Interview: Ronny Cox On Jellico’s Enduring Legacy In ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ And ‘The Next Generation’

In October at New York Comic Con, the big midseason announcement for Star Trek: Prodigy was the return of Ronny Cox as Edward Jellico. His no-nonsense Captain Jellico in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode “Chain of Command” is still remembered (and debated) to this day. 30 years later, Ronny Cox is voicing Admiral Jellico, Starfleet’s commander-in-chief and Vice Admiral Janeway’s boss on Star Trek: Prodigy. In an exclusive interview with TrekMovie, Cox talks about the impact of his original run on TNG, his return to the franchise, and why he thinks everyone would be better off if they just listened more to Jellico.

It’s been 30 years, so did you have to go back and watch “Chain of Command” to get into character?

No, I didn’t. In my bones, I knew where he was coming from back then, and it’s the same place now.

A good amount of time has lapsed for the character so did the producers have any briefing or backstory for Admiral Jellico or was it just to do the same kind of thing?

We just jumped in and did it.

The producers have talked about how Jellico has some conflict with Janeway. Do you see him as an adversary?

All they have to do is do what Jellico says to do, and things will be fine.

Ronny Cox as Admiral Jellico speaking to Vice Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) in “Masquarade”

How do you see him as a leader and a person? Is he someone you would like to meet?

He’s very competent and knows what he’s doing and a bit of an authoritarian in that he sort of gets an idea about how things should be done, and really doesn’t have much tolerance for anyone going against that. So, therefore, again, if you just listen to what he’s saying, and follow through on what he’s doing, and look at the logic of what he’s doing, you will realize that he’s right.

Jellico’s original appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation is kind of polarizing. Have you followed the fan debates?

Oh sure. They either hate him or there are other people who think he’s the greatest captain there ever was. So if you go back and look at what he did, he achieved a great deal of things there. One of the things that was different about “Chain of Command” is that the original producers didn’t like internal conflict among the characters. That robbed them dramatically of conflict among characters. And when Jellico came in, they were able to institute that. So his sort of beef with Riker brought a new dimension to the show.

Marina Sirtis has talked about how important this episode is because Jellico got Troi to start wearing a Starfleet uniform.

Exactly! That’s another thing that Jellico did that scratched a lot of it. She actually asked. Jellico gets a bunch of beef pork for making her put on a uniform, but she asked for that and she got a lot more stuff after that. And the fish in the ready room. Patrick Stewart always hated the fish in the ready room. He said, “We’re doing a series about the dignity of all creatures in the universe and we’ve got captured fish in the ready room?” But the producers like shooting through the fish swimming around there. So Jellico did that for Patrick! [laughs]

Ronny Cox as Captain Jellico with Marina Sirtis (Troi) and Jonathan Frakes (Riker) in TNG “Chain of Command”

So you are saying you came in and fixed the show?

Exactly! Certainly things that people have brought up.

We’ve seen Jellico a little bit so far, but can you give us a preview of what is to come for the rest of the season.

No. [laughs]

Can you say if you are back for season 2?

I can say yes, probably.

Jellico has actually been mentioned on another Paramount+ animated show which is more of a comedy called Lower Decks, where as head of Starfleet he has done things liked banning singing.

Yeah, he hates music. Which is ironic. [Ronny Cox is an active folk musician]

Ronny Cox’s 2014 “Live in Concert” album

Could you see finding some humor with Jellico if they asked you to do Lower Decks?

Who knows? Everybody has humor. The secret to humor is the writing… and simplicity.

At New York Comic Con the return of Jellico was the big announcement for Prodigy. Were you surprised that the character is still so well known after all these years?

No, not at all. Because of all the Jellico memes that have been around for years. I mean, Jellico has his detractors and fans of his go back and forth. Some people hate Jellico. Some people think he is the greatest thing in the world. So it has been satisfying for me to ride along with Jellico.

Could you imagine doing Jellico again, in live-action?

Ah, it would depend on the script. It would depend on what he has to do and whether it’s interesting or not. That’s what it always comes down to with me. Is it interesting? Is it something I want to do? I have to tell you the truth, I never just taken a job just for the money or to be working. Now that’s not to say I don’t do crap. I just don’t do crap on purpose. [laughs]

Did it take much for the Prodigy producers to convince you?

No. They wanted me to play Jellico and I said, “Wow, that’s sounds like it’s going to be fun.”

Jellico, like many characters you play, is a bit of a hardass. Is it more fun to play a hardass?

They’re the most fun to play. The difference between playing good guys and bad guys I liken it to painting. The good guy gets three colors: red, white, and blue. The bad guy gets the whole palette.

But do you see Jellico as a bad guy?

No. If people just paid attention to him and did what he said, everything would be fine. 

Ronny Cox as Admiral Jellico on Prodigy

New episodes of Prodigy debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and on Fridays in Latin America, Australia, and the U.K.  The series will air later in the year in South Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland.

