Interview: Jameela Jamil Talks About Her Love For Star Trek And Previews Asencia’s “Weird” Arc On ‘Prodigy’

At New York Comic Con, TrekMovie joined a group press interview with members of the cast and producers from Star Trek: Prodigy, which returns with the second half of season 1 on October 27. This included Jameela Jamil who plays Ensign Asencia, a Trill bridge officer on Admiral Janeway’s USS Dauntless, which will feature prominently in the upcoming episodes. The actress revealed her deep love for Star Trek and previewed what we can expect from her character.

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

How did you prepare for Prodigy, are you a Star Trek fan?

Big Star Trek fan, although I don’t think there’s anyone quite like my character in the franchise, so far… but I can’t say very much. Yeah, but I’m a big, big Star Trek fan since I was about four or five years old. Next Generation was my favorite. Deep Space Nine is also amazing, Voyager also amazing. But [TNG] was the one that was my introduction and that was the one that got the most replays in England, so we will just watch it again and again and again. I heard there is a Next Generation reunion happening here, so I’m going to f—ing lose it. [laughs] There’s going to be a lot of weird selfies on the Internet.

And here is a slideshow of her time at NYCC from Instagram, including some selfies with her beloved TNG stars.

 

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A post shared by Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil)

Being a big fan, what are some of the themes of the show that mean the most to you?

I think the fact that they were one of the only shows – especially back then – that we’re tackling race, class, gender, disability, even with Geordi. There was just all kinds of different things like with Data. Data represented a certain like section of society that maybe is socially awkward or feels a bit disconnected. I know that was definitely me as a kid, and my brother, and we definitely identified with him and the way that he would try to seek to understand how to feel. I wasn’t very good at communicating like that and I also used to give too much detail about everything. I was a very expressive kid and everyone used to tell me to shut the f—k up. And watching that happen in a very affectionate way also taught that generation to maybe be a bit kinder and more affectionate with people who sometimes don’t read the social cues. It taught me how to sometimes read social cues.

I think the fact that we tell important stories and there was so much diversity all the way back to the Captain Kirk days. That to me is something that is very exciting and a legacy that no one can match. And also they’ve been so ahead of the game with the stories that they’ve told. The stories from 40 years ago and the stories that we still need now more than ever, like people who come from different places, different backgrounds, who speak different languages, who don’t even understand each other, who politically do not agree with each other. Even the journey of like the Ferengi – we need to see more stories of people who come from different places, finding a way to work together toward. The Good Place was also really beautiful with people from different places who have different outlooks coming together to create a better solution. Maybe it is because they have common enemies like The Borg or whatever but I think that they just created a very fantastical way to tell actually very grand stories.

Can you talk about getting the call for the show? As a fan, what was it like to say yes?

It was just an all-caps email – which I had never sent before – to my team so they can hear me physically screaming from my fingertips. I didn’t even read the material. I didn’t ask how much money it was. I didn’t ask how much time they would need me for or where I would be. I just said yes and then I immediately phoned my brother.

As a fan of Trek, what alien species would you want to meet?

I have a soft spot for Worf. Obviously, Data is my favorite. And Data is so unique and amazing. But I have a strong love for Worf. I always thought he really got a raw deal. No one could see how funny he was and how straight his delivery was. The mating call delivery was one of my favorite lines in the history of Star Trek. And so I have big love for the Klingons. I’m also really grumpy, you know, I’m English. I saw them as English. They were deeply relatable to me. [laughs]

Jameela Jamil as Asencia (R) in episode 10 of Prodigy

Asencia is a new character, what can you tell us about her?

A pain in the ass. [laughs]. Everything I’ve ever done, I’m a pain in the ass. Titania [She-Hulk] is a pain in the ass. Pitch Perfect [Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin TV series] comes out in a month, I’m a pain in the ass. Tahani [The Good Place] is the pain in the ass. I enjoy those characters a lot because I think that they’re complicated and complex. And I like understanding why they are the way that they are. But she’s precocious. She’s extremely competent, very self-empowered. And she’s clever, she’s very bright and she uses that to her advantage throughout the show and you’ll be able to see more about that later.

