Penny Johnson Jerald, who stars as Dr. Claire Finn on “The Orville,” believes that “there are so many stories to tell,” and expressed her hope in an exclusive interview with Heavy that the science fiction show, which concluded its third season on August 4, 2022, will be renewed for a fourth season. Jerald is a television veteran who has co-starred or recurred, according to the Internet Movie Database, on such series as “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “24,” and “Castle.”
Jerald has played Dr. Finn on “The Orville” since the show debuted in 2017. The actress, who, according to Memory Alpha, played Kasidy Yates in 15 episodes of “Deep Space Nine” and also had guest-starred as Dobara in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Homeward,” is one of many familiar “Trek” names involved with “The Orville.” “Enterprise” guest star and lifelong “Trek” fan Seth MacFarlane created and stars in “The Orville,” while its writers-producers include Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis. Per IMDB, directors have included Jonathan Frakes, Robert Duncan McNeill, James Conway, and MacFarlane, while MacFarlane, Bormanis, David A. Goodman, and Joe Menosky have written episodes. Among the many actors with a “Trek” connection who’ve appeared on “The Orville” are series regular Scott Grimes, Ron Canada, John Fleck, Lisa Banes, Molly Hagan, Robert Picardo, Jason Alexander, Marina Sirtis, Steven Culp, Tim Russ, James Horan, Tony Todd, and John Billingsley.
Season three of “The Orville” ended on a joyous note with — spoilers ahead — Dr. Finn marrying Isaac (Mark Jackson), the ship’s robot-like Kaylon character. During her interview with Heavy, Jerald discussed her decision to join “The Orville,” the evolution of her character, the “Trek” influence on “The Orville,” and the show’s potential future.
Jerald Acknowledges the Connections between ‘Star Trek’ & ‘The Orville,” But Says ‘The Orville’ Stands on its Own
Since you had appeared on both “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,” how hard or easy a decision was it to do another science fiction show and sign on for “The Orville?
Penny Johnson Jerald: My husband and I were watching TV and there was this Teddy bear that was cussing like crazy. We looked at each other and said, “What is this? Let’s watch it. It’s funny.” And it was called “Ted.” So, I said, “Oh, my gosh, who’s doing this?” And I read the name. Literally, that day, my agents called me about “The Orville.” I said, “Oh, well, who’s doing it?” They said, “Seth MacFarlane.” I said, “I’m watching him right now. He’s hysterical.” I said, “Yes.”
Season three just ended. How has the experience been?
Jerald: Oh, it’s been so rewarding, I cannot express it. It seems like it can’t possibly be over, because there are so many stories to tell. I also believe that this last season, season three, that we were in a groove where this is the real “Orville,” not to take away from the first or second seasons. But this feels so right because of the intensity of the stories that were told and touched upon. Also, because of where we are in the world right now, there are so many stories to tell. And the bigness of it… I don’t know if we can ever do a 44-minute episode because “The Orville” is just jam-packed, where it’s movie-level.
What have been the biggest surprises for you when it comes to Claire’s development as a character?
Jerald: Well, I had a lot of big surprises. They weren’t just in season three. They started off season one. To be intimate with a gelatinous being? Then, to have something to do with a robot? Then, I have an ex. I literally asked, “Am I the ship’s slut? It seems like I’ve been with everyone!” And not just what. What I love about “The Orville” is that from the first season on, Claire gets to do almost everything. I truly believe that we have touched upon a woman who is a full woman. She’s not just the doctor, and then you’re playing the doctor. She’s not just a mom. She’s a single mother. She is a mature woman. She’s not in her 20s or 30s… We’ll be able to stop right there! But she is so full and wise and funny and sexy, and full of heart. So, all of that… I’m just so happy with her development because she’s a real person and she goes through real things that people do go through. I don’t think there’s anything that’s not real about her. Just the feedback from the fans, they feel represented through Claire, and that makes me very happy to represent a large group of people.
Jerald Appreciates That Dr. Finn is a ‘Full & Wise & Funny & Sexy’ Woman
The Claire-Isaac dynamic works beautifully. Tell us about creating that with Mark, especially since he’s usually in the robot costume rather than in Isaac’s human form…
Jerald: Mark and I are very good friends. We’ve even shared our dressing room. They’re right next to one another, and we talk all the time. We certainly respect one another as artists. We’re both from the theater. We’re both married, and we’re both ready to take on anything you give us. What I love about Claire and Isaac is that I think Isaac is the science in the science fiction, where it’s very factual. It’s truth. There’s no emotion attached to it. It is exactly what it is. Claire is the emotion. Although she gets to see emotion from Isaac at one point, I don’t believe that’s what she has fallen in love with. I think she’s happy that she’s had that experience, but it’s that mind and that steadfastness and what he said in the finale about taking care of not just her children, but her children’s children’s children, and that’s pretty deep. My husband never said that!
“The Orville” has welcomed a lot of “Star Trek” talent onto the show — actors, writers, producers, directors, and other members of the crew. Some fans have described “The Orville” as very “Trek”-like in its stories. You, yourself, were on “Trek.” What are your thoughts about the “Trek” influence on “The Orville”?
Jerald: I have to say that inviting the “Star Trek” family into “The Orville” is nothing short of generous and very, very smart. “Star Trek” put science fiction on the map. You have others, but “Star Trek” has longevity and it will live on for years and years. People still won’t let me leave the “Star Trek” world, and I don’t want to. So, it would be silly and foolish of “The Orville” — which is like great, epic science fiction movies now — to not invite the standard of the trade. So, oftentimes, when we have a guest star and they are from the “Star Trek” world, it feels really solid. Everyone who’s come onto the set, they feel embraced, included, and they feel like they can bring something to it. I remember when Jonathan Frakes was directing, and we first had to learn how to land, and we had to go backward and forward in our chairs. He goes, “No, no, no. No need to do all that!” He had more energy than anybody. You don’t have to do this (rocking) with the ship. You just…” I have to give it to Jonathan. He taught everyone how to do that.
Tim Russ came on, too, and that was wonderful, to see that directness. I could see that “Star Trek” influence, even though he was playing another character. It was the idea that when you put on a uniform your body changes, and it’s erect and you’re very efficient in what you do. I think that those are things that are good, and that maybe not consciously, but we do see that and feel that and it’s present in our work. However, I’m going to be very clear. “The Orville” is not “Star Trek.” Totally different monster. Totally different. We shoot it differently. The stories have been very different. The work ethic, being able to have a whole lot of fun while we’re doing this, is different.
How hopeful are you that the last “Orville” episode of season three was a season finale and not a series finale?
Jerald: I will never see it as a series finale because there were too many things that were not told. You were presented things. It reminded me of the United Nations, all of the groups coming together and choosing sides and trying to preserve this thing called a universe. We’re kind of doing that in real time in the world. So, that’s not over. Until the world is finished, I don’t think “The Orville” can be finished. We are extracting stories that have to do with everyone. So, you can identify with the situations and the people on the Orville. Unless we just run dry of that, I think we can we can go on forever. Now, some of us won’t be living forever, but “The Orville” can go on for definitely more than the three seasons that we’ve produced out here.
“The Orville” is streaming on Hulu and Disney+.