The official Star Trek site is continuing their series looking at the informal “Director’s School” which gave a number of Star Trek actors a chance to learn how to work behind the camera. Today’s interview is with the first entrant to this program, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes, who noted how learning to direct was the right move for him.
In talking about his motivation to learn more about directing, noted it was in part due to concerns over what Star Trek might do to his future acting career:
And I don’t know if I knew subconsciously or consciously that there’d be this typecasting. As Leonard Nimoy famously said, “It’s better to be typecast than not to be cast at all.” But there was a certain thing that happened after the show that you can see evidence of from The Original Series, from our series, Voyager, DS9, Enterprise. The exceptions were Bakula, and Patrick, and Bill and Colm, and Rene and Kate, maybe, to a certain point. Jeri Ryan. More of a handful people were not painted with the Star Trek brush, right? I don’t know what you’d call that in your world, but there certainly is … It was a double-edged sword.
Frakes also spoke frankly about his own ability as an actor, saying “I was fine, but I was certainly not in the top three” when it came to the Next Generation cast. As for moving behind the camera, he said he had no regrets:
I definitely made the right decision to pursue directing. It was actually one of the best decisions I ever made, because I have another craft. I like it better, and I’m better at directing than acting.
Before his time on TNG, Frakes found steady work in the 80s with regular, guest and recurring appearances on a number of television series. It shows a bit of forward thinking on his part to use the opportunity offered by TNG producer Rick Berman to future-proof his post-Trek career with directing skills.
Supported for his first episode
Frakes also spoke about the support he got from cast and crew when he got his first chance to direct, for the third season episode “Offspring”:
This was the middle of season three, so I’d been shadowing for almost two years. Patiently, consistently. The upside of all that was I was over-prepared, and the company was, for the most part, very much in support of my getting a shot to do this. The sound department gave me a big megaphone that everybody had signed, wishing me luck. All the actors took the piss out of me on the set.
Learning a lesson, and returning to The Orville
In retelling a story about how he learned to never release an actor before a scene is done (while shooting “Drumhead”), Frakes also noted that he is again working “now” on The Orville:
Dorn is long gone, and we’re doing a piece of coverage, and where Dorn was standing it couldn’t be clearer that we would see him. Not only see him, we’d see his face. So, the clever and talented Marvin Rush, who I’m now working with on The Orville, I told him the story. I said, “I screwed up. I let Dorn go.” He said, “OK, I got this.” We kicked it around, and he got the piece of coverage. I think it was of Jean, actually. Simmons was talking, and we managed to move the camera in a way where we pushed in, dropped down, got a piece of somebody in Dorn’s costume, and then came back up on the next person. Then we pulled back out, and we thought we felt Dorn in the shot, but we never had to see his face. Marvin Rush bailed me out, and I’ve never released an actor until a scene was done since then.
Frakes also directed an episode in The Orville’s first season and earlier this year he contrasted that show with Star Trek: Discovery. Jonathan Frakes is in the unique position as the only person to have directed for both shows, and he will do so again for both series second seasons, as he is also directing two episodes for Discovery’s season two.
Check out StarTrek.com for lots more about directing TNG in the full Frakes interview.