Speaking to the roles you just mentioned where you play pains in the ass to get things going – they are agents of the action. Did you feel any impetus to dial it back as this show is targeted at a younger audience?

No. Next question. [laughs]

You are having fun playing a villain in the MCU universe on She-Hulk

And a hero in DC [Wonder Woman in DC League of Super-Pets], so I am very confused.

For Star Trek do you prefer playing Starfleet or would you like to play a villain and do the kinds of things a villain can do?

No, I think my character really gets to do all the fun things, just later. I feel very satisfied with this character. I got to play with kind of parts of my brain that I haven’t been able to play with on any project I’ve ever done before, especially in animation. This has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. And I just like I was so excited. I’m very lucky to love all of the jobs that I do, but it’s a proper dopamine rush when I know that I get to go in with the Hageman brothers and create this character. And they gave me a lot of liberty to create her with them and let me really play and really develop her. And she developed some very fast and very fully, and that’s really exciting.

Having been in DC, Marvel, and now Star Trek – these characters are going to live on pretty much live forever. Is that a weird feeling for you? Do you ever think about that?

Yeah. It is weird. It’s exciting, though, because the stuff meant so much to me. I didn’t really have friends when I was a kid, and I didn’t go out much. I had a pretty f—ing miserable childhood. This stuff was my whole escape, entertainment. So to know that I might be a part of someone else’s escape is truly one of the great privileges. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination actors save lives. But I do know that they accidentally kind of saved mine. And so just to be able to be a part of that for someone else feels great.

How much of Asencia’s arc did you know going in? Did you know what was coming later in the show?

I did because we record out of sequence, so that was extremely confusing. But we needed to establish her because she’s a very strong character. And so we needed to make sure we had her down from day one. And it was important for them and for me that I understood the journey I was about to go on, and that had to be put into delivering. So hopefully I’ve executed that. I’m trying my best.

Jameela Jamil as Asencia  in episode 10 of Prodigy

How is it transitioning from live-action to voice, playing some of these larger-than-life characters?

It’s harder and easier at the same time. It’s harder because it doesn’t translate as easily across the microphone. So you have to throw much more and you have to be much more exaggerated. And I tend to be a more subtle, soft-spoken person. Not on Twitter, obviously, but IRL. And so you have to really throw yourself into it. There’s no space for inhibition. But then at the same time, there are no things around you that are going to make you feel inhibited. Like you don’t have cameras in your face, you don’t have other actors around. You are alone in a booth with two people who couldn’t be rooting for you more. And by that, I mean the Hageman brothers. So there’s no worrying about what I look like or where the camera is or if I’m in the right light. I’m just in the character. It’s the most immersive acting experience you can ever have. And I genuinely think it’s made me a better on-camera actor to learn how to be a voiceover actor. It’s great training because it means you just have to put your vanity or your insecurity – there’s no space for any of that. You have to be pretending to fall off a cliff or be eaten by a dinosaur. Like some of the ridiculous things that I’ve had to do. All these fake fights that I’ve had to have. And you just have to be fully ridiculous in that room and it pays off. And that’s what makes some of the great voice actors that are out there.

Star Trek has kind of a shared humanism message with The Good Place. Is that something you’re particularly drawn to?

I am, I really am drawn to things that have a great message. With She-Hulk it was very much this story that I was trying to tell, one of female misogyny and how it only ever punishes women for us to look at each other as a threat. My character is someone who’s so threatened by another woman and women have this scarcity mindset that there’s only room for one and we must knock each other out. And so I think anywhere like that where I feel like there is a bigger story to tell, I’m interested. And I don’t want to make frivolous things. I get lots of offers, well-paid silly things that I I’m not going to enjoy showing to a young person someday. I would personally like to – as much as I can – make things that combine fun and a really strong resonating message. Because right now it’s become so impossible to have political conversations. Everything gets heated so fast and everyone’s so judgmental and I think art is one of the last ways that you can have these authentic conversations about class, race, sex, and any of these things where it doesn’t become instantly inflammatory. They’ll watch the whole episode and get to the end of your plea and your arguments. So I think that art is very important in that way.

