[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2 Episode 4 “Watcher.”]
Still in Los Angeles’ past, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) gets a blast from his in the latest episode of the Paramount+ series.
After Star Trek: Picard kicked off its second season with Picard visiting his old friend Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) at the 10 Forward in his timeline, he sees her again in “Watcher,” only this time it’s a younger version, played by Ito Aghayere, and she has no idea who he is. Though she doesn’t have their history to fall back on (yet), Guinan trusts Picard enough to help him on his path to fix the timeline and find the Watcher.
Taking on the role is “nerve-wracking, especially as a fan, and intimidating” Aghayere admits to TV Insider. “I love Guinan. I love Whoopi’s Guinan, and she was such an icon to me growing up. And so to be able to step into this role is such a privilege and you hope that you’ve done the role justice to all the people who love this show as much as you do.”
Aghayere tells us more about playing the iconic character.
When did you find out the role was Guinan? During the audition process, after you got the part? It seems like something they would’ve really kept secret.
Ito Aghayere: Oh, yeah, kept secret for a while. There were many rounds of auditioning for the role. I didn’t find out until the last round essentially, right before I had to meet with producers. The whole time I’m thinking it’s just this woman whose name is Gwen talking to this random guy, a mysterious stranger named John, and he’s trying to get her to take a chance on a community that she’s lost faith in, and so that’s what drew me to the role, honestly. Then I found out that it was Guinan. I was just bowled over.
Did you study anything from Whoopi’s performance, whether in the Season 2 premiere or on The Next Generation, while preparing?
I am a TNG fan because I grew up with very sweet and quite protective immigrant parents, and it was one of the few shows that they were like, “We don’t get it, but it seems fine. Go ahead and watch that.” So as a kid, I remember Whoopi in that role and I remember even though she was only in a couple episodes, maybe 20 or 22 episodes across the seasons, every time she stepped into a scene, she completely stole every scene and was just so enigmatic but cool and had this very Puck-like mischievous quality about her.
Stepping into this role as an adult, her performance was my guiding light. She showed me what this character would end up as in this future, and so I had the great opportunity to strip down and deconstruct to the person that this character is 400 years before that.
Have you talked to Whoopi about playing Guinan?
No, I haven’t, kind of a result of the pandemic. There was a lot of delays in shooting and everyone who shot on the second season, it was staggered in a way that kind of made it almost impossible to sync up schedules, especially with Whoopi being a talk show host. So I didn’t get to meet her, but I have my fingers crossed eventually we’ll cross paths.
Talk about working with Patrick Stewart and figuring out your characters’ relationship because you’re playing a Guinan who has never met Picard, while he’s playing a Picard who has all this history with your character.
Working with Patrick was just surreal. I’ve heard so many incredible things about him as an actor and as a person and to be able to take up a role that he has so much history with as Captain Picard was a gift because a lot of it is on him. He has all the relationship with me. I know nothing as my character and because he’s just so naturally affable and so warm and generous as a person, it just made it so beautiful to be able to, in between takes, in between holding a shotgun to his face, dish about the latest news that we’ve read about politics or something or just talk about theater and kind of do the things that we would do if we weren’t our characters in the moment that we’re shooting. So he was such a treasure to work with because of that. Because he brings such natural relationship and a desire to kind of imbue everything with a positivity and a joy that the natural relationship that he has with Guinan of 2400 kind of seeped in and won me over as Guinan from 2024.
There was a light-heartedness to the way Guinan reacted to Picard in the beginning.
Yeah, I think so, and I think there are elements of Whoopi’s performance that I really borrowed from in regards to her natural sense of humor about things. While she has this deep kind of ancient wisdom from her many centuries of living, I think that my Guinan also has that humor. She might not have the wisdom and maybe the ability to have grace for people and for the world that she finds herself in that we see in Whoopi’s Guinan, but one of the things I definitely borrowed from is that sense of humor that Whoopi brought to the character and in that opening sequence, where at first he’s just a crazy guy in my bar and in my way, and I just need to get him out. Then things get serious.
Guinan slowly and reluctantly starts to trust Picard.
Yeah. It’s funny ’cause I think that one of the beautiful things about playing this role is that even just reading the first few sides that I got when I was auditioning for it, I had a sense that the writers were trying to tell a bigger story. There’s so much layered in these two people who seemingly don’t know each other, and I think that that’s indicative of their relationship hundreds of years later with Whoopi and Patrick. You see that sense of, “OK, here we go. We’re gonna do this and we’re in it together.” I think there’s glimpses of what their relationship will be in those moments where he does win her over, but then she pulls back and she’s still guarded and she still withholds. There’s a little bit of a question mark at the end: Is she going to leave? Is she gonna give up on the world that has hurt her?
Speaking of that question mark, based on what we’ve seen of her, what are the chances he changed her mind about leaving?
If today was her last day on Earth, I think perhaps it could very easily be for her that this is the last good deed that she’s gonna do on Earth. There is a big chance that this is the send-off for her, as in this is the last thing I’m going to do for anyone in this place that I no longer believe in. But I think the last thing that Picard says to her is what puts everything into question. It’s about faith. And the thing about faith is that if you knew that it was assured that you would never be hurt again, it wouldn’t be faith to believe in that world, in taking that journey and taking that leap. Faith requires uncertainty.
And so I will be enigmatic about that answer and just say that I think Picard’s last words to her throw everything into question because I think up until that moment, she was just willing to do one last good thing for a world that didn’t really give much to her. And then it’s the question of will you have faith for something more, even in the midst of seeing nothing that could prove that? Is it possible you might hope for something different? That remains to be seen.
Time travel is always tricky, especially here with Guinan and Picard, and there’s the question of whether this has changed canon. Or is it maybe that she needed to meet him in order to be on the path that we eventually see her on? Where do you stand?
There is a question of timelines, right? What timeline are we in? What happened with the rift? What has been thrown into question because of this rift in time? I think that there is gonna be part of this story that people will discover does call attention to the origin story of these two people that was never in TNG, that’s never investigated in that regard with the exception of that episode where they go back to the 18th century.
But then I think the answer to what this moment means, what this episode means for their relationship in the future, has to do with the timeline that they’re in. Perhaps something about them meeting will change the outcome. They’re in a timeline where the world ends up in a Confederation, what does it mean for Picard’s question of whether or not Guinan will have faith and will continue to do the work that she needs to do in order to change the course of events? That I think could have impact on her timeline. Whether it has impact on the timeline that we are familiar with from TNG remains to be seen.
They’re trying to keep one thing from changing, but what else may have changed that we don’t know?
Exactly. It’s a little bit of a butterfly effect. I think this season is in such good hands with Terry Matalas, who was one of the writers and showrunner for 12 Monkeys, which was all time travel and one of my favorite sci-fi shows besides TNG, and he has created so much mystery and intrigue in the way that he’s weaving all these different timelines together. I’m really excited to see how the threads come together.
Speaking of knowing what you’re in, can you say if we might see you again?
I cannot. [Laughs] Because I am a fan, I have a huge respect for not spoiling anything, and I want people to enjoy where this is going and be on it for the ride.
Star Trek: Picard, Thursdays, Paramount+