How Fan-Favorite Star Trek Actor Shaped Her Character Outside Of The Script

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

While Discovery is a show filled with many talented cast members, it was Mary Wiseman who won us over right away on this very different Star Trek series. For better or for worse, this was a show that was often grim and gritty in season 1, and her Tilly character served as a bubbly beacon of humor and hope. It turns out that is largely thanks to Wiseman herself: her character was introduced in “Context Is For Kings,” and she later admitted that most of Tilly’s humorous lines in that episode were improvised.

After Trek

Mary Wiseman mentioned this on After Trek, the Star Trek aftershow for Discovery that was later replaced by The Ready Room. The topic of Tilly providing humor in the episode came up, and that was when the actor revealed “It was my idea. I wrote it, so… it’s all improv.”

The Writers Didn’t Mind

mary wiseman star trek

While we don’t know exactly how much of the actual dialogue Mary Wiseman improvised for her Star Trek: Discovery debut, it sounds like almost all of the funny lines were her own invention.

You might expect this to annoy the screenwriters who work so hard to craft perfect dialogue for each character. That didn’t happen here, though: “Context Is For Kings” co-writer Aaron Harberts appeared on the same After Trek episode and replied to her comment with “I’m totally fine with it.”

Tilly And Burnham

Just what humorous lines was Mary Wiseman coming up with in this Star Trek episode? We can only speculate, but she almost certainly improvised much of Tilly’s nervous reaction to meeting Michael Burnham (the famous mutineer who became Tilly’s roommate) for the first time.

This dialogue includes Tilly’s happiness at actually having a roommate (which she calls “an automatic built-in friend”) and her sheepish admission to Burnham: “I’m trying to decide if I should tell you that you took my bed.”

There Were Some Lines We Hope Weren’t Her Fault

star trek discovery

Later on, Mary Wiseman’s character lies to Burnham about the engineering having “assigned seats,” effectively blending in some Forrest Gump (“seat’s taken!”) into Star Trek: Discovery. For most of the rest of the episode, Tilly alternates between being scared and being aspirational.

That makes sense for a young ensign, though Wiseman’s comment about improvising her lines implies Tilly might not have become the show’s most humorous character without the actor’s involvement.

While we have no reason to suspect Mary Wiseman improvised some of her character’s most cringeworthy dialogue in later Star Trek: Discovery episodes, there were times when her “oblivious and enthusiastic ensign” bit went a bit too far.

It was Tilly, after all, who gave us the show’s infamous “this is so f***ing cool” line, unceremoniously giving the franchise its first F-bomb. Her character also blurts out “this is the power of math, people!”, which is somehow an even worse line.

Starfleet Academy

mary wiseman star trek

Despite moments of awful dialogue, we’re grateful that Mary Wiseman helped shape Tilly into Star Trek: Discovery’s comic relief, and we’re looking forward to her likely (though not yet confirmed) appearance in the Starfleet Academy spinoff.

After all, Tilly’s cadets not learning enough from traditional instruction was one of her biggest concerns in the last season of Discovery. Maybe she can teach them something that Wiseman herself learned early on in this franchise: sometimes, you just have to make things up as you go along.

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