Ronny Cox is a veteran actor extraordinaire; one who you might just as easily find performing at a local playhouse as you might on the big or small screens. Cox, who's had roles in Deliverance, Taps, Beverly Hills Cop, RoboCop, Total Recall, and Stargate SG-1 (to name a few), is spending most of his energy these days on his other career as a singer-songwriter-performer.
Star Trek fans will recall that Cox very memorably portrayed Captain Edward Jellico in Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes “Chain of Command, Part I” and “Chain of Command, Part II.” Captain Jellico assumed command of the Enterprise-D while Picard participated in a clandestine mission, during which the captain was captured and tortured by the Cardassians. Jellico didn’t exactly make friends aboard the Enterprise, as his no-nonsense, “get it done” approach infuriated the crew, particularly Riker.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary of its airing on December 14, 1992, we're taking a look back at when StarTrek.com caught up with Cox by telephone from somewhere on the road to reminisce about his stint in the Star Trek universe.
StarTrek.com: Let’s go back in time to 1992, to the sixth season of TNG, when you appeared in the “Chain of Command” two-parter.
Ronny Cox: We know that Picard was being tortured by the Cardassians, but just about everything on the ship was between Riker and Jellico. And I loved that aspect. Gene Roddenberry didn’t like conflict between the characters, so my guy was the first guy to come in and sort of ruffle everybody’s feathers. I liked that aspect of him. I also liked that he was a by-the-book guy. I loved it when Picard comes back to the Enterprise at the end and Jellico says, “Here’s your ship back, just the way you left it… maybe a little better.”
StarTrek.com: Was your role the result of an audition or an offer, and on paper, what did you think of Jellico?
Ronny Cox: It was an offer. And I loved the script. I loved doing the show. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve done a lot of things in my career, and I’ve got people in my family who think that’s the only thing of any worth I have ever done. [Laughs] I’m also a trivia answer; I’m one of the few actors, other than the show’s regulars, to have done a captain’s log on TNG.
StarTrek.com: Are you aware of how well regarded the “Chain of Command” two-parter is among fans? It’s usually rated in the top five of all the TNG episodes.
Ronny Cox: I had heard that. I’m honored about that. I loved playing Jellico. Like I said, I never saw him as a villain. He was a bit of a hard-ass, but not a villain. I thought he dealt with the Cardassians really well and I thought he ran the Enterprise really well, though in a completely different style from Picard. But that episode had a lot going for it. Patrick was brilliant. So was Jonathan [Frakes]. So was David Warner. And the story was compelling.
StarTrek.com: Was there ever talk of bringing Jellico on board again?
Ronny Cox: Yes, there was. And then it just sort of didn’t happen. You know how those things go. Everyone was pleased with Jellico and I would have cleared some decks to work on that show again, but I only did those two [episodes].
StarTrek.com: You’ve recorded eight albums and you’re on a Bob Dylan-esque never-ending tour. Your music seems to be taking precedence over acting these days. Would you agree?
Ronny Cox: Absolutely. I did, I think, 125 music shows in 2010. So I’ve been doing almost exclusively my folk music stuff. I lost my wife four years ago, and Mary was my whole life. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a great career. I was in a few great movies. I’m not rich, but I have enough money. And the things that give me the most pleasure now are the music shows because they’re an opportunity for the one-on-one sharing that means so much to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, and television shows, and plays. But you can’t step through that camera, through the lens, and communicate one-on-one with people. You can’t even quite do it on stage. With my music shows, there is that possibility. I sing and I tell stories, and I find that a really compelling opiate.
StarTrek.com: Would you say that one comes more naturally to you, acting or singing?
Ronny Cox: I think they’re both of a piece. I really can’t separate them. In the best of all possible worlds, I’d get to do both. I love music, acoustic music. I probably started singing before I started acting. I was cutting albums when I was still in high school, actually. I recorded at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico, which is where Buddy Holly recorded “Peggy Sue” and The Fireballs recorded “Sugar Shack.” I got my first film, Deliverance, because I could play guitar. My second big film was Bound for Glory. That was the Woody Guthrie film, and so I picked and sang in that. My first television series was a show called Apple’s Way, and I picked and sang a song on that every week.
Early in my career, everyone knew I was this actor from New Mexico who also played music. What happened was that for the last 25 or 30 years, I had so much success playing guys of authority – like Jellico in Star Trek, Senator Kinsey in Stargate, or the President, or military men, or the guys in Total Recall and RoboCop and Beverly Hills Cop – that when people see me with a guitar in my hand, it’s amazing to them.
This article was originally published March 2011.