How do you approach delivering the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of acceptance and diversity to the younger audience? Does it intimidate you to deliver such philosophical truths to a younger generation? Do you fear it going over their heads?

I don’t because in the Hageman brothers I trust. They’ve written something that is so beautiful, that exists on two planes, where it can be understood by kids in one way and understood by adults in a very different way. Like I was able to read this and it didn’t feel like material that was dumbed down for me or diluted for me in any way. And so I trust them and having seen how brilliantly executed the first part of season one was, I have no concerns whatsoever. I just thought it was some of the most fun and excellent writing I’ve read in a really long time. I would die if we made this into a live-action.

You mentioned a live-action version with Asencia. Where would be your dream to visit in live action? Would you like to be on the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine?

One hundred percent. But even just being able to tell this story here I think would be amazing. So like even me taking the place of a navigator on the USS Dauntless, this is actually the story I would love to tell. I don’t want to go over old ground because I think they’ve nailed it. I don’t think we need to retell any of those stories. But I would love to tell this story where we kind of get – in little ways – to incorporate all of those worlds into one. And the fact that these kids don’t know anything about Starfleet and about Star Trek and about anything to do with the legacy of the Federation even, this will be how we can introduce a whole new generation with something fresh. This is literally the project I would love to be made into a live-action and I would love to play Asencia. She’s really weird.

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More Prodigy from NYCC

For more on Prodigy, check out our interview with Kate Mulgrew. and our interview with the show’s producers. And we have one more interview to go so check back ahead of the mid-season premiere. And see more of our NYCC coverage HERE.

Prodigy returns October 27

In case you missed it, here again, is the mid-season trailer released at NYCC. [international version at startrek.com]

Prodigy will return on Thursday, Oct. 27 exclusively for Paramount+ subscribers in the U.S., and on Friday, Oct. 28 in Latin America, Australia, Italy and the U.K. Following the premiere, new episodes of the 10-episode-long second half will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays. The series will air later in the year in South Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland.


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Man, I’ve had a major crush on Jamil ever since watching The Good Place. I hope someday to get to work on the same set as her, just so I can meet in her person. I’ve heard from others that she’s friendly and kind, and people like that are always great to meet in this business… because, unfortunately, there are a lot more jerks than non-jerks.

Inflatable lapels, eh. OK Jameela Jamel, you’ve got my attention.

Great interview. She’s made me very curious about a character that I didn’t expect to have any real depth.

I enjoyed reading about her relationship with Trek over the years and it’s also nice to see a fellow Brit doing so well in her career in the US.

Met her in London many years ago in Soho House when she was just starting her radio/TV thing…put it this way, her career trajectory has been pretty remarkable considering she wasn’t really an actress but a TV presenter

T4 as I recall, which showed Enterprise on Sundays.

Anyone who has TNG as their favorite show is a huge positive in my book!

TNG, DS9 and VOY are also my favorite Trek shows and in that order as well. Really looking to Prodigy coming back and her character sounds cool. Trills are one of my favorite species!

My three favorites as well, just flip TNG and DS9! :)

Welcome to the Star Trek family, Jameela Jamil; we’re glad to have you here!

Oh, and if you loved Data, make sure watch TOS, so you can meet Spock. :-)

I don’t think she needs any introduction to any part of the franchise.

When she was in the UK, she was a presenter on a youth-oriented channel that ran the classic shows in syndication.

Ah, interesting.

While it doesn’t actually matter, it’s always great when they find actors who were already big fans of the franchise. I can only imagine how exciting it is for her to be working with Kate Mulgrew knowing you grew up watching Janeway on Voyager and now you are part of Janeway’s new crew! :)

And hey, not too late for a Worf/Asencia live action meet up some day! I have a feeling all the animated characters will show up in live action eventually now that Lower Decks is leading the charge.

Honestly I didn’t think that much about the new Starfleet characters, but reading this interview sounds like they will all have backstories and arcs as well. Pretty cool! Can’t wait to get back to the Delta Quadrant soon!