One of the most anticipated panels at Star Trek Las Vegas was for the upcoming CBS All Access series Star Trek: Picard. On stage were three returning Trek stars who will appear in Picard: Jonathan Frakes (TNG: Riker), Jonathan Del Arco (TNG: Hugh), and Jeri Ryan (Voyager: Seven of Nine). Frakes has also directed two episodes for the series centered around Sir Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. On Wednesday Brent Spiner spoke about his return to Picard, and the three stars for Saturday afternoon’s panel had even more to say.
Frakes thrilled to direct, nervous to play Riker again (and again)
Jonathan Frakes started off the panel by revealing his custom T-shirt which read: “Don’t ask me, I signed an NDA!” The director and actor is notorious for dropping spoilers at conventions, so this was his way of preempting a repeat. Despite the shirt, Frakes did have a lot to say – and reveal – about Picard.
Frakes started by talking about how he initially got involved with Picard, seeing it as an extension of his “new home” directing for Discovery:
I was asked to come and direct a couple of episodes of Picard [Jeri Ryan interjects “thank God!” and crowd cheers]…I directed the one where we introduce Seven of Nine! [Jeri: “I say again, thank God”]…And I was thrilled, as you can only imagine, to be back with Patrick and back in the family of Star Trek. I get to do Discovery, which is kind of my new home show and I won’t pretend that I wasn’t really excited. And then I got to work with Jeri, which I hadn’t done much of since we had done Leverage together.
When it came to returning to the role of Riker (which was revealed at the SDCC panel two weeks ago, along with Marina Sirtis’ return as Troi), Frakes joked he “begged to come back!” but then admitted that he had some concerns about picking up the role after almost two decades. Frakes, who played Riker in seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and four feature films, revealed that he will be on set this week, and he has been spending a lot of time preparing:
[I have been concerned] more than you know. Every morning when I wake up – I have had the script for quite a while – every morning the first thing I do is go over my lines. First of all I see Patrick and the shape he is in. Marina [Sirtis] is starring in a play on the West End, so her acting muscle…and I see what this acting company is like, because I had directed two of the episodes. And I was really happy as a director. I was a fine, nice little actor on Star Trek. First of all, I am the third best actor in my own house…[wife] Genie [Francis] and then my daughter Eliza. I was really happy that I have learned another craft and it has been very good to me.
Those paying close attention to the reports coming out of SDCC may have noted that Patrick Stewart had said he was set to shoot with Frakes and Sirtis the following week. Later in the STLV panel, Frakes appears to have cleared that up, revealing he has already returned to the role of Riker on Picard:
So, I will share this. Just between me and you. I did play one scene with Picard already. I won’t tell you anything about it, except this. At the end of the scene – we were in three different locations – Doug Aarniokoski, the director, said: “I have to go on to the next set and I will leave you guys here with a [camera] drone.” So the drone comes and shoots, the two of us play the scene and off in the woods is somebody with Patrick’s chair and the second [assistant director], and [executive producer] Alex [Kurtzman]. And Patrick says: “I think we have done it, Johnny.” And I said: “I think so too.” So, we walk and it is just the two of us. The entire company of 150 people have moved on to the next set, which is in another part. And he says: “Is there anything better than spending the day with filmmakers who know what they are doing and be able to work with people you love?”
Picard Analysis: Based on his comments at STLV, Jonathan Frakes will appear as Riker in more than just one scene in Star Trek: Picard. It’s unclear if his scenes – shot two weeks apart – will be contained to a single episode or more than one. Comments from around SDCC (before he shot his first scene) indicated the show was set to start on episode eight immediately afterward, leading us to assume that Frakes will appear in episode eight. It also appears that the work Frakes is doing this week is more substantial, and therefore requires more prep work than the scene he shot right after SDCC.
