Billy Campbell Talks Reprising (And Redeeming) His “Okona” Character On ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’

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.

Animating Okona

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.

Billy Campbell in 2019 (Getty)

Redeeming Okona

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.

Billy Campbell in “The Outrageous Okona”

Bombing Riker

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.

Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, and Billy Campbell in “The Outrageous Okona”

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I didn’t see that coming.

I concur.

He kind of looks like a thin Kurt Russel now

Uh… is it already April 1, because that just screams like an April Fools Day joke to me. Has anyone else heard Prodigy described as a comedy before? I’m not sure I buy it…

It’s a kid’s show on Nick. If you’re on the lookout for hard drama, this won’t be that show…

It’s all true.

I don’t think it will be a comedy like Lower Decks is, but I’m sure it will have comedic elements.

Joke or not, I love this news story.

I thought the April Fool’s joke was referring to this fellow’s career as “storied.”

I have a feeling someone at Paramount is gonna be peeved that he dropped this spoiler. I suppose maybe they gave him the green light to talk about it. I agree the dialogue in that episode was pretty bad, but he certainly did his job of playing a rogue, charming space buccaneer.

It’s a children’s show ffs. Why do people have to dissect everything? Sad.

Why are you being so toxic?

What a completely fake response.

How is that in any way toxic?

If you don’t agree with my opinion, that’s fair enough, but because you don’t agree with something, doesn’t make it toxic.

I think you may want to re-read that comment, as your angry retort makes absolutely no sense as a response.

Hmmm. You sound like an alt of His name is rios…

I wasn’t angry when I wrote that. I was laughing actually. Not much makes me angry on the internet, except maybe people using multiple accounts to try and curry favour.

this thread has got too personal. closing

I never understood why they never brought him back. He could have been TNG’s Mudd. A roguish pain in the ass with just enough of a conscience to be likeable, even to the Enterprise crew. I wouldn’t have thought of putting Okona on a children’s show. Should be interesting, unless he was given a fake cover page on his script to keep something bigger than him secret on Lower Decks; but that seems odd too. Oh well, we’ll find out exactly what the script has Okona do and with whom, eventually.

Good on Campbell for recognizing just how awful “The Outrageous Okona” really was. Just a terrible, terrible episode, arguably TNG’s worst with the possible exception of “Shades of Gray” (which is actually more of a non-episode). That TNG survived such colossal missteps to go on and actually prosper seems, in retrospect, one of the most miraculous creative turnarounds in TV history.

The season being longer helped probably. One bad episode would soon be forgotten by a better one the next week or the week after that.
And theres a reason Shades of Grey was the last episode of the season, that being the writers knew it was awful and already had a third season locked so weren’t too worried it would end the show.

Today in a season of less than 15 episodes its much more damaging to have too many terrible episodes and the chance of cancellation is much higher. ImO

If I recall correctly, they were also out of money.
They overspent on previous episodes and the season finale suffered for it. I remember the 3rd season as to when I really started enjoying TNG.

I don’t think it was so much “out of money” as “out of time”, although the “it’s cheap” probably was attractive, too. Season 2 got a late start due to the 1988 Writers Strike, and TNG played catch-up all year. They even dusted off a Star Trek Phase II script (The Child) to get ahead. So they made a bottle show where about half the running time was clips from previous episodes. Presto! Problem solved.

“The Menagerie” showed the heights of where imagination and creativity could take you when dealing with time, budgets, and already-shot footage. “Shades of Grey” is at the opposite end of that scale.

Ooh, good point about the comparison between “The Menagerie” and “Shades of Gray”. To be fair, though, lots of shows have a “clip show” episode like the latter, which are usually much more like “Shades of Gray” than “The Menagerie”, and in the original Trek’s original airing “The Menagerie” benefitted from still being totally new to the audience even though the story of “The Cage” existed, since “The Cage” hadn’t actually screened yet (and wouldn’t until more than 20 years later).

Still, though, you’re absolutely right.

It’s interesting to hear him say he was in the running to be cast as Riker. Many years ago I remember hearing that Christopher McDonald (from Yesterday’s Enterprise) was on the shortlist as well. Supposedly Gene Roddenberry preferred Frakes over the others. Frakes is a nice guy, and a reasonably adequate actor, but McDonald is a far better actor than anyone else on that list. One can only imagine how he would have elevated the material, especially scenes with Patrick Stewart.
What a shame the person with the most talent lost out on this particular occasion.

Can you point to some of McDonald’s work. I can’t recall seeing him in anything where he was any more than just adequate. But maybe I’ve missed his better work.

