England-born actor Ed Speleers is no stranger to fantastical action-adventure roles — his big cinematic breakout came as the title role of the 2006 adaptation of high-fantasy epic Eragon. Since then, he’s worked steadily both in and out of genre work, including a stint as Jimmy Kent on Downton Abbey and roles in Outlander and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
But 2023 has been a big year for Speleers: Not only does he have a prominent role in the fourth season of Netflix’s You, but he’s also been inaugurated into the annals of Star Trek royalty in the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard. As we learned in the second episode of the season, which premiered this week, Speleers’ mysterious character isn’t just the wry, laconic son of Gates McFadden’s Beverly Crusher — he’s the son of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, too.
It’s a revelation that feels of a piece with the season as a whole, which sees Picard looking back on the regrets of the past as he goes on one final adventure with his former Next Generation castmates, including McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis. It’s a heavy responsibility, not just acting alongside these legends but to craft a younger, spryer character whose roguishness stands apart from Jean-Luc but still carries glimmers of the man’s younger self.
While there’s plenty about Jack we cannot discuss here (we’ve seen the first six episodes of the season), The Companion was thrilled to sit down for a quick chat with Speleers about the events of the first two episodes of the season. Together, we discussed his own relationship with Star Trek, the heavy responsibility a character like Jack Crusher carries within fandom, and what it’s like to share a stage with Sir Patrick Stewart.
Before we talk about your work with Picard itself, I’m curious what your history with Star Trek was prior to this.
My old man was into the original Star Trek series, the first one that came out in the sixties. My memories are very nostalgic — coming home from school in very blustery, bleak, grey England, in the days of only having four channels. BBC Two, 6-8 pm, TNG was on, and it was a nice bit of respite from whatever had been taking place that day at school, or just life in general. I wouldn’t say I was an aficionado or anything, but I just have really warm feelings and memories of it.
Then, and I know there’s a split opinion on then, I actually really enjoyed the J.J. Abrams ones. They were good movies, as movies go. And then it was all about this, really.
When it came to actually getting the gig, what were the initial conversations you had, the first moves you made once you found out you were going to play Picard’s son?
The first thing was to get on the phone to [showrunner] Terry Matalas and work out what on Earth [does being Picard’s son mean]? I need information, I need everything. I knew the impact this might have on the fandom, I suppose, because it’s going to be a talking point, whether it’s something people want or not. It was important to me to get as much information as possible about what was going to happen throughout the series so that I could develop a character people would get on board with. I wasn’t doing it to service people, but you want people to come on board with the journey.
As part of my preparation process, Terry gave me this email he called “Star Trek University,” with a long list of TNG episodes he thought were relevant to the part and the season and the story we were putting together, and films going back from Wrath of Khan all the way to First Contact. I just devoured them. When I got to LA to prepare for the role, they were still shooting Season 2, so I’d spend three to five hours at the gym or whatever, three or four hours with my acting coach working on things throughout the day, and the evening I’d go through the TNG episodes and the films, getting completely engrossed.
As a character, Jack Crusher is a much more rogueish figure than Jean-Luc; he’s someone who exists outside the Starfleet hierarchy, but with a distinct sense of dogoodery. There’s a bit of Han Solo in there a bit too.
Yeah, the space cowboy, Han Solo bit was definitely mentioned to me, and I was like, “Terry, you can’t keep doing this!” [Laughs.] “You mentioned Kirk, you mentioned Han Solo, you can’t put these on me, these are huge pressure points! There’s enough pressure already.” But I relished the fact that I was trying to take on someone really complex. I mean, no one’s black and white, essentially, everyone’s living in the grey somewhere, and Jack’s living on the wrong side of the tracks. Some of that is true, because of the way he’s trying to help his mum [Beverly Crusher] out, and the life they’re living in order to help others.
But he’s also very anti-Starfleet. Now, whether that’s an active decision because of what his father represents, or something that’s required to complete his tasks, is up to interpretation. He has to step away from it and be quite pugnacious towards it. But even though he’s living almost in this world of criminality, I suppose, he has justification for why he’s doing these things. There’s a Robin Hood quality to him, really; he’s screwing people over to make sure that people who really need help are getting those benefits. He’s trying to do some good in a reckless, ruthless world. And I think that’s commendable; I don’t see anything wrong with that.