The Inverse Interview

How Battlestar's Best Cylon Shakes Up Discovery’s Daring Final Season

Callum Keith Rennie embraces his role as a “space curmudgeon,” in Discovery Season 5.

Callum Keith Rennie
Star Trek
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Callum Keith Rennie is okay with being an outsider. The veteran sci-fi actor — probably best known for his role as the Cylon Leoben in Battlestar Galactica — has crashed the Star Trek: Discovery party in the show’s fifth and final season as Captain Rayner. And for Rennie, his character’s social status and his own feelings about joining the show were uniquely aligned.

“You’re the new kid in school,” Rennie tells Inverse. “You’re uncomfortable. You don’t know who to trust. Rayner is in a place where I am, so I used my own uncomfortability with the experience. He’s got a chip [on his shoulder] and maybe I have a chip at times.”

As Discovery Season 5 heats up, Inverse caught up with Rennie to talk about his Trek experience, his sci-fi career, and which classic Star Trek characters he thinks Captain Rayner is most like.

Mild spoilers ahead for Discovery Season 5, episodes 1-3.

Burnham decides to keep her enemies close, by turning Rayner into her first officer.


Starting with the episode “Red Directive,” the back-talking, seat-of-the-pants Captain Rayner is a Starfleet officer in the long Trek tradition of mean captains. From The Original Series to The Next Generation and Voyager and even the movies, you’ve got your heroic main character captain, and then the bad captain. There’s Decker, the guy who got his entire crew eaten by “The Doomsday Machine,” or Jellico, the bossy captain who took over the Enterprise and told Troi to change her uniform in “Chain of Command.” Usually, these kinds of characters beam out after an episode or two. But in Discovery Season 5, Rayner is around for the long haul.

“It’s really great stuff. I mean, he ran his own ship. He came in to help with a situation and then, the next thing you know, he’s demoted,” Rennie says. “So that’s s**t. That’s not good. At the same time, he’s looking at this past and maybe he’s overstepped boundaries.”

At the end of the second episode, “Under the Twin Moons,” Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) asks Rayner to become her new first officer, now that Saru has departed to become a Federation ambassador. So instead of ditching the rough-around-the-edges officer who caused her trouble, Burnham is embracing the idea of having somebody in the crew who isn’t just going to agree with her all the time. And in the third episode, “Jinaal,” Rayner is confronted with the totally uncomfortable task of getting to know the crew.

And, just like how he got off on the wrong foot with Burnham, Rayner also clashes with the bubbly, upbeat Lt. Tilly (Mary Wiseman). But, in a very optimistic Star Trek-y vibe, it seems that even Rayner and Tilly can find common ground in the end.

Tilly is not having any of Rayner’s bullsh*t.


“I’ve had like had 52 second chances in my real life,” Rennie says. “And those came in many forms, and often by a woman in a position of power. So I get that this is a gift that is offered to this character. I connect with that. “He's already got fired once. What's the worst that can happen?”

Rennie is not the first Battlestar alum to crossover to Discovery. Back in Season 1, fellow Cylon Rekha Sharma played Ellen Landry, Disco’s first security chief. “We haven’t had a chance to talk about that,” Rennie says with a laugh. “But, we of course see each other at conventions all the time.”

From parts in Jessica Jones to The Umbrella Academy, and even the classic X-Files, Rennie clearly knows his way around the sci-fi genre. But, prior to joining Discovery, he admits his Trek fandom was mostly limited to The Original Series.

“I can’t say I’m a Trekkie by any means,” Rennie says “But, as a kid, The Original Series was one of those great shows that offered great hope and examples of how to function in the world as people. One day, you’d be like ‘I’m totally logical like Spock.’ But then, you’d feel like ‘No, I’m Kirk.’ Or ‘I’m flying off the handle like Scotty!’”

Rennie admits that part of his path to discovering how to play Rayner in Discovery was connecting the character’s behavior to Original Series archetypes. “Part of me wanted to say, who can I identify with this guy? So yeah, I guess he’s a bit like Kirk and Bones. He’s a space curmudgeon.”

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 streams new episodes on Paramount+ on Thursdays.

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