Ryan happy to lose Seven’s catsuit, but “freaked out” finding her new voice
Jeri Ryan revealed how returning to Star Trek started as casual conversations among friends that she didn’t think would ever go anywhere:
We were at the Hollywood Bowl and Johnny [Del Arco] was with me and one of the creators of the show – James Duff – who is a dear friend of ours, after about four glasses of champagne, he was like: “this might be a good time to bring this up, here is what I am thinking…” And he pitched an idea. The story is not the same story as he was originally thinking, but the way he had conceived of this character, is basically what he had described to me, and it sounded really cool. I thought yeah, that sounds fun but, whatever. This was like a year and a half ago, well over a year. So, I didn’t think anything of it, but every time I saw him again, he would mention again. Then cut to the Creative Arts Emmys [September 8, 2018] and Alex Kurtzman was there, and he mentioned it as well. And I thought: “oh, this might happen,” and it did.
Jonathan Del Arco noted that after pitching Ryan, Duff also asked him if he would want to return to the role of Hugh the Borg. To help persuade Del Arco, the actor says Duff said he might not have to return to the Borg makeup and costume (although later in the panel Del Arco reveals he does have new Borg wardrobe and makeup). As Del Arco recalled the conversation, Ryan jumped back in enthusiastically to reveal another detail about Duff’s pitch in relation to her signature wardrobe on Star Trek: Voyager:
That was part of his pitch. There was no catsuit! Yeah!
Like Frakes, Ryan had some concerns returning to her Star Trek role, but hers seemed to be even more intense:
Honestly, it was freaking terrifying, and these two [Frakes and Del Arco] can attest to that! They both saved my ass! I was freaking out. She was a very specific character for four years on Voyager. There was a lot of growth, and all of that. She went from being a machine to learning to be human. But, particularly the way she moved and her voice, that was what I was really hung up on. Her voice didn’t change that much in four years. So, she had a stilted, very formal, very stylized way of speaking, at the end of Voyager. So, when I got the initial script, and from I knew from the original pitch with James [Duff] a year and a half ago, she is not the same Seven. She is much more human. She been on Earth for a long time, she has been through a lot. So, when I saw that initial script and as you saw “what the hell are you doing out here?” It’s a very, very different voice. And that is what was freaking me out.
Ryan revealed it was Del Arco who helped her through it:
So I was happy because Johnny [Del Arco] was working before I did and he said: “once you get in costume, it helps.” And it does. It informs the way the character moves and the way the character stands and that kind of thing. But, I was having a real hard time with her voice. I just couldn’t hear her in these lines. I couldn’t find it and it was really freaking me out to the point where my husband was like: “I have seen you get freaked out by a script, ever.” And so thank God this one [Jonathan Frakes] was directing my first two episodes. And Johnny [Del Arco] worked before I did, so he had just gone through all of this himself.
I was literally freaking out. I was bursting into tears: “I don’t know what her voice is! I can’t find her.” So, Johnny came over and we had lunch and read the script for like an hour and finally he just – I was so freaked out I couldn’t think clearly about it – he said after an hour: “just try this, what if…” The Borg have always been hated, they are universally hated because they were bad guys, they were tough. But, there’s other elements in this world with the Borg. And, what if she had to make the choice to be as human as possible, to survive, to sound as human and act as human as possible. Clearly, she is always going to look like a former Borg, because she has these implants that cant go away. So, what if she had to make that choice – a conscious choice – to sound as human as possible. And that’s all I needed. That’s what I needed! I just needed something for it to make sense as an actor as to why she would have that huge of a chance. Then it made sense to me. I was still freaking out in my first scene.
Jeri Ryan also talked about what it has been like to work with Patrick Stewart for the first time:
[Working with Patrick] is amazing. I don’t think I had actually ever met Patrick once over all these years, except some after party like eighteen years ago. He is lovely. I know most of the Next Gen cast better than I know my own cast [from Voyager]. I know these guys so well and I have seen them at so many shows over the years and we hang out. So, it’s funny that I know so much about him and I know him from the periphery. But he is lovely, he is just lovely. And of course, he is an incredible actor.
Jonathan Frakes revealed how Stewart feels about Ryan:
I asked Patrick what it was like working with Jeri, and he said: “She is marvelous, Johnny. She is so present.”
Picard Analysis: Based on what Ryan said at STLV, it appears her first episode for Picard will be episode three, which is the first episode Frakes directed (based on what he told TrekMovie.com in an earlier interview). Ryan’s comments indicate Seven will appear in episode four, also directed by Frakes, and given her phrasing of “my first two episodes,” it seems as if Seven will appear in more than just those two directed by Frakes. As shown in the Comic-Con trailer, the Seven seen in Picard has adapted be more human, as a way to fit in, or assimilate.
