After an action-packed fifth episode of Star Trek: Prodigy, the series will return for five more episodes this year. Before the mid-season break, the young crew engaged the U.S.S. Protostar’s protostar engine to escape Gwyn’s father and the Murder Planet. In episode six, they’ll have to figure out where they are.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with actress Bonnie Gordon, who portrays the Protostar’s computer voice. Over Zoom, we discussed Gordon’s magical singing experiences that led to her role on Star Trek: Prodigy, how she developed an original voice for the U.S.S. Protostar’s computer, her new album Con Artist and more!
This interview is condensed for conciseness and clarity. Unfortunately, I had to cut the lesson Bonnie gave me on Kzinti, one of the best races in the Star Trek universe.
Rebecca Kaplan: I noticed you’ve worked at The Magic Castle for 13 years. What’s it like?
Bonnie Gordon: I started working there in December 2008. The Magic Castle, it’s a private magicians club in Hollywood, California. I feel like it’s stepping back into old Hollywood when you go inside. It still looks relatively the same as it did back in the ’60s when it opened. It’s amazing.
Once, when I was Mrs. Claus, I opened an event by singing a few songs. So, my Mrs. Claus is very much like Carol Channing. I call her Carol Claus.
Before this event, I do my impersonation of Channing as my Mrs. Claus. I got up as Mrs. Claus, did a couple of songs and it was in front of Channing herself, who was the show’s headliner! Then, afterward, Channing came up to me, and she was like, “What was that? Who is that?”
That was cool. I could technically tell people I’ve opened for Channing. It’s not quite the same because it was like — I did a few songs, and then she did her show, but I could say I opened for Channing as a Carol Channing Mrs. Claus.
RK: For those who don’t know about your parody nerd music, I listened to a Library Bards song “Stan Lee” this morning. Do you have a favorite comic book character?
BG: Oh, good question. I’m a fan of the Rat Queens comics. I got introduced to those when I was on The Quest. The comic creator watched The Quest and was like, “Oh my gosh, she looks just like Violet,” who’s like the redheaded dwarf with a sword. I was like, “Yay.”
With our second album with Library Bards, we have a few songs that highlight comic books and Stan Lee and Marvel. That’s because the year we were making the album, we were hired to sing for Stan Lee’s 95th birthday party. The “Stan Lee” song was written for his birthday. Then, when he passed away, we decided to put it on the album as a tribute to him.
RK: Did you look to Majel Barrett Roddenberry or any other Star Trek computer voice performers for inspiration when preparing for Prodigy?
BG: With Prodigy, I was hired to do scratch vocals for Gwyn (Ella Purnell) and Hologram Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). When the animators are working on a project, it always helps to have a voice that they can animate to that’s delivering the performance until people like Purnell and Mulgrew can record their lines.
But, as I was recording, the Hageman brothers were trying to find a permanent role for me. So, when the opportunity presented itself to audition for the ship’s computer, I was like, “Oh, this is something I can do.”
When I was searching for inspiration, I listened to Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who’s the computer of all of Star Trek. I would listen to her delivery. Initially, I thought they would want me to impersonate Roddenberry. Then, they told me that they wanted an original computer for Prodigy.
In the beginning, I was trying to figure out a place where I could have personality in my voice. We had to pull that back a little bit because obviously, I’m a computer. I sounded almost like a flight attendant on an SNL parody sketch.
I love that I get to be a part of such an incredible franchise. I’m so grateful Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman and the creative team took a big chance on me and wanted to keep me permanently. It meant the world that they found a role for me on the show.
When you’re a ship computer, you become a part of Starfleet. I feel like I’m taking over a legacy by being the ship’s computer. I want to do it justice because, as a Trekkie myself, I want to make sure the Star Trek fans are content with my voice and happy with the performance.
Plus, I love Star Trek so much. I hope that people see… If they are sad it’s not Roddenberry or another voice they’re connecting with more, I want them to see through my social media and interactions that I’m a huge Star Trek fan.
I hope people know when I do the computer voice; I’m doing it from a place of love.
RK: Did any non-Star Trek computers inspire you?
BG: It’s funny because… It’s not even that I was listening to computer voices. It’s just with technology today, A.I.-sounding voices and automated messages surround us. You pick up the phone and hear, “Thank you for calling Verizon.” It was picking up on those things around us and making the voice my own.
