Interview: John de Lancie On How The Stakes Are Higher For Q In ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 2

TrekMovie joined a group press interview with John de Lancie to talk about returning to his iconic role of Q in the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard. The actor offered insights into how the character has changed, what’s motivating him, and more.

Note: The interview contains some minor spoilers and has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

You have said this is not the same kind of Q appearance, so can you talk about how the role on Picard was pitched to you?

When I went into Paramount to have a talk with [co-showrunner] Terry [Matalas]… In a sort of humorous way, I said, “You’re not putting me in back in those tights again, are you?” And he said, “No, no, no, no, no.” And I said, “Okay, I’m willing to listen a little bit more now.” [laughs] He really wanted me to understand that they did not want to go over old ground. And that was particularly good for me, because I am loth… there are real dangers in trying to recreate. I’ve been on a couple of shows which were recreations of very successful shows in the past, and that’s what sometimes they try to do and it was always disastrous.

So, knowing that we were going to start where we start with today and move forward was refreshing as far as I was concerned… There’s a part of me that is a little concerned that the audience will go, ‘It’s going to be the Q of old.’ And it would be kind of unseemly for me to be jumping around like mariachi band-time. So this is a new Q… not new Q, it’s just the situation is different. The stakes are higher. What I need to have Picard go through now actually affects me. So my stakes are higher as well. So it is a different look. Yet, if you consider this, dare I say a diamond, and you’re cutting different facets, it’s just yet another facet. And, and I think, an interesting one.

This is the same Q, but it’s a darker Q. How is it to lean into the angrier sides and build those layers into your character and your performance? How delicious is it approaching it with that in mind?

Well, you said it. There’s a deliciousness about it. And there is a desire from an actor who’s working with somebody else, is that you are trying to fulfill that and also kind of trying to bring some of it. You’re not letting it go, you’re just trying to bring some of it. So hopefully there’s a little bit of that stuff kind of sparkle still there. So yes, I am mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But this time I don’t even have the time to screw around too much. [snaps fingers rhythmically] Time is of the essence. That’s what you’re getting in this show right now, at least for me. Like, ‘We got to do this, and we got to do this now, and you, in particular, have to do this now, because you don’t have much time, old man. You don’t have much time.’

In this season, Q tells Picard he’s going to have to look at the roads not taken, and sort of reflect on choices he could have made differently. Is this because Q is also going to have to look back on some of his choices and also reflect on decisions that he’s made?

Yes, yes… That’s why I’m saying is that it’s just not me doing this [as] the puppet master affecting the puppet. I’m affected by this as well. The character is affected by this as well. And that’s why there’s an urgency in all of this.

Regarding the relationship between Q and Picard, what do you think draws Q to Picard out of all of humanity out of all time?

I think that there’s a genuine love for him. And in a way, I think he has that for me. Remember, I am a being that is in need of a lot, and looking for a lot. And this is a relationship that while I might be somewhat difficult to be with, I feel that I am very caring. And in this particular time, it’s really important. I need for him to do something because in fact, on top of everything else, it’s connected very much to what I need personally. So we are connected.

John de Lancie as Q and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Picard

What is it about humanity that Q is so obsessed with that he feels like he needs to keep testing them and manipulating them and just getting involved in their lives?

Perhaps it’s a desire on my part for you all to be better; to just to be more human, more better than what you’ve been in the past. In The Next Generation, in “Encounter at Farpoint” I say, “Why do deserve to be out here?” It is that teacher who you have a sort of hate and love relationship with but they make you better, they challenge you more. I think that that’s a component in this in this character and that and the relationship and dynamic I have with Picard, and also the rest of the cast, frankly.

You’ve had the good fortune to appear on multiple Trek series, not just The Next Generation, but Deep Space Nine and Voyager and now Picard. Would you say that this show has a similar spirit as the previous Trek series that you’ve been a part of?

Well, it has a Star Trek spirit, which is to say that it’s about something. It is a darker show. And certainly, the way I am playing the character now is a lot less whimsical. It would be kind of unseemly at this age to be trying to recreate what was done twenty-some years ago, and the writers didn’t want that–very, very specifically did not want that. So, as actors, what we mostly are looking for is: What does the scene mean? Does this mean something? What are we driving towards? And, and in that respect, the best of the Star Trek shows that I did in the past were always about big philosophical questions, which is also the case here in Picard.

Did you find it easy to step back into the Q role after 20 years?  

