Alan van Sprang portrays Section 31’s Leland, and in a recent interview with Star Trek.com, he spoke about getting and playing the part. Note: Spoilers for Discovery.
Van Sprang is a Star Trek fan, especially when it comes to The Next Generation. “I’ve watched every single episode,” he said. “By that I mean, I watched The Original Series as well a lot, but TNG really, really hooked me. Then, through watching Deep Space Nine, Enterprise [as well], I’ve always been a massive fan of the show. Being called to become part of the family of Discovery? It just kind of blew my mind.”
How does the actor play Leland? “A lot of times I play the antagonist, which is fine,” said van Sprang. “I’ve got that ingredient. It’s ingrained in my body, I guess. But with [Discovery], I didn’t know what was happening next in the show. We went script-to-script-to-script on a weekly basis. I thought I was going to be on the show for [just] a few episodes. I was playing him as the protagonist. [But] each week I got a new script and [the character] just grew in a certain way in terms of my relationship with Georgiou. So, I took it slightly in a different direction — that Leland may be a bit more manipulative in terms of what he’s trying to do each episode. But I’ve never played him as the antagonist. I always said he’s got his own agenda, he going to move forward, he’s going to try to get as high up in the ranks as possible because that’s just the type of person he is.
“In the writing that was given to me, I tried to portray his humanity. Him being a fallible human being made [for] a better antagonist, because he seemed to have too much of an agenda going on. Georgiou, she was reading into that, and so was Chris Pike. So, it just allowed that humanity to become a natural antagonist. I didn’t really have to do too much to portray an antagonist at all. It was just there on the page.”
Van Sprang only found out about the AI taking over Leland a few episodes before episode eleven. “They didn’t tell me anything,” he said. “Anything… I mean it. It went from script to script and I wasn’t allowed to know anything. Nobody was. At one point, Alex [Kurtzman] was on set in Toronto and he said to me, ‘Leland’s going in a direction that you might be a little surprised by,’ and this was before episode eleven. This was around, I think, episode seven or eight or nine. That’s when they approached me and said, “Yeah, he might become a bit of an AI.”
Does Van Sprang think that the AI is the beginning of the Borg, as fans have speculated? “I think it’s very intriguing,” he said. “When I first read the script I thought, ‘Oh, is this the making of the Borg? Is that how it happens?’ We’re as much in the dark as anybody else, but as soon as I saw that, I thought, ‘This is like the Borg.’ The Next Generation‘s Borg episode just blew my mind, let alone when Picard became Locutus. That’s the first thing I thought of, which kind of tickled me to no end. ‘Wow, I’m just going to milk this for all it’s worth.'”