There must be a Union Jack stowed somewhere aboard the Starship Enterprise: The British influence on “Star Trek Into Darkness” is pretty thick. There is of course hot new man about town Benedict Cumberbatch (or “Batchi-san” to his Japanese fans) as genetically engineered evildoer John Harrison. Simon Pegg is back as chief engineer Scotty, stealing some crucial scenes right from under the noses of heroes Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). And bringing the count of female speaking parts to a whopping two is newcomer Carol, based on the character of the same name in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” but reimagined as an expert in advanced weaponry, played by British actress Alice Eve.
Though her screen time is shorter than that of her compatriots, Carol makes her mark in more ways than one, creating a Twitter uproar when, in one brief scene, she sheds her Star Fleet uniform and stands proud in electric-blue lingerie.
Fans and critics were incensed upon the film’s release in the U.S., labeling the scene as misogynist and gratuitous. Co-writer Damon Lindelof tweeted his apologies, followed by director J.J. Abrams releasing an unused scene of a topless Cumberbatch in the shower in the name of gender equality.
“There was all that to-do about me, but what about Benedict?” says Eve wryly during an interview with The Japan Times. “He’s incredibly brave, willing to embarrass himself like that. Someone once taught me actors must be prepared for embarrassment. Now I know what that means.”
Eve was never a Trekkie, though as a child, she used to watch the series on TV “with my grandfather on Saturdays, because he was such a fan. I thought the series was quite boring, to be honest, but I was just happy to be spending time with my grandfather.”
Now she says she appreciates what vision “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry had. “He really changed the paradigm. He brought in a multi-ethnic cast on board the Enterprise, which I think is prophetic of the current space industry. And the first black woman on (U.S.) TV was on ‘Star Trek.’ ” (Actually Nichelle Nichols as Uhura was not the very first, but pretty close.)
Eve adds that she went to her first-ever “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas last week and realized that “I’m not a Trekkie, no way. That will be doing a disservice to the real Trekkies at that convention. In terms of ‘Star Trek,’ I’m an amateur and happy to be one.”
Eve does have a favorite episode of the classic series: “Charlie X,” originally aired in 1966, in which Kirk (William Shatner) dispenses advice about love: “He says, ‘Be gentle and go slow.’ I’ve taken that piece of advice to heart ever since.”
Eve hails from a theatrical family: Her parents are both actors, and when she was a young child her father relocated the family to Los Angeles (they returned to England when she was 13) to have a go at the American market. That experience gave Eve an enamored perspective on the U.S., and she now divides her time between London and LA, finding herself at home on both sides of the Atlantic.
“English actors in Hollywood have been around forever,” she says, though she notes that if anything it’s her accent that throws people. “When I was a child in LA I knew people had issues with my accent. But now that I’m a professional actress, it’s more than OK to have it.”
The Oxford-educated Eve (she studied classical literature) has made her posh accent an asset and radiates a classiness that’s both quirky and intriguing. With her chiseled aristocratic features and serious, secretarial manner, she was spot on as the younger Agent O in “Men in Black 3” last year. O had an almost-amorous entanglement with the young Agent K (played by Josh Brolin), and perhaps Abrams was looking to repeat that chemistry on the Enterprise. (Indeed, Carol bore Kirk’s son in her original incarnation.)
Though she hardly cracks a single smile and keeps most of her dialogue strictly scientific, Carol has the brainy-sexy combo down pat — causing the perpetually womanizing Kirk to behave not a little awkwardly in her presence.
“He’s a wonderful actor to work with,” says Eve of Pine. “In fact, I think the biggest appeal of the movie to women audiences is Chris Pine and Benedict. They’re both cute lads, you know, and cute lads will always attract the girls.”
In case you’re wondering, “Into Darkness” puts the job first and love relationships a distant second. The only couples thing going on aboard the Enterprise is between the emotionally repressed half-Vulcan Spock and the super-focused-on-the-mission Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Most of the film revolves around action, which is when Abrams drops the bombshell moment of Eve in her underwear.
“It’s a vulnerable moment in an otherwise very cerebral movie,” says Eve. “It also suggests there’s a germ of a relationship developing between Kirk and Carol. J.J. put that in there because he felt the need for a bit of something human to alleviate all that tension.”
Clearly, Eve has no problems being shot in her lingerie, just as she has no problems “being sexy, or being portrayed as such. When I was at university I read ‘Paradise Lost’ and thought that was ridiculously feminist. But I wasn’t allowed to write that essay.
“I think that we as actors make it alright to be sexy, or to be English and have an accent, or any number of things that weren’t accepted before actors and directors experimented with them on set and made it OK. Being there, in the movies, what you’re really working on is changing the paradigm.”
Nor does she have any fears about being typecast as a sci-fi extravaganza babe. “Being typecast isn’t too bad, actually,” laughs Eve. “Because those are the sort of movies being made today. I don’t know if I’ll ever be part of such a talented and visionary team again, but I hope for the best.”
Of course, the cinematic adventures on board the Enterprise will likely continue. And what is the appeal of “Star Trek” for women who, like Eve, didn’t grow up engrossed by the TV series? “Apart from the cuteness of the male cast, maybe women are getting a taste for the (‘Star Trek’) universe,” she ponders. “I mean, the universe was open entirely to men but never completely to women. Maybe the girls want to see what’s out there, too.”
For a chance to win one of three exclusive “Star Trek Into Darkness” smartphone game joysticks, visit jtimes.jp/film. The deadline is Sept. 2.