It was perhaps a little too easy. [laughs] Somebody asked about the clicking of the fingers and I said it’s just what I used to do with the kids, like, ‘pick up your clothes, let’s go!’ And so it was not difficult to get back into the role. And mostly because it’s just fun. It’s a fun role to play.

If this is the last time you ever play Q, how satisfied are you with the way Picard closes out the circle for you as the actor and Q as the character?

Well, it’s always the last time. Every time I finished the show, it was the last time. When I finished “[Encounter at] Farpoint,” it was the last time. I am happy that I got another whack at it. I finished a scene not too long ago that was very satisfying. There’s a sense of continuation. There’s a sense of, dare I say, a continuum to all of this that I’m now becoming more comfortable with and realizing that I get to put out a certain amount of energy and that the audience gets to pick up on that and continue it, and still grow it more and more.

I know, this is all beginning to sound a little airy-fairy, but playing this role, I guess in a way, it becomes a little bigger than you. It just becomes bigger than you. I do my little part and then I have so many people who seem to be interested who add their parts to it. And I don’t mean from the point of view of the crew in the cast, I mean, from the point of view of those who watch and listen. They add a little bit of themselves to this character. So it’s wonderful.

More to come

See our interview with co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman for more about Picard season two. TrekMovie will have interviews with Patrick Stewart and other members of the cast in the coming days, so stay tuned.

The second season of Star Trek: Picard will arrive on March 3.


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Hmmm, just enough to tease us, and build anticipation. Nice.

OK, I got it. This is Q from the mirror universe. There we go.

I know you are joking but that very well could be true given this group…

Seems to me that Q and his kind are likely “above” the mirror universe thing and can probably travel to other universes in the multiverse at will if they want to.

You’d think so but with this group you never know…

Gotta be! The beard!

In my opinion I only really thought Q got interesting towards the end of TNG, All Good Things for example is one of the greatest Trek stories ever. I know he was on DS9 & VOY but I have not watched for a while and I think he was more of a cameo appearence then adding anything

BUT I am interested to see Q again. I will be honest here, Picard Season 1 was without a doubt the low point of the franchise and my expectations for season 2 are rock bottom, but for some reason I want to see Q again, an elder more wiser more urgent Q. I think the problem with the character is they did not know what to do with him for the longest part.

So long as they have written the part well and it is integral to the show, this might be more than just another cameo. But there a lot of people in this show, so character screen time and development time is limited.

I will watch this because John De Lancie and Brent Spiner star, but I am expecting it to be bad based on track record

Curious that you felt Q wasn’t interesting until towards the end of All Good Things. Was that around the time he realized Picard wasn’t figuring anything out and decided to just flat out give him all the answers?

I think they did figure out how Q worked best. As a comic foil. That’s why I feel like a serious Q very well might have problems. I think it’s a tremendous balancing act.

That’s my fear – Q as combo comedic foil and menace and mentor was what make the character unique and interesting. There was a playfulness to his malice that made the mentor role work. I hope he hasn’t lost that sense of charm when he switched to the black leather.

I didn’t mean the end of the episode I just meant towards the end of TNG in general.
I have not watched All Good Things for a while, I am not sure why Q helps Picard & Humanity but Q is a more rounded character there – he has a purpose and the balance of comedy & seriousness I do not think they ever quite got it as good again.

Q and Picard together could be a great show on its own without these supporting cast members. One thing Nu-Trek does not do well is develop supporting characters, the danger here is that every character / actor will be underutilised, and that would be bad for De Lancie as Q, they have to honour that character. As weak as encounter at farpoint was, Q was part of TNG from the start so his character deserves a fitting finale

I fully agree. That’s the ep where I finally began to appreciate the Q character.

I was very disappointed in the season finale of ‘Picard,’ but a lower franchise moment than “And the Children Shall Lead”? Seriously?

I’m not the OP, but I probably wouldn’t compare unequal chunks like a whole season of one show to a single episode of another. That said… you know, thinking about it…

For many years, whenever the subject of terrible episodes of TOS (or the franchise in general) has come up, a frequent candidate for Worst Episode Ever has been something like “Spock’s Brain”. It’s certainly a contender, with the frankly embarrassing spectacle of a brainless Spock being walked around by remote control and all, and it’s not an episode I’d be dying to show a Trek newbie. But for all that, I don’t really think it’s actually the worst episode, nor is something like “The Way to Eden”; whatever else one might say about those episodes, they’re not boring. They have a certain energy about them that keeps them moving right along; they’re not exactly really… “hard” to watch. I’ve long thought that “And the Children Shall Lead” is a much, uh, stronger contender for Worst Episode Ever for the leaden quality of its narrative; it’s just kind of a dreary slog to get through.

