Billy Campbell has a storied Hollywood career going back decades. The Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated actor starred in films like The Rocketeer and had roles on TV shows like The 4400, Dynasty, and Once and Again. Just yesterday he was hired to head a new drama for ABC. But there is one that got away from him: Campbell was the runner-up to play William T. Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, as a sort of consolation prize, he did a guest spot in TNG season two as the rogue Thadium Okona in “The Outrageous Okona.”
Now the actor is talking about his history with Trek, including why he sees reprising his “Okona” role for an animated series as a redemption.
In a new extended podcast interview celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Rocketeer with Comic Book Central, the discussion got onto the subject of Star Trek. While talking about how he is a fan of the franchise, Campbell revealed he is going to be returning to it to voice the character he created back in 1988…
“I loved Star Trek: The Original Series, Next Generation. I wouldn’t say that I was like, super, super Trekkie, but I definitely loved Star Trek. It did thrill me, and it thrills me still to be part of the Star Trek universe… And the sort of fun thing is that I recently just signed on – I think it’s on Nickelodeon or somewhere – they’re doing something called Star Trek: Prodigy. And it’s animated. It’s a comedy. It’s an animated series. And they’re bringing back some characters from the Star Trek universe that are… heritage characters. So my guy is coming back [from “The Outrageous Okona”] and it’s hilarious.
Campbell says he wishes he could remember more about the script but offered some details about his return:
It’s super funny. I come on basically to—and I’m kind of schleppy and roguish, but just kind of disgusting in a way. And whoever the female character is just sort of goes over the moon for me. Much to the chagrin of the lead male character.
Little is known about the Nickelodeon CG-animated series. The only confirmed character so far is Kathryn Janeway, which will see Kate Mulgrew reprising her role from Star Trek: Voyager. Mulgrew has described the show as “very sophisticated.” Campbell’s description of a “hilarious” role in an animated comedy with a female lead makes it sound a lot like Star Trek: Lower Decks, but he specifically mentioned the name “Prodigy” multiple times and said it was headed for Nickelodeon.
At the time the podcast was made, Campbell had yet to record his part, but said he was going to “in a week or two,” and that he was being sent recording equipment so he could do his voice work remotely.
Something else surprising that came from the discussion with Comic Book Central: He sees this return to the character as a bit of a second chance.
I’m super excited about that, too. Because… the thing I have to admit about “The Outrageous Okona” is: if I could eradicate that performance, I would. I was so uncomfortable. The dialogue was so bad. It really was bad dialogue. And, to be honest, I was not experienced enough to make bad dialogue good. I was a bad actor and I’m terribly self-conscious the whole time. And Patrick [Stewart] tried to help– bless him – but I think I was beyond redemption…
According to Campbell, Stewart gave him some great advice that included how to laugh in a scene convincingly, then made sure he was doing well from that point on and even got directors to give him extra takes. Billy went on to say Prodigy will be a do-over for him:
I can’t watch it… I am so thrilled now that I can redeem myself just with this little Nickelodeon cartoon.
Later in the podcast, Campbell gave a detailed oral history of how he almost was cast as Riker that included his fateful final audition and how that all led up to him getting that one guest spot:
My pal [casting director] Junie Lowry – who has cast me in more things than anyone else in town over the years – and she called me up and said, “Do you like Star Trek?” And I said, “I love Star Trek!” She said, “You are Riker!” And I was like, “What?” And I read the thing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could be on Star Trek!’… And we got along in the process, and I have to tell you, I so badly got the jitters. And we went into this final meeting. It was me, and it was Jonathan [Frakes]. We were the only two actors. There were like 15 studio executives in the room, and the director and, and the writers and Junie sitting in the back.
Jonathan went in first and I sat out in the lobby and I was just getting so nervous. And I realized that the thing that was really, really making me nervous was that I was going to do the very thing that I had successfully not done since I got to town which was not get stuck in one place. And it just filled me with this kind of dread. And Jonathan came out and, ever the gentlemen, shook my hand and said, “Good luck in there.” I walked in and I turned into a block of wood. I was paralyzed, and I was only a few lines into the first scene and happen to look at Junie and she was looking at me like her face was like a bowl of curdled milk. She just was so – she couldn’t believe it! And I and I felt horrible because it was like, ‘Oh my god, I am making her look so bad.’ Because I hadn’t done any reading, really, before then. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god.’ I just bombed. I bombed I, bombed I, bombed.
It was horrible. I walked out of the room and that was that. The best man got the job… And I was so torn. I didn’t want to get stuck on something. And if you’re going to get stuck on something and known for something, my God, what more iconic thing could you get known for then Star Trek… And I so much loved Star Trek, and I so much love science fiction. Sometime later… a year or so, I called up Junie. I said I wanted to apologize. And she’s the sweetest person in the world. She’s got this wonderful Southern accent. And she said, “Oh, honey, honey, everything is fine. Everything turned out wonderfully. Jonathan is terrific, much better than I even dreamed he would be. And everybody’s so happy.” And I said, “So you’re not mad at me?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “Does that mean I could maybe do a guest spot?” [laughs] I said, “I so badly want to be in Star Trek.” And she said, “I’ll call you back.” And sure enough, then she came back with the “Okona”
And the rest is Star Trek history… with more history to come.
Find more news and analysis on Star Trek: Prodigy.