Thorny, if you type in his name and IMDB it will list everything he’s ever done including The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, etc.
He’s had a long and multi-faceted career.
In my opinion, he would have brought a charismatic heft to the Riker character.

That explains it. My interest in Mafia/Mob movies/TV is essentially zero.

Well, he was not on the top of the list of characters that I expected to return for another go at Trek. Kinda surprised at this news to be honest. I wonder how they are going to incorporate a character like Okona to a kids show. Although it is kind of a breath of fresh air to see at least one actor talk about a show without hiding anything.

Hasn’t Prodigy been described as a show centered around a group of outlaw teenagers? If so they might come across someone like Okona. Also, it’s very much possible that he doesn’t have a big role. It can be a just a single episode, or even just a short scene in an episode.

Yeah, I am thinking it might even be something like a holographic recording or part of a holodeck program or something like that.

Very surprised by this news. Okuna isn’t on the top of my head a character I expected to see ever again. Good for him that he is getting a another stab at the character. Hope it’s a success. I’m rooting for Prodigy and SNW to be on the same level of awesomeness as the Lower Decks.

Thinking about it, I always enjoyed his film The Rocketeer. Shame that never went further and got a sequel, I thought is was quite a delightful romp. I’ve only seen him in the 4400 which is a nice little show as well.

I rewatched Season 2 in the last year and “Okona” is my official selection for worst ep of the season (after S.O.G. of course.) Cool mullet pony-tail though.

The Okona plot isn’t terrible. But Lord, the Joe Piscopo comedy subplot is awful. It would have been tough to sell even if they’d gotten Jerry Lewis as they’d hoped.

Wasn’t Okona meant to be recurring, TNG’s version of Harry Mudd?

Love that episode of the series. He is actually really good in that one…as he is always. So glad he is coming back to Trek!

I’m inclined to agree with Trekmovie that the description he gives does sound much more like Lower Decks. I do wonder if his agent or somebody at CBS pitched him on all the things they’re doing with Trek and he just got confused about which show he’s actually on! Either way I think it’s pretty cool. As much as I agree that TNG improved dramatically from season 3 onwards I still have a soft spot for those early episodes and I thought Campbell was likeable in the role.

Was great on The Killing. Find it quirky and cool they are bringing him back. Deep cut!

This Sounds very much Like He confuses les With pgy

“The Outrageous Okona” always struck me as a failed spin off show, the only line missing was the crew waving him off and wishing him luck on his zany adventures. Yeah, a pretty cringeworthy show.

I thought he was meant to be TNG’s version of Harry Mudd, showing up once every season or so.

I’ll have to pull that one up out of Netflix mothballs. One of those TNG eps I saw once in 1987, and never rolled it again.

There was likely a reason for that. Trust your instincts….or bookend your viewing displeasure with Sub Rosa.

1. Lawless teens. Check.
2. Janeway mothering said lawless teens. Check.
3. Forgettable, poorly acted character from one of the 5-10 worst TNG episodes.
4. Profit?

Yep, definitely profit. There are mountains of Okona gold to be had in them there hills. The world has been screaming for his return!

From his comment, I’m curious if he might be conflating Prodigy and Lower Decks. The description seems to fit the latter more than the former based on what little we know.

I wasn’t much of a fan of Okana. He didn’t feel like he fit in the Star Trek Universe. But I remain open to see what they do with him.

What’s crazy is I don’t even remember the episode he was in at all lol. And I been watching tons of TNG the last two years, but managed to not rewatch that one in that time. I don’t remember the episode at all. But I’ll be watching it since I’m rewatching the entire franchise from beginning to end, but probably won’t get to TNG for another month or so.

Its the one where Joe Piscopo shows up and entirely fails to be funny.

The Outrageous Okona
The Vengeance Factor
The Hunted
The High Ground

Those are four awkward TNG episodes I could never get into back in the day. Not superbad, but strangely unimaginative and lacking the adventure I prefered. And I tend to mix them up content-wise…

TVF has some cheesy dialog, but The Hunted and the High Ground are two of TNG’s finest. Great moral/ethical dilemma’s, some fun tense action (for 80s TV), and great performances from the guest stars, which featured antagonists who’s motives were complex, and not evil. Trek at its finest, if you ask me.

I think the TNG era is best explored through non Starfleet… this seems to be where challenges/drama/new ideas/diversity can still occur outside the free energy no conflict UFP. Looking forward to Prodigy, hoping something can watch with kids like ST:TAS.