But… but but but. “Dreary slog”, long my favored way of referring to “And the Children Shall Lead” (after I think I saw Jeff Bond refer to it that way on the Film Score Monthly message boards years ago, IIRC) is one of the most apt, succinct descriptors I can think of to encapsulate the entirety of S1 of Star Trek: Picard. It doesn’t say everything one might want to say, but if one had to sum it all up in just two words, I’d have a really tough time coming up with a better two-word phrase than that. But wait – there’s more! The show is also upsetting, giving us unpleasant ends to established, beloved characters a number of us had wanted to see again for many years and had been rooting for. It’s also kind of convoluted and muddy; the narrative is actually kind of sloppy. “And the Children Shall Lead”, whatever its sins, has a certain clarity of purpose and “a leads to b leads to c” quality that’s really not there with Picard S1. It’s true “And the Children Shall Lead” doesn’t have anything like the handful of genuinely lovely little wistful or nostalgic moments and scenes that are present two or three times in Picard, but it also doesn’t have the sheer volume of unpleasantness to get there the later show does, nor does it require the viewer to invest so much effort in following the narrative for such a meager payoff. Honestly, I’d rather rewatch that one not-great TOS episode than the entire Picard first season (and indeed have, as I’ve seen “AtCSL” multiple times over the course of my decades as a fan already, whereas I’ve watched each episode released so far of the later show just once, and at present am not sure I’ll ever rewatch any of them).

It’s also just plain easier to forgive the flaws of a single disappointing episode of a show from the 1960s, produced under the punishing schedule and constrained resources endemic to network TV production in that era, than a entire season of serialized storytelling in the post-“peak TV”, prestige television streaming era, on which are lavished such vastly greater resources as surely were on this show that TOS’s makers could scarcely have dreamed of. That includes not just a half-century-plus of technological advancements but also a shooting schedule that must have seemed relaxed to the point of hedonistic excess to someone from the ‘60s television milieu, all under the aegis of a Pulitzer-winning literary author. Perhaps all that inflated my expectations beyond reason, but honestly, even before taking into consideration the incomparably vast production advantages Picard S1 had over the entirety of TOS S3 (to say nothing of any one single episode) and adjusting expectations and evaluation criteria accordingly, Picard S1 contains not only less good than all of TOS S3, but also more bad than “And the Children Shall Lead” specifically.

Is Picard S1 a lower ‘point’ for the franchise than “And the Children Shall Lead”, then? Hell, yes, I’m sorry to have to say. Man, do I ever hope S2 is better.

So that issue of Q being a bit more “darker” seems interesting here. I mean they are doing a streaming show here and they don’t have any sort of network limitations so how “dark” can they actually go with Q? Maybe they’ll just tone down some of his over the topness but I don’t think they’ll go full Thanos, destroy everything, R-rated Q.

Judging from this interview and Goldsman’s earlier comments, it sounds like Q is facing his own mortality (somehow) or a de-powering. Considering the comment that it’s a dark show, maybe the unraveling of Q (or the Continuum as a whole?) will threaten the entire galaxy and only Picard can save it?

In any case, season one is going to be hard to top! It’s one of the best seasons of television ever made.

…in my humble opinion, this ‘only one person can save the world/galaxy/universe’ trope long ago became mind-numbingly old. Hoping for something different here, even dare I say something special.

First bit of good news… DeLancie infers that Q is in a situation where he cannot just “snap” out of it for some reason. That’s good. Part of the problem with Q was you knew he could, and would, fix everything at any moment.

I get the idea that the tone here is more serious but the problem with Q before was that when he was serious and menacing the character just didn’t work. He never felt particularly scary. When they started going light with him, turned him into a clownish figure, that was when he started to work some. And that is why I feel that bringing him back is a risk.

I have come up with a way Q could be a little different here… Time for him is not like time for the more corporeal beings like humans. So he could have been bopping around for a millennia to him but 20+ years for JL. Anyway… If the show shocks us all and is good that won’t matter very much.

“Part of the problem with Q was you knew he could, and would, fix everything at any moment.”

Agreed. It’s like Deadpool or Superman — a character with too much power and air of indestructability to worry about him being killed, and so a lack of drama in terms of our perceived danger to the character…we know he will always survive.

