Blu Del Barrio’s journey to the Star Trek universe took them around the globe first. Of Argentinian heritage, raised in Southern California, studying in London, and filming in Canada, Blu now calls the USS Discovery home – in the 32nd century. In the third season of the CBS Access’ Star Trek franchise, Blu’s character, Adira, tells her fellow crew member, “I’ve never felt like a ‘she’ or – or a ‘her,’ so… I would prefer ‘they’ or ‘them’.” Star Trek history was made as the first non-binary actor took their place to play the first recurring character in the franchise not to identify with their assigned gender at birth. This telling moment, carefully curated by the producers with involvement from Blu and with involvement from GLAAD, added to the promise of Star Trek – in the future, everyone will have visibility, and no one will be excluded because of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. It took Star Trek 55 years to get here, but then again, so did Hollywood.
The casting of Blu as Adira happened at warp speed. Blu was finishing up school in the UK, taped their audition, and in the space of a few weeks, was arriving on set to begin their mission.
It did happen insanely fast! I don’t know that I necessarily nailed anything in the audition, but I do remember feeling really calm afterward. Every once in a while, I’ll do an audition and just feel calm and present after the fact. And then you let it go. I think in this case it just had to do with Adira. I saw so many similarities to myself in them right off the bat, so I felt at home playing them.
Star Trek Discovery is their first major acting project. Not only did Blu have to deal with the nuances of joining a hit show already in its third season, but they also had to learn about the Star Trek Universe. Decades worth of canon, with multiple spinoffs, novels, comics, and even animation would seem daunting all on its own, then add the unforgiving Trekkie fandom who remember every factoid and storyline.
Prior to auditioning, I hadn’t watched a lot of Star Trek at all. But as soon as I was cast, I got recommendations left and right from friends who are Trekkies! They told me which series to watch, which character arcs I should follow, what their favorite storylines are. It was very eye-opening as to how rich and caring the Star Trek community is.
On top of 55 years of material to catch up on, Blu was given a complex character. Adira is the first human known to become a “permanent” host to a Trill symbiont, an alien species that also happens to be their boyfriend.
To research for the role of Adira, I watched Deep Space Nine. Specifically, to follow the storyline of Jadzia Dax (now one of my favorite characters). There’s not a whole lot of information about the Trill species elsewhere in the other series, so I spent a lot of time with DS9.
It may sound odd, but the resulting storyline is beautifully poetic and reflects our own journey to feel complete, to feel loved, even in the void of isolation and loss. Double history was made with Blu’s storyline as Ian Alexander was cast as Adira’s boyfriend, marking the first openly trans actor cast in the Star Trek Universe, playing the first trans character of any franchise. The two were immediately celebrated by the LGBTQ community and swept up in a media frenzy. Blu did not just get an acting role; they became a spokesperson for the community.
I am an introverted person, so I was honestly terrified when Ian and I were announced. I don’t know that I could have ever been ready for it. One thing it’s brought me that I am infinitely grateful for is a community of queer people who resonate with Adira as much as I did. I get so many messages from trans kids (and parents of trans kids!) just saying hello and how much they loved seeing Adira on TV – and it means more to me than I can put into words.
I had a lot of anxiety at the beginning. I had only just come out and didn’t feel like I deserved a platform. I felt I couldn’t represent everyone. What I’ve come to realize is, I was right. I can’t speak for everyone. What I can do is share my experience, be honest and transparent, and lift the voices of other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Blu’s character has educated the world of sci-fi as to what the future really looks like and has educated a fandom of Trekkies who are now experiencing the extent of what creator Gene Roddenberry’s intent for the show was. Star Trek would also teach Blu something about their own life.
I’m learning that I am more resilient than I thought I was. I’ve struggled with my mental health for my entire life, and for most of that time, I’ve been told I was weak because of it. But while being on Star Trek I’ve learned (and am still learning) that it is just the opposite. I’ve fought so hard to stay afloat and keep going, and I’m still fighting. I’m constantly working at 110% to fight against my mental illness. So, for anyone who does struggle with their mental health, know that you are an incredible force. We’re so much stronger than people perceive us to be.
Blu’s acting career started at the age of seven with theater and short films and was a finalist for the 2016 National YoungArts Foundation awards in the theater category.
I honestly think it was the escapism. Theater for me as a kid was the only place I could explore my identity freely. When I showed up to school looking like a boy, parents wouldn’t look me in the eye. But when I walked on stage as Sebastian in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, no one asked any questions because I was just an eight-year-old “playing a character.” Theater gave me freedom. It’s given me joy, friendship, and love. It has been the most incredible outlet for my whole life. So, if you’re a parent and your child shows interest in the arts, please support them in any way you can!
Something I think I’ve relearned from when I was a kid is how much I love to just play. When I was young, I adored the improvisational aspects of theater. I loved bouncing off someone else and making people laugh. Coming to work on Star Trek, I was so terrified to misstep. But my first episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes who is quite possibly the most playful person I’ve ever met. He encouraged that side of me, and I’m so grateful for it.
