This interview contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery season 5 episode 10, “Life, Itself.”

The series finale of Star Trek: Discovery is now available for streaming on Paramount+. To mark the occasion, Comics Beat caught up with Doug Jones (Ambassador Saru) over Zoom.

Saru (Doug Jones) and D. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) at Federation HQ.
“Action Saru” (Jones) and D. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) in the Star Trek: Discovery series finale. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+.

We asked Jones about his favorite memory of the character, about coaching other actors on how to be a Kelpien, and about his headcanon for the character post-series finale. Have you had a chance to stream the Discovery season finale yet? Be sure and let us know in the comment section.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Cover image credit: James Dimmock/Paramount+ TM & © 2023 CBS Studios Inc.

AVERY KAPLAN: You’ve been playing Saru for five seasons, since Star Trek: Discovery‘s debut in 2017. Over all that time, do you have a personal favorite Saru moment?

DOUG JONES: Yes. In season 2, when my character Saru went through vahar’ai. That was a life-changing moment for Saru, and for me, personally.

Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Burnham — beautifully — and I, we’ve already established a sort of brother/sister relationship in real life and on film. So, who could Saru trust more to take him through what he thought were his final moments of life? He wanted her to be a part of that. It was a lovely, beautiful gesture that she said “yes” to that.

So, in that, too: Saru’s been taught all along that his threat ganglia were just a part of his fear-based, prey-species thing. And when you go through vahar’ai, when these flare up and get sickly, that’s the end of your life and you’re going to die, and you really need a mercy killing to spare you that pain and suffering. So I was asking her to do that.

And in the middle of that — of course, she says “yes” to this because she loves me as a brother — and they fall out on their own before she even gets the knife there.

So, two things happened there. A scene between two people that was so incredibly emotionally charged. Tears flowing on both of us, for real. We both had a headache at the end of the day filming that scene. You know that “I’ve been crying all day” headache? We both had that, and it was such a beautiful thing to share with her.

Meanwhile, my character went through this metamorphosis, where fear was a thing of the past. He has courage and confidence now that he’s never felt before. And his threat ganglia were replaced with quills that can shoot poisonous darts into people. I’m a badass and didn’t know it! 

That’s a favorite moment for me throughout the entire show. Because also I learned as a person from that too, that we all have more power than we think we do. We have more confidence than we think we do. And that when faced with the perils and the threats of the day, it’s not so much the threat that matters, it’s how we react to it.

And that’s what Saru learned from all this. The threats are still there, but his reaction to it is different. He’s going at it with a “we can get through this” attitude now. So I want to adopt that into my real life.

KAPLAN: I was just thinking earlier today of how universally relatable that storyline was.

JONES: Yeah! I hear that from fans all the time, that deal with anxiety, fear, depression. Constantly. That Saru has been an inspiration to them.

That warms my heart. That gives this acting career more of a meaning to me.

KAPLAN: Do you have had any especially memorable interactions with fans?

JONES: Doing the convention scene and meeting people one at a time, I hear so much… People will hold my hands and tell me, “I’ve been dealing with anxiety”; “I have been suicidal; this show, watching your character has helped me get through that.” Oh! We cry together over those moments.

I’m also on the Cameo app. And I get lots of requests from people just wanting a pep talk. Because they’re dealing with their own fears and anxieties, and they want to have some “Saru wisdom” to help them get through that. Isn’t that lovely? That a fictional character can have that kind of an effect in the real world? I love it.

KAPLAN: Do you have any thoughts or insights to share about the nickname “Action Saru”?

JONES: (laughs) Yeah, of course! Part of that metamorphosis, going from fear-based with these threat ganglia to having quills and courage… As a Kelpien, I have always been — and now even more so, I’m owning: he’s more powerful than humans, he’s faster than humans, he’s stronger than humans. His vision is better. His hearing is better. He’s superhuman.

So when it comes to a situation where fighting is needed, he’s Action Saru, just naturally. He doesn’t have to earn that title. He just is it. So that was fun to play in the early part of the season, when we are fighting against these drones that are after to us while we’re trying to find the next clue (in “Under the Twin Moons”).

Then we get to the end of the season, and now Action Saru is more subtle. I’m sitting in a shuttle, having a tête-à-tête with Primarch Tahal, where Action Saru comes through the eyes instead this time, and through the voice. “I know you’re trying to threaten me. I’ve got all these planets in my back pocket with all their guns aimed at you. So, what do you want to do here, really? If you want to be an ass, that’s your choice. But it comes with consequences, and I have those consequences, okay?”

That was such an empowering moment for Saru and for me.

KAPLAN: And having Nhan there too was so cool.

JONES: Commander Nhan, yes! Rachael Ancheril, I love her. She’s such a kind hearted human being. And she can also play a badass, when she needs to!

KAPLAN: Not only did you originate the character Saru, but you originated the Kelpien species in general. What was it like when other actors joined you in portraying Kelpiens?

JONES: They all had to go through “Kelpien Training with Doug Jones.” Which was lovely. It felt very special for me to get to create this new species for a franchise like Star Trek, where the aliens and the other-than-humans have been crucial to this franchise, and have been memorable.

So my responsibility was to make Kelpiens memorable, and to make them a part of the canon that will live on forever, hopefully. So when any new actors would come in, I was happy to talk with them. I was happy to walk them through: “Here’s our hoof-boots. They’re horrible to wear but they look amazing. And it will change your posture, and here’s what you can do with that posture. And here’s what you can do with your arms as you walk…”

And that includes guest star Bill Irwin, who played Su’Kal. I’d been a fan of his for decades, so when I heard he was going to be playing Su’Kal and guest starring with us, I was nervous and wetting my pants. I was thinking, “I get to work with Bill Irwin, oh my god!”

Like humans, we all have our own body language; Kelpiens do too. He didn’t copycat me, but he took my notes and he made Su’Kal his very own Kelpien. It was gorgeous to watch, gorgeous.

T'Rina and Saru at their wedding.
Photo Credit: Michael/Paramount+.

KAPLAN: Do you have a personal headcanon for what happens to Saru and T’Rina (Tara Rosling) after “Life, Itself”?

JONES: Because I’m an aging actor myself, in my sixties now, I would like to see them age gracefully into a stress-free lifestyle. I don’t think either of them would ever fully retire from their responsibilities. I think they would stay on as a consultant of some sort. They would never let their wisdom and their experience go to waste, I think.

But I think they’re probably semi-retired, to the point where they have more time together. I would like to see that they had kids; a nice hybrid of Vulcan and Kelpien, wouldn’t that be an interesting mix? And then, do they have grandkids? By now, who knows?

I’d like to see them living happily ever after, maybe on her home planet of Ni’Var with a summer home on Kaminar. But still using their wisdom when needed.

All five seasons of Star Trek: Discovery are currently available for streaming on Paramount+.

Learn more about this season of Star Trek: Discovery season 5 through our interview with Elias Toufexis and our interview with Blu del Barrio. Plus you can keep up with all of The Beat’s Star Trek coverage here.