‘Star Trek: Prodigy’: Why Billy Campbell Was ‘Thrilled’ to Reprise ‘TNG’ Role
Fans first met the “lovable rogue” in “The Outrageous Okona” in 1988, and now, he’ll be crossing paths with the Prodigy crew in the November 17 episode. Below, Campbell shares why he was happy to take up the role again, what’s going on with Okona now, and more.
How did you returning to a Trek show, especially in this capacity, come about?
Billy Campbell: They reached out. I think they had the notion to include some what they call legacy characters. There may or may not be more in the works, I can’t divulge. But yeah, they reached out and I was absolutely thrilled. I was thrilled to begin with, to be part of the Star Trek universe 30 years ago when I got a chance to play Okona for the first time. But I was never pleased with that performance. I found the dialogue very, very difficult, and it made me terribly self-conscious and so it’s painful for me to watch. And so I was super, super thrilled to be able to come back to it 30 years later, being less self-conscious.
I told them I would love to do it and wouldn’t it be funny if he had lost an eyeball somewhere along the way and maybe had a beer gut and was just rough around the edges as if he’d been chewed up and spat out by the universe? And they thought that was great and off we were.
What was it like to step back into Okona’s shoes, especially in this way where it was just his voice?
Yeah, a little weird. Honestly, I’m not terribly experienced in voice work, just doing voices for cartoons or whatever, and it takes a little getting used to. But I went with an open mind, and I found that the direction I was given actually vastly improved what I’d been doing on my own before I got there, so it worked out.
Who is Okona now? What has he been up to?
Oh, all kinds of no good. I think he’s been probably partying his way through the universe and through the galaxy and having all kinds of fun and sort of grubbing around and trying to make a living maybe not quite so legally. And by the time we meet him… he’s still Okona. When I first played him on Next Generation, he was kind of a lovable rogue. There was like a little bit of a nobility to him, and now he’s just out for himself. I just find that highly amusing.
What does he think of the kids of Prodigy?
I don’t know. He’s not with them for very long, and it’s under sort of dire circumstances. I think he thinks of them as an opportunity because that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s just using them every inch of the way, and I just find it highly amusing. So if he thinks anything of them at all, it’s like, how can I use them to get what I want?
Are there any Easter eggs or callbacks to your TNG episode?
I think he’s probably the Easter egg himself, just the way that he is. I think he’s wearing the same outfit that he was wearing 30 years ago, so there’s a callback for you, a slightly stinky one.
What else do you remember about your TNG episode?
Oh my goodness, I loved it. The way that came about is that I was in the running to play Riker and the best man got the job, that’s for sure. It came down to me and Jonathan [Frakes], and I felt bad because I really kind of blew it for my friend Junie Lowry, who was the casting director. I feel like I really kind of embarrassed her in my final audition for all the studio execs and everything. I felt super bad, but I still wanted to be on Star Trek. So I called her six months later and I was like, “Junie, I’m so sorry that I blew it.” And she was like, “oh honey, don’t even think about it.” She has this wonderful southern voice. “Oh, don’t even think about it. Jonathan is perfect and everybody’s so happy.” I was like, “does that mean maybe I could do an episode?” And she was like, “you wanna do an episode? I’ll call you right back.” She got off the phone and the next day she called back and said, “I have an episode for you.” And that’s how I came to be Okona.
Have your thoughts about Okona changed at all since reprising the role for Prodigy?
No, I don’t think so. I really like the direction they took him. He’s even grubbier than he was. He’s even more of a rogue than he was. He’s become more himself. I really like that.
Well, maybe you can start a petition or something. I would love to pop up again. I would love that. From your mouth to producers’ ears. Please start the rumor. Start the rumor!
Star Trek: Prodigy, Thursdays, Paramount+