When it comes to ships’ voices, there’s a lot of video games that have A.I. computer voices. There’s a lot of sci-fi fandoms that have some ship voice. There are so many different ships and entities of ships and voices that I didn’t want to go overboard and oversaturate myself like, “Oh, I could do it this way. I could do it that way. I could do it this way.”
I have ADD brain. Then with acting, especially, over-preparation can kick you in the butt. I feel like many good performances come from spontaneity and going with your gut instincts. With the ship computer voice, I don’t overthink things too much.
As a Trekkie, let me do a computer-sounding voice but also from a place of respect. When they told me they wanted it to be different from Roddenberry, I tried to make the computer a part of myself basically – and an original.
RK: Do you have a favorite Trek show or Trek character?
BG: I will say Star Trek: Prodigy is rising the ranks of being one of my favorites of all time. I think Next Generation is my favorite series because it was my introduction to it, so it holds a special place in my heart. I started working at Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, interactive Star Trek.
RK: You did? I went!
BG: I was one of the actors there. I started watching Star Trek for research to prepare better for the job. At first, I couldn’t improv with many guests because I didn’t know the franchise well enough. The only answer I could give was, “I can’t tell you that because of the Prime Directive.” So yeah, I started with Next Generation. Later in life, I became a hardcore fan, where I went back and re-watched everything in order.
Data is one of my favorite characters, but Janeway is my favorite captain. Before I became a part of Prodigy, she was just a badass. I do love Spock. I feel like Spock and Data and the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager are three of my favorite characters.
I think it just shows that I’m attracted to emotionally unavailable men. Holograms, Vulcans and androids, line them up for me.
RK: Why is Prodigy becoming one of your favorites of all time?
BG: With Prodigy, it’s so good, and it is Trek. It has a lot of action, which gets the kids interested. It’s colorful. The art is stunning, and the artists have gone above and beyond to create a bright, vibrant world of space and discovery. The storytelling is so good and has so much heart. For me, it’s seeing how the characters grow and getting to know their backstory and the things they have gone through.
Yes, it’s a kid show. But really, it’s a family show. I love that I’m a part of a project getting kids interested in Star Trek. They’re watching Star Trek: Prodigy, getting to know the characters and the terminology. How exciting to be a part of a show that is the gateway to the next generation, no pun intended, of them discovering Star Trek.
RK: You introduce so much technology into the Star Trek universe. How exciting is that?
BG: It is! I feel like that’s why they needed someone to be the voice of the ship computer and not use archived files of past lines. I got a couple of people asking me why they went with me and why they chose me instead of using archived files of Roddenberry’s voice, which they have in her estate. A lot of that is because there’s new technology to introduce and explain, and exposition.
They don’t have any of those terms recorded from her. It’s one of the reasons why I think I got lucky; they needed a different voice because there’s so much exposition that the computer gives and so much new technology the computer explains, like the vehicle replicator and the Protostar containment field.
RK: Did you get to meet any of your co-stars in person?
BG: Sadly, no. The recording of this show started right during the COVID-19 lockdown. I think I was one of the few people who got into the studio to record before the March 2020 lockdown. At the beginning of March, I recorded a few episodes of Gwyn; I think episode one and two.
Then, COVID-19 changed the whole process, and it does put a damper on things when all the interactions you have with the cast and crew are via Zoom. But throughout the pandemic, recording was a glimmer of positive energy and hope. I’d get to see the Hageman Brothers.
I’d get to see Brooke, the voiceover director. I’d get to see Ben, the director. Yes, it’d be through Zoom, and half the time, they’d be on muted, blank screens, but I knew they were there.
Whenever I got the email asking me if I was available for a particular day, I’d say, “Yes. Let’s go.” I didn’t care if I just had to say, “Acknowledge,” and then leave. I just wanted to do it.
RK: Was it sometimes literally just that?
BG: Pretty much, yes. They give me as much to do as possible in one session, but sometimes it’s just a few lines. That goes for everybody. Sometimes a session is just a few pickups. People think it’s exciting, and sometimes I’ll have to sign on and go, “Red alert, red alert,” and “Thanks, you guys.”
RK: Do you ever record at the same time as the other actors?
BG: Not in Prodigy, no. I haven’t met any of the other cast, which is a shame because I’m a fan of all of them. I interact with a lot of them on Twitter and social media, so that’s fun.
RK: I enjoyed some of the ship’s interactions with Hologram Janeway.
BG: When we recorded that scene, when Hologram Janeway goes, “Not even from a former captain,” instead of saying, “Negative,” I think in the recording, I gave a pause, and I went, “No.” And they all started laughing because obviously, the computer wouldn’t say that, but it was funny. Like, sorry lady, go away. I improv’d that in the booth. It was silly.
