Star Trek: Prodigy Cast & Creatives Talk Season 1.5 at NYCC

Saturday afternoon at New York Comic Con featured the jam-packed Star Trek Universe panel.  Not long before that, several cast members and creatives of Star Trek: Prodigy spoke to the press about the upcoming second half of their first season.

Executive Producers Dan and Kevin Hageman, and Director/Co-EP Ben Hibon

Executive Producers Dan and Kevin Hageman, and Director/Co-EP Ben Hibon

Executive Producer Dan Hageman explained their goals for the animated show, “We want to celebrate the new as much as honor what’s already come before us.”  Kate Mulgrew (Hologram Janeway/Vice Admiral Janeway) has gone on the record several times, praising the “genius” of the Hageman brothers.  Jameela Jamil (Ensign Asencia) added to the accolades, “I think the Hageman brothers have just created something so extraordinary, so beautifully written. There’s something really majestic about not only the writing, but also how much has been put into the animation.”

Regarding the look and feel of the show, Director and Co-EP Ben Hibon explained, “We had almost 20 episodes before we started design. So we had a really clear end goal and we understood the density of the show, because in animation that’s also very important. The film and the fabrication is very specific, and so we had a really great understanding of the art of the characters, how they change, how many worlds we visit. A lot of what was on the page influenced how the show ended up looking.”

In the first half of the season, we’ve seen a group of kids and teenagers try to find their place on board a (stolen) starship, and Dal, voiced by Brett Gray, assumes the role of Captain.  But he’s not as confident as he may seem.  Gray explained, “[Dal] was dropped off by people he cared about a lot, to a child labor slave colony, and denied access to speak to anyone else. So imagining what that can do on a mind as it’s growing through adolescence, he’s probably had to be his own hero a lot of times. I think it was an incredible way of showing the lesson of self-discovery – Dal in a leadership position and learning to empathize with other people after being on a planet like Tars Lamora for so long. Also having this sort of imposter syndrome and identity crisis of not knowing who he is, never seeing other aliens like himself. I think he has a very big internal journey that can be somewhat elusive to people at first glance because he does seem so confident and cocky and doesn’t take anything seriously. But I found that most people who do that sometimes do have a deep inner projection of insecurity.”

Dal (Brett Gray) and the crew of the Protostar.

Dal (Brett Gray) and the crew of the Protostar.

Dal may be unique, but his journey is universal.  Gray added, “I hope younger audiences watching the show can get the sense of that, even if you are different than anybody’s ever seen and even if you do come from somewhere that might even be unbeknownst to you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t end up in Starfleet. It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and grow and make friends and become a leader.  I want them to leave knowing that they can be enough no matter what they are, where they come from, who they relate to, what their role is.”

Ensign Asencia, voiced by Jameela Jamil, made her first appearance in the mid-season finale, “A Moral Star, Part 2.”  Jamil described her as, “a sort of plucky pain in the ass,” then continued, “That is definitely not going to be how she progresses. I can’t tell you very much, but I have an extremely exciting and fun arc and I have a lot of screen time with Captain Janeway and it’s going to be a ride that I think no one sees coming.”

Vice Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Ensign Asencia (Jameela Jamil) on the bridge of the USS Dauntless.

Vice Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Ensign Asencia (Jameela Jamil) on the bridge of the USS Dauntless.

Jamil also shared how meaningful it’s been for her to join the Star Trek family:  “I got to bond with my brother by watching these shows and, and they were the first shows where I would see Black and brown people, and they were the first time that I would see stories about people who were different. Data was – and is still – my idol and who I felt the most seen by of any character maybe in the history of television.”  When asked to expand on her connection to Brent Spiner’s Data, she elaborated, “I was a really unusual child and I was very, very socially awkward, and I’ve always been very disconnected from the way that I feel. And I don’t know exactly why. But Data’s journey of trying to learn how to be like a person, and how to feel, and how to become close to people, and learning how to make friends… And also everyone’s slight irritation with Data – I used to also include way too much detail in all of my answers. Learning also from the way the other characters would interact with him taught me a lot about how I should interact as well. He made me feel very seen. I feel like he’s been my mirror since I was like five years old.”

On the franchise’s ongoing impact, Jamil added, “Star Trek has always been ahead of the game, and I think Hollywood’s often been massively behind. I think Marvel is doing really well and pushing forward, but if you go back 40, 50, 60 years, Star Trek knew that if we are going to represent the universe, it’s really representing everyone. That’s an amazing legacy to be a part of.  And I think being able to introduce these young kids to Starfleet means that we have a chance to remind everyone what this legacy was.”

Kate Mulgrew (Hologram Janeway/Vice Admiral Janeway)

Kate Mulgrew (Hologram Janeway/Vice Admiral Janeway)

Kate Mulgrew has been with the franchise since 1995, though working in live-action and animated Star Trek are very different.  “I find that it’s terrific to just go into my own imagination, almost closing my eyes, but not quite, and doing things with my voice to convey ideas and emotions and fears in very subtle ways that you can’t do in life, actually. Cause you don’t have the time, and you don’t have the leisure.”  Since she voices both Hologram Janeway and Vice Admiral Janeway, Mulgrew noted, “I have to establish this distinction, and stick to it. And having done that, I have to deepen both. With Hologram Janeway, I would say that there’s a modulation. In Admiral Janeway and Captain Janeway, I could do anything I like. And the voice then has a real power and a richness. I try to give it a real texture.”  She also expressed that returning to the character in this way has given her more freedom:  “In this whole arc with Chakotay, I’ve allowed myself to be incredibly vulnerable vocally, something I didn’t even do as Captain Janeway when Chakotay was imperiled.”