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I would have loved to see Admiral Jellico command a fleet in DS9. Jellico and Sisko would be an interesting pair. #JellicoRocks!

It would have been awesome to see Jellico lay mines secretly lay mines on top of the dominion fleet in the middle of the wormhole before they could reach the Alpha quadrant. The Jellico Maneuver!

All you need to know is Jellico is still an asshole. End of Story

That’s Commander in Chief A$$hole, thank you very much…..

While he is a four-pip-admiral, I think the Commander-in-chief of Starfleet at that time is Admiral Victor Bordson.

I loved the Prodigy ep Jellico was in and believe it or not I liked Jellico in in Chain of Command. I thought Riker came off like a spoiled brat. But if I have one nit pick I really didn’t think the animation of Ronny Cox looked like the man himself at all.

Picard is a diplomat first. The Federation kids sleeping soundly in their beds do so because people like Jellico and Sisko do the work that needs to be done.

Christ, what an idiot. In your world diplomats do nothing to help people sleep soundly in their beds?

diplomats don’t always get it right in ST.
the treaty regarding the cardassians and the DMZ turned out to be a mistake in the long run

picard talks softly but carries a complement of torpedoes and phaser banks

The voice isn’t even familiar. Too many years has passed for his vocal chords. Like Quark in Lower Decks. Didn’t sound like him at all.

Well, it sounds like him now.

That a pretty bad animation fail by the Prodigy team…looks NOTHING like the live action character. Weird?

Agreed, that’s the first thing I thought. And Cox sounds nothing like he did back on TNG, but it was still cool seeing the character in the episode.

Generally I can see Ronnie Cox there, but if we’re talking character design, I’ve always had trouble seeing the resemblance to other Tellarites in Jankom’s appearance.

Best captain, err admiral in the fleet!

Although I’ve always been more on the negative side of the character, I generally do like him overall and so happy he’s back in Star Trek!

I have always joked if Jellicoe was Captain of Voyager when it got lost in the Delta Quadrant, he would’ve either got them back home in the first season or destroyed in the first season. There is really no other options. ;D

And I always regret he never appeared on DS9 during the Dominion War. Now THAT would’ve been fun to watch too.

Oh he would have he would have sent VOY home in the first EP and sent aft tricobalt weapons behind him for the caretaker’s trouble LOL

LOL also true!

It’s a well-worn trope when a new leader pretends to be reckless/impulsive, to rattle the enemy and provide deniability if drastic measures are needed (the “he crazy” defense). This backstory must have been cut for time, making Jellico’s behavior inexplicable. His character would have made much sense if we saw the backstory, where he was chosen to helm the Enterprise in order to intimidate the Cardassians while Picard was on his mission.

but jellico said he knows that Cardassians negotiate through posture of strength, antagonism.
so he matched them that way at the table

The entire point is that when there is a change of command, a ship’s crew, even senior officers, don’t have the same implicit understanding of how their commanding officer will think and strategize.

The Enterprise had become so much Picard’s ship that its officers struggled to comply with a new leader, despite the formal change of command.

They didn’t know Jellico or his backstory so neither should we the audience.

It was a great scenario and one that’s very common in any military, corporate or bureaucratic organization. But in a quasi-military one, the officers are expected to comply during a threat situation, not show resistance to change.

Please come in if you recognize what I’m trying to reference here…

I like that Cox sees Jellico as what the whole thing is about… there’s some yarn about a bit player seeing the stageplay as all about him… the guy with one line, not Hamlet, or whatever the main character is.

Now I am NOT (repeat NOT) saying Cox is a bit player… but like the actor with the tiny role in a great masterpiece, IMHO part of what makes the character work is that the actor chooses to frame everything as if he were the ultimate center of the narrative or the driver of the story (whether that’s objectively accurate or not). It makes Jellico (or the guy with one line in Hamlet) real, and dimensional, and consequential.

Er… “chime in.” My phone apparently doesn’t approve of the expression… hopefully there aren’t any other typos I missed! 😀

just get it done. in uniform.
and lose the fish

 look at the logic of what he’s doing, you will realize that he’s right.

Jellico would thrive on a Vulcan ship. I wonder if there is a backstory to that. Did he serve on one? Things like that need to be fleshed out. It may be that his commanding style is informed by an admiration for Vulcans.

Jellico needs to appear on Picard.

Sure, make “Picard” even worse.

But do you see Jellico as a bad guy?
No. If people just paid attention to him and did what he said, everything would be fine.
Hahahhaa Now that’s funny.

just like ripley in ‘alien’

Seeing how Jellico acted made the Enterprise crew look a bit pampered, and IRL showed that the no conflict rule was limiting. I liked how he did not have a problem with Data, because Data didn’t have a problem with him. Jellico is the kind of person you would want as a captain, just not YOUR captain.