It’s not just that. It’s that he never really felt menacing or scary starting with Encounter at Farpoint. It was obvious he has affection for humanity and wasn’t going to let anything truly bad happen to his new “pets”. I promise you that if Picard never asked Q for help with the Borg Q would have gotten them out of it anyway. And then the biggest tell of them all… Q spoon feeding an overly oblivious Picard everything to enable him to succeed at his so called “trial”. He WANTED Picard to get it. But even before that it was pretty obvious there was no real peril whenever Q shoed up. Just clownish shenanigans. Hell, he even brought Picard back to live in Tapestry!

Good points!

to be fair, in star trek (and most TV shows, Game of Thrones excluded), no villain is really scary because all characters have plot armor. So, are we ever worried about perceived danger when we know actors are under contract and characters only die when the actor leaves the show (Yar and Dax)?

There is that but that only is present if you don’t immerse yourself in the story. If you dethatch yourself from the fact that this is a production and focus on going on the journey with these people, you still realize that Q presents no true threat. Not after seeing his interactions with them over time.

To be fair, he did introduce humanity to the Borg. That wasn’t all goofs and good times and was a little spooky. But, you’re right with a larger thesis: nothing about TNG is very good until it gets recontextualized by the more realistic tone of Star Trek: Picard.

True about the Borg. Except as I said I never felt they were ever in any real danger. Q was going to get them out of it even if Picard decided to be stubborn and not ask for help. Yes, some crew were killed but Q cares about JL, not them.

And what you cited was not my larger thesis. Not at all.

To be fair, he did introduce humanity to the Borg

TNG implied very strongly that the Borg were already aware of the Federation and were coming in any event. (Cf. “The Neutral Zone” from season one, and Guinan’s familiarity with the Borg.) ENT, by the time it rolled around, confirmed this theory. Thus, Q’s actions were not malicious, but to alert the Federation to the threat and allow it time to prepare.

I have always liked the theory that the continuum is humanity of the far future, which is what Q hinted at in the final minutes of “All Good Things” (Picard: “what is it you’re trying to tell me”? Q, leaning towards Picard’s ear, backs off and says, “you’ll find out.”). To speculate, perhaps Picard’s becoming a synth in some way disrupted that process, triggering Q’s new visit.

Obviously no one knew what was meant with “You’ll find out.” It was intentionally ambiguous. One might argue that the events of Picard are meant to fall in line with the ambiguous words from All Good Things. Even that robo-Picard may live to see humanity evolve into the Q. Now that he’s synthetic.

I too have always like the theory about the Continuum being humanity, or the Federation, of the far future. If humanity or the Federation becomes extinct, he and the rest of the Q Continuum will de-exist.

I dare say Q could even have been bopping around for eons between innumerable parallel universes and maybe even between uncountable successive universes, maybe with Mrs. Q and Q Jr., and then because of the urgency that de Lancie mentioned, Q traveled back in time to the time and place of Star Trek: Picard’s second season, 20+ years after All Good Things and in the prime universe, but despite being godlike, the Q are probably not immortal, do age and become more mature, and are probably not truly omnipotent and omniscient, hence Q’s older appearance and greater seriousness, and hence his asking Picard to do something he himself cannot do.

Now that I think of it, that 20+ years is nearly 30 years.

I saw the first episode of Picard’s season 2 last night, and regarding how Q looks, all I can say is, “Spock on Organia.”

It seems like darker aspects in characters and/or stories are being celebrated more and more with the passage of time. For example tng was “bright”, ds9 was darker, voy was even a bit darker…. and this trend is visible all over the entire film/series industry.
So why don’t they do everything just as dark as possible to satisfy audiences from the present even more and being prepared for future audiences as well?

…because that would be Picard and Discovery season 1? I get the frustration, but perhaps people forget or don’t always appreciate that even DS9 would very consciously pivot back from the brink. Sisko and Garak plot to trick the Romulans into a bloody war one week, then Vic Fontaine is helping Odo woo Kira the next.

Picard was relentless. Every character was tasked with burying horrible demons to a fault. I hope the fish out of water scenarios make this season feel less punishing.

I really think Q is not the cause of this history-change, I think he just gives Picard a chance to fix things after that Zombie-like guy’s race does it.

Just so happy Q is back. I didn’t NEED him to be back, but it was always a no-brainer to bring him back, especially once we were back in the 24th century again.

I don’t care what version of him we’ll get since I like them all. But it does sound like they are doing something different here and hopefully it will be good. And its interesting it’s Q who may need Picard’s help this time. Crazy it not only starts next week but we’ll have two shows on for at least a few weeks!

