Published Dec 5, 2022
WARP FIVE: Ronny Cox on Introducing A New Audience to Admiral Jellico
The legacy actor reflects on Jellico's appeal and the 30th anniversary of 'Chain of Command.'
By Christine Dinh
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
In the past few episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy, our unseasoned crew seeks refuge in the Neutral Zone after a brief tussle with the U.S.S. Dauntless, helmed by Vice Admiral Janeway, which has left the Protostar damaged and in need of repairs.
Squaring off with the Romulans, Janeway wants to pursue the Protostar; however, Admiral Edward Jellico is adamant she hold her position. Despite their historic untrustworthiness, the Federation and Romulans are finally working towards peace. As a result, her request is denied. While he is aware of the risks if the Romulans get their hands on the Protostar technology, Jellico is concerned her "professional obligations" have been compromised by her personal feelings for Captain Chakotay.
StarTrek.com had the pleasure of speaking with legacy actor Ronny Cox, who reprises the role of Jellico, for Star Trek: Prodigy.
Star Trek: Prodigy has made a monumental effort in utilizing legacy cast to help usher in the next generation of audiences. In addition to the incomparable series regular Kate Mulgrew who plays double duty in the series as Hologram Janeway and Vice Admiral Janeway, Ronny Cox joins Billy Campbell as another The Next Generationalum for its second half of the season.
Cox made his debut as Captain Edward Jellico in the iconic two-parter, "Chain of Command," which premiered 30 years ago next week on December 14, 1992. Cox's stern, by-the-books Jellico is one of the series' and franchise's most memorable guest character. Not only that, Cox recognizes the two-parter is often cited among fans as "among the highest rated of The Next Generation."
Reflecting on "Chain of Command," Cox tells StarTrek.com, "Those two episodes were good for putting the ship in a different mode than they had been before," crediting the writers for punching up the conflict on the Enterprise. It was the conflict that drew him to the role, in addition to working alongside Patrick Stewart.
Cox recalls another series regular he loved working with — Jonathan Frakes — despite how their two characters were at odds with one another, commenting, "Jonathan Frakes and I became fast friends. He actually directed me in a little television movie later on."
While Jellico's no-nonsense sensibility wouldn't land him on Star Trek's list of Bad Admirals, his rigid demeanor has long drawn the ire of fans for disrupting the dynamic on the Bridge.
As Cox jokingly quips, "Things are very clear to him. If people would just listen and do what he says, things would get done right."
Cox is firm that Jellico's assessments and orders were correct on The Next Generation as they are on Prodigy, noting the strengths in the Starfleet commander's competency and logic.
Admiral Jellico is a role Cox had no qualms reprising three decades after his introduction, stating, "It's been fun because Jellico is a character that they all love to hate. Either they think he's the greatest captain ever or that he's the worst. I happen to think he's one of the best, but then I'm biased."
On embodying the hard-ass, Cox shares, "The joy for me is just attacking a character and finding ways to make a character work. I work from a simplistic point of view, and the fun thing about playing Jellico is he's a very straightforward character."
In fact, Cox believes it's Jellico's stern competency that has led to his promotion in Starfleet, delighting in the opportunity to introduce this character to a different audience.
In his career, following his stint on TNG, Cox would go on to play another no-nonsense hard-ass — Robert Kinsey on Stargate SG-1.
"To tell you the truth, playing the hardass characters and the bad guys is about 1000 times more fun than playing the good guys," Cox affirms. " Because the good guys, they do the right thing; now sometimes they go down the wrong path for a little while. The good guy gets three colors — red, white, and blue. The bad guy gets the whole palette."
Is there a reason Cox is drawn to these authoritarian figures? "Early in my career, I played nothing but sweet, nice guys," reflects Cox. "In my first film Deliverance, I was the sensitive one. Back in the day, if you played a sweet, nice guy, that gets equated with weak and soft. It was a frustration for me to never get to play the hard-edged characters."
"I've been all over the place on so so I can tell you the truth," continued Cox. "A lot of people sort of play themselves or play a persona. And I have no interest in playing myself. I go the farthest away from myself, and I attack a character. I try to get myself into his psyche and where he is and what's going on with him. But there are too many other things to worry about rather than trying to become that character."
Asked whether he could tease what more we can see from his Jellico on Star Trek: Prodigy, like his character, Cox declines, stating, "No, I choose not to give anything away."