'Star Trek's' Coolest Klingon Won't Let ALS Stop Him
From 2017 to 2019, Kenneth Mitchell played three formidable Klingons in the TV series Star Trek: Discovery. In a 2019 season second episode, his character Tenavik revealed Captain Pike (Anson Mount) a glimpse into a tragic future in which the brave captain of the spaceship would end his life in a wheelchair. In a gruesome twist of fate around the time Mitchell was filming these scenes, he faced an eerily similar personal crisis: in 2018 he was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and ultimately most robs those affected of their most basic mobility. In 2019, he appeared as Carol Danver's father in the Marvel film Captain Marvel and carried the future galaxy-saving superhero on his shoulders, but by early 2020 Mitchell could no longer walk unaided. The 46-year-old actor, who is now in a wheelchair and parents of a teenage daughter and a school-age son, grapples with how you can continue to be a father, an actor, and an artistically honest man without using your legs.
"It was incredibly challenging when you add the pandemic to the disease and have parents," says Mitchell. "I continue to refuse physically and find it very difficult for me because that was a great connection I had with my children; to be able to play and wrestle with them and do sports and use them with my arms and when that is taken away from you, it's really sad. But it's all about adjustment. Find new ways to hug your kids. New ways to interact with them. Given the challenges I have, new ones Ways to get in touch with them. "
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Mitchell believes that if he follows in the footsteps of ALS patients like Stephen Hawking and Lou Gehrig (ALS's original namesake), he will face these challenges. Mitchell is not looking for the hidden radiation in the universe or for more home races: for him it means facing the challenge of being there and acting for his children. When he was filming the newly aired third season of Discovery in January 2020, Mitchell couldn't walk but insisted that he wanted to work as much as possible.
“I let the [Star Trek: Discovery] production team know that given my illness, I was always interested in working and looking for inspiration. And so they found an opportunity for me and adapted the part to my needs, ”he says. "And it got more meaningful than your typical role."
In the finale of the third season of discovery, Mitchell was not wearing Klingon make-up, but played a human wheelchair user named Aurellio. Originally portrayed as some sort of crazy genius working for the vicious space mafia called the Emerald Chain, we eventually learn that Aurellio is a father who simply struggles to protect his family. Mitchell tells me that he wasn't looking for fathers, but that doing so brings him closer to the role in some ways. Whether Papa Danvers or Aurellio in Discovery, Mitchell believes that playing fathers is "more truthful" than other roles.
"I'm not going to use the word 'simpler' but it makes sense and you are more connected to it. Drawing on my life experiences as much as possible, I think most actors do. It's the most useful thing, what we can do to our part. "
His children are fine. Part of it, as Mitchell admits, is that he “spoiled” his children during the pandemic. "They deserve it. They've been cooped up for almost a year. I feel for them. It's beneficial for me to be with them more, but the kids need interaction with other kids. And it was really tough. We got together adapted as much as possible. We got my son a skateboard ramp for his birthday so that he can do another activity. "
Mitchell tells me that his support group starts with his wife and children, but also includes some of his Star Trek co-stars who regularly have his back. A regular family visitor is Ethan Peck - Star Trek's incumbent Mr. Spock - who often skates with Mitchell's son and is nicknamed "Tony Spock" in honor of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. In addition to visits from Peck and the Klingon actress Mary Chieffo, who "brings some sunshine," Mitchell also stays in touch with the original Captain Kirk.
"Just recently, William Shatner sent me a handwritten card," he tells me. “I really thought that was something special. I found that incredibly meaningful. "
And on this very point, what fathers can do with their hands, Mitchell has a powerful message for fathers everywhere. When I ask him what he would tell his younger self about the future, he doesn't hesitate. "Maybe you should take some time every day or every week or once a year and write a letter to your children," he says.
"I miss being able to use my hands and they are an extension of your heart and I always appreciate the handwritten note," he adds. "I think it shows someone that you took more time than talking on the phone or in text. And I wish I could do that more for them now. Given my illness, this bond with my children has only grown . But I wish I had written more. "
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be streamed on CBS All-Access (soon to be Paramount +). Ken Mitchell appears in the last two episodes of the season.
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Kenneth Mitchell's post about his latest Star Trek role and parenting with ALS first appeared on Fatherly.
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