The on-screen chemistry with the Discovery cast is palpable. Del Barrio joins other actors from our community, including Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, Tig Notaro, and co-star Alexander, as well as other actors from the show who have come out as staunch allies.
I know this is simple and sort of sounds too good to be true, but I just got lucky. This cast is full of the most caring, inspiring, hilarious people I have ever met. They feel like family to me. The chemistry we have on screen, we don’t have to work for. I am so insanely grateful that I get to work with people who I consider some of my closest friends.
Favorite part about filming in the Star Trek universe?
This might be a simple answer, but the fantasy. I get to play a character in a fantastical universe that has been built and built upon for years. A world in which almost anything is possible. I walk on set and there’s a spaceship. I walk outside and there’s an alien smoking a cigarette. It is absolutely the coolest job in the world. There are moments on set sometimes where one of us will turn to another and just say in disbelief, “We’re on Star Trek.”
The most challenging part about acting in the Star Trek universe?
Ironically, the same answer: the fantasy. The most difficult parts for me are when we’re discussing the science of this universe. If I can’t fully understand what I’m talking about, it’s hard for me to memorize my lines. When it comes to the technical and scientific jargon we use, I really need to sit down and make it make sense in my mind in order to learn it.
With consummate acting training from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the focus on Blu’s career is their identity as non-binary. Does the media attention regarding their identity overshadow their acting skills?
Yes and No. This is an interesting and very important question. I remember what it was like being an actor before I came out. Yes, there was more focus on my acting, but binary gender roles still exist. Problematic ones. Especially in this industry. The only people we really don’t seem to put boundaries on are cis straight white men. They win awards for playing anything and everything.
In terms of my career now, yes, I do feel that there is a much larger focus on my gender identity, but I believe it’s necessary. There are still very few visible non-binary actors in this industry. So, it’s imperative that I talk about my experience and share with the world who I am. The goal is to have countless more trans and nonbinary actors working in the film industry and being seen, especially actors of color. That won’t happen if we stay quiet. Once there are more of us in the media, the focus will be centered on our art rather than our identities.
We are all still learning about the parts that make up our community. There is still resistance in the mainstream world, and even in the LGBTQ community, to accept the uses of pronouns or gender identity outside of the accepted norms. How would Blu describe their identity as non-binary?
I can only speak from my own life since everyone experiences gender (or lack thereof) very differently. I experience being trans and nonbinary in a very fluid way. There is never any stasis. To put it simply: I wasn’t comfortable when I was living and being perceived as “female.” I felt alienated and alone. I had dysphoria and I knew something needed to change. But when I started thinking more deeply about my identity, I knew I also didn’t feel entirely like a “male.” Realizing that I am still valid even if I don’t fit into that binary is what finally brought me some comfort. Before, I felt I was stuck in this life. Now, I feel like I’m on a journey.
This isn’t exclusively about non-binary people, but people need to understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression. There is such a warped belief that nonbinary people need to look androgynous, trans men need to “look like men,” and trans women need to “look like women.” GENDER EXPRESSION AND GENDER IDENTITY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
Communication is key. I think within our community there is trauma, and a common response to that is to put up walls for safety. I believe that’s the reason there’s some gatekeeping within the LGBTQ+ community. But when it comes down to it, when we listen to each other’s stories, there are so many similarities. It’s what makes us a community in the first place.
And what does the future of non-binary actors in film looks like?
In the future, they’ll just be called actors.
Blu has become a role model for a number of youths, within the Trek family and beyond. Coming out as non-binary can be difficult, not to mention dangerous.
If you are thinking about coming out, the best advice I can give you is: Listen to your gut first. This is your life. Do not let anyone pressure you into coming out or staying silent. If you can, find at least one person with who you feel totally safe sharing. And if it doesn’t go smoothly, know that your future is still going to be full of other queer people who will empathize and shower you with love. Found family is a beautiful thing. You’ve got this.
Given the chance, Blu would tell their seven-year-old self, fresh into the acting world:
You know exactly who you are. You always have. You don’t need to be like anyone else to be accepted. You’re not alone, you’re special. And deep down, you know that. Lead with love. (Also, you are absolutely allowed to name yourself Blu).
Season 4 of Discovery is coming soon, with a slight delay due to COVID, and the actors have been away from their homes for months filming in Canada. Fans are clamoring for more and given the path the show has taken with the storyline and the progression of an inclusive vision, the future is literally an open possibility, where no one has gone before. Del Barrio would love to work on queer independent films with a bigger dream to star in a Tim Burton project. For now, they are enjoying the ride. Their Pride message is clear for this century and into the 32nd century:
Happy Pride to ALL of you – those who are out and those who aren’t. Those who are still questioning and those who aren’t. Those who are younger and those who are older. There is no right way to celebrate pride. Love where you are right now. I love you.
Crew member Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp, remarks about Blu’s character, “Their work has been nothing short of stellar. They’re, really something.” Indeed. Warp speed ahead.
You can follow Blu on IG: @BluDelB
Look for our podcast chat with Blu at www.Metrosource.com
(Featured Image: “The Hope That is You, Part 2” — Ep#313 — Pictured: Blu del Barrio as Adira of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
Last modified: August 3, 2021