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Ronny Cox Looks Back at 'Chain of Command'

Edward Jellico may not have made many friends on the Enterprise, but the actor who brought him to life still has a soft spot for the interim captain.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Chain of Command"

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 mostof 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.

Episode Preview: Chain of Command, Part I

[RELATED: WARP FIVE: Ronny Cox on Introducing A New Audience to Admiral Jellico]

To celebrate its 30th anniversary of its airing on December 14, 1992, we're taking a look back at when caught up with Cox by telephone from somewhere on the road to reminisce about his stint in the Star Trek universe. 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.” 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.

Jellico looks over his shoulder sternly on Star Trek: The Next Generation 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. 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].

In the Observation Lounge, Jellico and Riker sit at the conference table looking to someone off-camera in Star Trek: The Next Generation 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.

On the Bridge of the Enterprise, Jellico and Picard stand face to face as Troi and Riker look at them on Star Trek: The Next Generation 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.

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