Warning: Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Star Trek: Picard, "Nepenthe." Come back once you've caught up!
Everyone who had been waiting for months to see what Star Trek: Picard would look like, be about and who (aside from Patrick Stewart) would star in the new series was quite surprised when it was revealed that actor Jonathan Del Arco would play a major part. Del Arco originated the part of the freed Borg drone Hugh on Star Trek: The Next Generation 28 years ago, and took on the role again for Picard. However, this week's episode saw Hugh die after helping Picard escape, and Del Arco has now said that he didn't have that long to prepare for the moment.
Picard had been searching for Data's "daughter" Soji for several episodes, and when he finds her on the derelict Borg cube, which has been serving as the Romulan Reclamation Site where they work with former Borg drones, there's trouble almost immediately. Hugh has to help Picard and Soji escape so that they can transport themselves to the idyllic planet of Nepenthe, and does a great job of fighting off Narissa and a bunch of Romulan guards for a time. But, Narissa eventually throws a knife at Hugh, which stabs him in the neck and kills him.
If you think that Jonathan Del Arco had been preparing for Hugh's death scene for months or weeks before filming, it turns out that not only was that not the case, but he ended up finding the rather late notice "liberating." Here's what he told The Hollywood Reporter about how it all went down:
I didn’t know until I was almost getting ready to shoot it. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know way early because, the moment I did find out — which, of course, I was upset — it actually ended up liberating my work quite a bit. I mean, I was able to prepare — there were phone calls with [executive producer] Michael [Chabon] and everyone early on — but basically, I realized I had X amount of scenes and moments in which to work and do all the things I wanted to do with the character. And take some risks as an actor. And so, in a way, it was helpful, because, like when you know your character is going to die — the way humans know they are going to die in real-life — you kind of live for the moment. And that’s what I was able to do building up to the scene.
I don't know, Jonathan Del Arco. Does knowing that we're going to die in real life free us all up, or does the weight of that knowledge just overwhelm us and lead us to lives of stunning mediocrity? Well, I guess that's a topic for a different article...At any rate, it sounds like while Del Arco had some conversations early on with the executive producer and others early on about the more general aspects of his character for this first season, he wasn't told about Hugh's death until right before shooting. Sounds like a tough proposition, but he handled it quite well.
Learning about Hugh's death, and how, exactly, it would happen obviously brought up a lot of feelings for Jonathan Del Arco. But, the freedom that came from not knowing several days or weeks prior let him go with the flow as he filmed, not get too in his head about it and try some things he probably wouldn't have considered (or would have talked himself out of) otherwise.
In his interview, Del Arco also noted that Hugh's death was emotionally and physically taxing, because he gave it everything he had for the entire seven-hour shoot.
I got a cornea scratch from the contact lens I was wearing. So I was basically not supposed to be on set that day at all. But we had to get it done, though I was kind of blind. I couldn’t really see anything...I definitely had a couple of martinis on the way home. I have very few lines in that scene — Narissa has all the dialogue — so I’m mostly reactive. It wasn’t scripted for me to sob at all at that point, but I did it — and every single time we had to shoot that scene, I lost my shit.
Aside from the wonderful performance that fans got to see from Del Arco, another bright spot to all of this is that his final scenes as Hugh were actually filmed in sequence, which is unusual, so that he didn't have to go back and forth from his death to something else, and was able to just ramp up the intensity as his last day of filming went on.
Jonathan Del Arco's last turn as Hugh on Star Trek: Picard (and, probably anywhere) is available on CBS All Access right now. For more on what you can watch on the small screen, check out our 2020 midseason guide.