Jamil also spoke to her experience with voice acting, “It’s so much more freeing and I think it’s more fun. I love doing animation because I’m not in any way thinking about the way that I look, how my facial expression is, where a camera is. When you are acting on set, you’re having to take in where the light is and where the other actors are, and where they’re moving – there’s this constant distraction. I felt like I could be my silliest and most ridiculous side, and they gave me so much creative freedom in the character. Voice acting is something that’s a huge privilege and I think it’s made me a better film actor because of being able to learn how to be that free.”  Jamil also note that voice acting is an ideal job for her, as someone living with chronic illness.  “I try to live as much balance as I can whilst also being able to show any other kids out there with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or any other health condition that if I can – and I’m truly not a very skilled person – anyone can.  It’s a huge honor, especially to be able to play action roles with a condition like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I never saw people like myself, or with health conditions, being able to have that representation.”

In the first half of the season, Prodigy introduced a new audience to Starfleet and the wider universe of Star Trek.  Dan Hageman remarked, “We also discussed that it’s such dense canon that it can be intimidating for someone who’s curious about Star Trek, but it feels like there’s a barrier of entry. We wanted our show to hold their hand a little bit.”

Jameela Jamil (Ensign Asencia)

Jameela Jamil (Ensign Asencia)

And the show has not shied away from heavy topics or hard science.  Hibon explained, “The fun part is how to visualize it for kids. You find the core essence of the idea, of the concept, and then just try to – between actions, reactions, and also visual language – make some of those quite heavy concepts palpable for young audiences. I think that goes through emotion, that goes through curiosity, that goes through discovery.”  On the same topic, Jamil observed, “All my best learning came when I least expected it. And I think that’s from TV shows and films where they provided the spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. They told a very human story. I think it’s very important to point out that Star Trek has an amazing legacy of talking about race and class and being a father and being in love and not knowing how to love. It tells all these different stories that are hugely relatable, but just in this very unrelatable environment. So you don’t know that you are learning when you’re learning. I really enjoy telling these stories in these other realms where I’m a part of someone’s growth and development, but they don’t feel like they’re being preached at.”

So far, the team is happy with the feedback they’ve received on the first ten episodes.  Executive Producer Kevin Hageman told us, “We were pulled aside not long ago by Rod Roddenberry and he’s watching these episodes with his son, who’s loving it. He’s like, ‘I’m so proud of what you guys are doing. My father would have loved it, what you’re doing is so great.’ It felt good.”  Brett Gray remarked, “I think any hope of someone coming into something so huge like Star Trek is that we can carve our own little fanbase out of the entire pie. To see that happening and know that we’re on that show and making that happen is really cool.”

But what’s coming next?  Our crew of the Protostar is running both to Starfleet, as a refuge, and from Starfleet, as they’re pursued by Janeway and the Dauntless.  Kevin Hageman revealed, “These next 10 episodes were heavily inspired by the movie The Fugitive and how we loved Tommy Lee Jones hunting down Richard Kimball. And you love both. You understand it. It’s a cat and mouse game, it’s a chase. I think it’s fun because you’re gonna love both sides.”  On this conflict in the characters, Gray explained, “They aren’t proud sometimes of what they’ve done, who they’ve been. It’s hard because there’s always some judgment going into something that somebody reveres a lot, like Starfleet. It’s like getting into heaven. You can be unworthy in terms of your own self and how you think about it, and I think it weighs heavily on them.”

In the next few episodes, Ronny Cox will return to Trek to voice Admiral Jellico, Janeway’s superior officer.  And if that’s not enough, Dan Hageman added, “”We can’t tell you who, but there’s some much bigger players coming in in season two.”

Admiral Jellico (Ronny Cox)

Admiral Jellico (Ronny Cox)

Kevin Hageman reminded us, “Our characters are now getting into Federation space more. So we’re gonna be seeing Romulans, Klingons, the Borg. We’re gonna be playing with all these fantastic elements.”  Episode 13, written by Aaron Waltke, was described by the team as a “love letter to Star Trek.”   Mulgrew revealed, “There’s an episode about Chakotay that’s very good. That’s full of every conceivable true emotion Janeway could ever have. It’s a deep dive into her guilt and her regret and her courage.”

Brett Gray (Dal)

Brett Gray (Dal)

On the resurgence of the Star Trek franchise, Mulgrew noted, “There’s a lot of Star Trek content, but it seems to be very good, doesn’t it? By and large. But there also seems to be, and I don’t know if this is apropos of the relative bleakness of the global landscape or not, but it raises one’s hopes. It introduces promise again.”  She also spoke about the newnew generation – or perhaps, next generation – that’s meeting and learning about Captain Janeway.  “This is why the cross generational conversation is so important and so novel. The mother is going to tell the seven-year-old boy what is going to happen, what is missing, who Captain Janeway was, and why we’re going with the Admiral. I hope that it becomes a globally sort of passionate conversation between children and their parents and their parents.”  She admitted, “I’m just constantly surprised by the dialogue of the fans, which never seems to get dull or dull-witted. It’s never reduced, It’s never mediocre.”

“I feel like I almost learned a new language. There are some people who get it and some people who don’t. And for the people who do, I can communicate with them in a different way,”  said Gray, when discussing how the show has changed his outlook on the franchise, since he wasn’t a fan when he was cast.  But now he gets it.  “There’s so much heart, there’s so many different ways to relate, there’s such large messages tackled. At the same time, it’s such an awesome, cool lore. It’s going to go for many, many more decades. It’ll always connect to people because the intention of the show is to highlight humanity. So there’s always gonna be a place for it.”

Just an hour or so after the press roundtables wrapped up, this cast was on the Empire Stage at the Javits Center, speaking to a room full of Trekkies, and Jameela Jamil put it a little bit differently:  “It’s going to blow your fucking balls off!”  Having seen the next five episodes of Prodigy, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

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