacy
Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ ©2022 CBS Studios. All Rights Reserved.

There was one aspect Bush particularly appealed to her. "Majel's Chapel, she's really dry and sarcastic, which I love. That was the main takeaway for me, and that leads to my favorite aspect of Strange New Worlds Chapel: Humor. That humor as it exists in a younger woman. She uses that humor to ruffle people's feathers to discover more about them. She's got this sense of humor, and it's driven by curiosity." For more on Bush's takeaway from what happened with Chapel and the love triangle in the episode "The Serene Squall" she potentially found herself in, you can check out the interview here. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams Thursdays on Paramount+.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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