In October at New York Comic Con, the big midseason announcement for Star Trek: Prodigy was the return of Ronny Cox as Edward Jellico. His no-nonsense Captain Jellico in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode “Chain of Command” is still remembered (and debated) to this day. 30 years later, Ronny Cox is voicing Admiral Jellico, Starfleet’s commander-in-chief and Vice Admiral Janeway’s boss on Star Trek: Prodigy. In an exclusive interview with TrekMovie, Cox talks about the impact of his original run on TNG, his return to the franchise, and why he thinks everyone would be better off if they just listened more to Jellico.
It’s been 30 years, so did you have to go back and watch “Chain of Command” to get into character?
No, I didn’t. In my bones, I knew where he was coming from back then, and it’s the same place now.
A good amount of time has lapsed for the character so did the producers have any briefing or backstory for Admiral Jellico or was it just to do the same kind of thing?
We just jumped in and did it.
The producers have talked about how Jellico has some conflict with Janeway. Do you see him as an adversary?
All they have to do is do what Jellico says to do, and things will be fine.
How do you see him as a leader and a person? Is he someone you would like to meet?
He’s very competent and knows what he’s doing and a bit of an authoritarian in that he sort of gets an idea about how things should be done, and really doesn’t have much tolerance for anyone going against that. So, therefore, again, if you just listen to what he’s saying, and follow through on what he’s doing, and look at the logic of what he’s doing, you will realize that he’s right.
Jellico’s original appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation is kind of polarizing. Have you followed the fan debates?
Oh sure. They either hate him or there are other people who think he’s the greatest captain there ever was. So if you go back and look at what he did, he achieved a great deal of things there. One of the things that was different about “Chain of Command” is that the original producers didn’t like internal conflict among the characters. That robbed them dramatically of conflict among characters. And when Jellico came in, they were able to institute that. So his sort of beef with Riker brought a new dimension to the show.
Marina Sirtis has talked about how important this episode is because Jellico got Troi to start wearing a Starfleet uniform.
Exactly! That’s another thing that Jellico did that scratched a lot of it. She actually asked. Jellico gets a bunch of beef pork for making her put on a uniform, but she asked for that and she got a lot more stuff after that. And the fish in the ready room. Patrick Stewart always hated the fish in the ready room. He said, “We’re doing a series about the dignity of all creatures in the universe and we’ve got captured fish in the ready room?” But the producers like shooting through the fish swimming around there. So Jellico did that for Patrick! [laughs]
So you are saying you came in and fixed the show?
Exactly! Certainly things that people have brought up.
We’ve seen Jellico a little bit so far, but can you give us a preview of what is to come for the rest of the season.
Can you say if you are back for season 2?
I can say yes, probably.
Jellico has actually been mentioned on another Paramount+ animated show which is more of a comedy called Lower Decks, where as head of Starfleet he has done things liked banning singing.
Yeah, he hates music. Which is ironic. [Ronny Cox is an active folk musician]
Could you see finding some humor with Jellico if they asked you to do Lower Decks?
Who knows? Everybody has humor. The secret to humor is the writing… and simplicity.
At New York Comic Con the return of Jellico was the big announcement for Prodigy. Were you surprised that the character is still so well known after all these years?
No, not at all. Because of all the Jellico memes that have been around for years. I mean, Jellico has his detractors and fans of his go back and forth. Some people hate Jellico. Some people think he is the greatest thing in the world. So it has been satisfying for me to ride along with Jellico.
Could you imagine doing Jellico again, in live-action?
Ah, it would depend on the script. It would depend on what he has to do and whether it’s interesting or not. That’s what it always comes down to with me. Is it interesting? Is it something I want to do? I have to tell you the truth, I never just taken a job just for the money or to be working. Now that’s not to say I don’t do crap. I just don’t do crap on purpose. [laughs]
Did it take much for the Prodigy producers to convince you?
No. They wanted me to play Jellico and I said, “Wow, that’s sounds like it’s going to be fun.”
Jellico, like many characters you play, is a bit of a hardass. Is it more fun to play a hardass?
They’re the most fun to play. The difference between playing good guys and bad guys I liken it to painting. The good guy gets three colors: red, white, and blue. The bad guy gets the whole palette.
But do you see Jellico as a bad guy?
No. If people just paid attention to him and did what he said, everything would be fine.
New episodes of Prodigy debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and on Fridays in Latin America, Australia, and the U.K. The series will air later in the year in South Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland.
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