I know a lot of fans hate these new shows, but if you do like them then it’s a great time to be a fan! :)

it was always a no-brainer to bring him back

I’m not so sure about that it. “All Good Things” was an excellent send-off for the character, and while De Lancie had some chemistry with Mulgrew (unlike with Avery Brooks), his appearances in VOY cheapened the character (particularly the episodes that came after “Death Wish”).

Post-“Death Wish,” Q was mostly obnoxious or clownish, reduced to silly Civil War trivia and an excuse for letting Keegan de Lancie act alongside his father. There was no sense of tension or that Q was deadly serious. It was simply Q displaying comic toxic masculinity towards Janeway. The poster above who mentioned the mentoring aspect of the Q-Picard relationship hit it on the head. That was absent from VOY.

Personally, I loved the Q’s appearances in VOY and DS9, and I loved it when Sisko bopped Q in the face, which may have been foreshadowing that Sisko was godlike as well.

Now, I wonder if all the many godlike species in Star Trek – the Q, the Thasians, Trelane’s people, the Organians, the Prophets, and Nagilum – have formed some kind of federation, complete with its own prime directive – after all, the Organians do first contact missions – just so they don’t step on each other’s incorporeal feet or cross lightning bolts.

Sisko punching Q is still a big highlight for me! 😄


Q: You hit me Picard never hit me.
SISKO: I’m not Picard.

I agree with you about his post-Death Wish appearances. I hated Q2 so much I can’t even watch it anymore. I hated his son

But it doesn’t make me like Q any less, those were just bad episodes and a bad take on the character. But de Lance was still great himself. And we’re talking over 20 years ago already. And the fact it’s 20 years later but you still have fans saying they wanted to see him again says a lot the character popularity. No one is begging to bring holodeck Da Vinci back (OK I made a post about maybe just a cameo somewhere but was shouted down by the fandom menace).

Also as the article stated it’s a different version of the character. It could still be bad (and I’m only cautiously optimistic about next season after the first…ugh) but have to see it first to know!

FWIW there are Picard ads all over Union Square station in the NYC subway. Printed-poster ads, and ads on moving screens. Most with Picard and Q, but some with Michelle Hurd and Isa Briones. Perhaps there are more that I didn’t see.

The stakes are always high, these writers don’t know how to write anything else, and they fail every time.

What I need to have Picard go through now actually affects me. So my stakes are higher as well.

Time is of the essence. That’s what you’re getting in this show right now, at least for me. Like, ‘We got to do this, and we got to do this now, and you, in particular, have to do this now, because you don’t have much time, old man. You don’t have much time.’

That’s why I’m saying is that it’s just not me doing this [as] the puppet master affecting the puppet. I’m affected by this as well. The character is affected by this as well. And that’s why there’s an urgency in all of this.

Perhaps it’s a desire on my part for you all to be better; to just to be more human, more better than what you’ve been in the past.

I agree with the speculation by other commenters here that the Q are actually future humans. Wild guess: Q needs Picard to ensure World War 3 happens in the 21st century, possibly including something involving a key 21st century figure (good or bad) critical to the PU timeline, otherwise it results in the “dark Federation” timeline, humans never become “better”, and humans never evolve into the Q.

Why Picard himself? Because it may be a causality loop: From Q’s perspective in the PU historical timeline, Picard has always been the person responsible for certain critical actions back in the 21st century that ensured the timeline continued to unfold in the established way. And this may be one of the major reasons for Q’s special interest in Picard all along.

Q is Michael Burnham…only explanation

Doubtful. Q appears perfectly audible, at least in the trailer.

Maybe Q is mortal now?

That would be a bit tedious given that was Data’s arc in the last season.

It certainly feels like that’s the big idea. It would be very postmodern or 21st century TV writing to taking a fantastical creature and wrestle it down into something relatable or recognizably human. But darkness/as close to the reality right outside the window as possible, even when something is fantasy or set in the future, is what the modern audience wants.

I am really looking forward to this. What Terry did with 12 monkeys was hugely satisfying, and I hope behind the scenes he has been able to influence the direction and arc of the season and the team allowed him to used his talent for telling ‘twisty’ time jump stories.

A more ‘darker’ Q will be a welcome addition, and it will just be great to see John and Patrick chew some scenery together again!

What if this is the conclusion of “The Trial”. The human race has been deemed not guilty by the Q as a whole. This is or will cause Q some harm either physical (life or loss of powers) or he will look wrong to his other Q. So he is changing one event in history to ensure the humans end up a “dangerous childlike race”. Ultimately this season ending the trial that Q always says never ended.