When Star Trek: Picard begins this week, it won’t just be Jean-Luc making his return, but plenty of familiar faces from Star Trek’s past too. One surprising face is that of Jonathan Del Arco’s Hugh, the individualised Borg that broke our hearts in The Next Generation. But now Del Arco’s breaking them all over again with the deeply tragic story behind his path to joining Trek.
Speaking to the UK newspaper Metro ahead of Picard’s arrival, Del Arco divulged an intense personal trauma he was undergoing while auditioning for the role of Hugh in the 1992 episode, part of TNG’s fifth season—the death of his late partner, who had tragically passed after battling AIDs.
“I remember my first audition [for Star Trek] vividly. I was new in LA. I had nothing, no furniture, and I remember getting this audition and I had to go. I went to a premiere that night, and I came home very late to work on it,” Del Arco told Metro. “I opened the script and I heard his voice. As it turns out, the voice was the voice of my previous partner who had died of AIDS and had dementia. I don’t know why, but that was the voice I heard. It was the innocence. It was the wonder.”
Del Arco rehearsed to portray the emotionally-compromised Borg Drone by socketing a shaving foam can’s cap over one of his eyes and wearing a stiff white shirt to help visualise his appearance and movement—a humorous foil to the awful emotions swirled up elsewhere by the loss of his partner. But he credits the trauma with helping him capture Hugh’s own isolation, no longer truly part of the Borg’s collective hive-mind but no longer completely human.
“I was the most antisocial actor there, you know, actors at auditions are very chatty, and I was just completely shut down,” Del Arco continued. “They were all chatting, and I thought, ‘It’s interesting. They’re all here to pretend to be a Borg, when I am one.’ That was my mindset. I went in and that’s how I got the job. I was so sure of it. It was not a question for me.”
While he’ll forever associate becoming Hugh with the death of his partner, the time between his TNG appearances and Picard—which have seemingly seen Hugh completely leave the Borg Collective altogether, and become a liberated drone, with most of his implants removed—the actor reflected that the time away has allowed him to change his own perspective on Hugh, no longer playing him for his late partner but truly playing the character for himself. “When I originally played the part, I was playing someone else, and when I’m playing the part now I’m playing myself,” he added. “That’s a big difference. I’m using my own life.”
Star Trek: Picard begins January 24 in the U.S. It will air on Amazon Prime Video in Australia.