Also, the part where Gwyn’s like, “Please tell me there are more escape pods on board.” And the ship’s like, [in an emotionless voice, inappropriate for the situation], “There are no more escape pods on board.” Just little moments adding a bit of humor to the computer, like the computer’s completely oblivious. It’s like, “Sorry, no go. Whoopsy doodle. Whoops. No more escape pods. Have a nice day.”
RK: What’s your dream voice acting role?
BG: With voiceover, I would love to be a villain. Especially if she’s regal but gives off like, “Oh no, of course, I’m nice”-vibe. Then you can feel the evil seething off her teeth. It’s always fun to play bad.
I would love to be on a sitcom and be a seedy character or a quirky, weird character when live-acting. If you look at Buffy, I want to be the Willow. If you look at Firefly, I’d like to be the Kaylee. I always want to be that quirky, weird one that’s a little off but still lovable and fun. Those are my dream roles when it comes to live-acting.
RK: Can you tell me about the “Con Artist” Kickstarter campaign? [For more information, click here.]
BG: First of all, I am overwhelmed with how well it did. I can do so much more than I originally thought. Initially, I was going to keep it simple, just myself and a piano. Then, within two hours, I hit the initial goal and was like, “Well, okay.”
My dream was actually to have a full-live jazz band. As soon as I realized how fantastic everyone was being by supporting the project, I went, “There’s so much more I can do now.”
I immediately got a drummer and bass player, and I’m going to have guitar on a few tracks… And this is something that no one knows yet; I think we’re even adding violin.
It’s an album to showcase my songwriting skills and the versatility of my voice, but I’m staying true to myself. I have a song about ADHD and a song about imposter syndrome in the industry.
I’m delighted with a song called “Con Artist.” Every lyric has a double meaning: it could mean a crime or art. You think I’m singing the whole piece about a criminal that I’m in love with, like Bonnie and Clyde, but really, I’m in love with an artist at Artist Alley at Comic-Con.
I’m doing a few covers as well. I’m doing “Why Don’t You Do Right,” Jessica Rabbit’s song from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That movie’s just incredible, by the way. I am on the asexual spectrum, and Jessica Rabbit is an asexual icon. Believe it or not.
RK: I didn’t know she was asexual.
BG: It’s not proven, but the whole like, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” It was no fault of her own. Just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean you don’t want to be sexy. I love dressing up sexy and flirting, and being coy. She’s in love. She’s married to Roger Rabbit. They always say, “What do you see in a guy like that?” She’s like, “He makes me laugh.” It’s nothing about physical attraction or sexual attraction. It’s all about personality.
RK: Is there anything else you want to add?
BG: I know many nerds read this, especially women, which, yes, geek girls! I feel like we’re finally getting a voice in the nerd community regarding representation and people respecting us in the space. I want to say, don’t be afraid to wave your nerd flag high. Don’t be scared to geek out fully.
I’m glad we’re finally making ourselves known and becoming part of the nerd community in such a way that it’s thriving now. However, I know it’s challenging to find that place. Look at Wonder Woman and many of these excellent comic book writers who are women creating such incredible stories, but they still get trolls and gatekeepers because they’re women.
I’m thrilled to be a voice representing what the nerd community should strive to be. Also, women don’t put each other down. We got to lift each other. It’s not a competition. Let’s all geek out together in love and harmony.
Girls are nerdier than ever, and I love it. Many young ladies are interested in Star Trek, Star Wars, science and fantasy. It’s not about unicorns and rainbows. It’s about battling the orcs, and I love that. I always felt like such an outcast growing up when it came to my nerd interests. I’m glad there’s a space for it now and that I can make a living being a professional nerd.
I feel like women must keep standing their ground and forcing themselves into creative processes because we need to make sure that it’s not only women but the LGBTQIA+ and trans communities. We all need to make sure we’re represented.
Thanks for the chat, Bonnie! Follow her on Instagram (@bonniebellg) and Twitter (@BonnieBellG). Star Trek: Prodigy returns for the back half of Season One on Thursday, January 6, only on Paramount Plus.
This interview was originally published on 1/5/22.
- STARS WARS: The Latest on AHOSKA, ANDOR, THE ACOLYTE and More - May 17, 2022
- STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS – Nurse Chapel’s HERstory - May 11, 2022
- THE WILDS Season 2 Review - May 9, 2022