Del Arco sees return to Hugh as personal, relates to the Borg’s experience
Jonathan Del Arco – who played Hugh in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation – also talked about a struggle finding a way back into the role, adding: “It had been a long time and I had no idea who he is now.” Del Arco pointed to Picard executive producer James Duff helping shape the role for him. Like Ryan, Del Arco knows Duff well, having worked together for years on Major Crimes. So, the writer/producer was able to personalize the role of Hugh for Del Arco in Picard:
Like Jeri, I panicked. Hugh was based on something very personal for me. In my twenties I was going through a very traumatic time. I had lost a loved one and Hugh was based on that person. When I played Hugh, I was playing someone else as an actor. Over the years, I’ve learned to use myself more and more, because that is always better if you can. Because people that knew us were writing these roles, there was a lot written into Hugh [in Picard] that reflected my own personal experiences as a gay Latino male in our world today and through the years of the AIDS epidemic.
The actor also talked about connecting to the Borg as seen in Picard:
There was a lot in the Borg experience from the end of TNG to now that was emotionally easy for me to connect to. However, there was a lot of Hugh’s physicality that came from the wardrobe, which I loathed at the time, because it was impossible to wear. I wasn’t sure how much of myself I could use. I didn’t want to lose the complete physicality of the old Hugh. Jeri and talk a lot about when you are doing Star Trek, you are doing it for you guys [the fans]. Because a general audience can watch a good performance and say: “that makes sense to me,” but for you all…We did not want to mess it up for you…We would say: “they are going to kill us if we do that!” We have to be true to our base, to our audience. They know our roles in some ways better than we do ourselves.
So, I was in a panic. The tour of the set gave me some great research ideas. So, I researched a human historical event that it reminded me of, I am not going to tell you what it is… [At this point Frakes points to his NDA shirt and interjects: “you are dancing right on the edge!”] I did research on this historical event to feed myself, and then I still didn’t have him. And then when I was on set, it came to me. It was kind of a magical moment. I shot the first scene and I thought: “Welcome home, Hugh, there you are.” So, it was a great experience, that first week of it. And it has been a great experience all summer, to be honest.
Del Arco noted that he and Patrick Stewart have been bonding as they work together:
About Patrick, when I worked with him [on Star Trek: The Next Generation] I was very young, and obviously became a big fan. To get to work with him in your 20s, like whoa!…So, coming back to the role as an adult and getting to spend – honestly the entire job has circled around for me the amount of weeks I have had to have one-on-one scenes with Patrick, and have time hanging out with him, talking and getting to know him and our shared love of rescue pit bulls and food and wine. I just adore him. For me, the gift has been to get to work with Patrick.
Picard Analysis: Based on comments from Del Arco and Ryan at STLV, it appears that Hugh will appear in one of the first two episodes of the series. His comments about the time spent with Patrick Stewart and his experiences on the show “all summer” could indicate that he has a recurring role throughout the first season. Del Arco’s comments about the Borg in Picard are also intriguing. Although Frakes held him back from the edge, Del Arco indicated that the Borg – either in general or his group of freed Borg – have gone through some kind of major event which has a parallel in real-world history.
Frakes impressed with new team, Stewart is “crushing it”
Having worked as both a director and actor on the show, Frakes offered his perspective on the work being done, including his thoughts on how the new cast is performing:
I had done a show with Michelle Hurd, who is spectacular. Alison Pill, I had no idea. She can do anything. We have a new guy named Evan from Australia, who is wonderful. And there is the hot Santiago Cabrera, who is just crushing it. He is playing – Oh, I shouldn’t tell you anything about what he is doing. That is exactly the kind of thing I get in trouble for. It is a great cast.
He also talked about seeing Patrick Stewart back in action:
The cast is spectacular, needless to say. And Patrick is crushing it now, is he not? His confidence, his vulnerability, his sense of humor, his emotionality is up on the surface. He’s as great as he has ever been. And because he loves the project and because the writing is spectacular.
Regarding the writing, Jonathan had more high praise for Picard showrunner Michael Chabon:
The showrunner is a man named Michael Chabon, who deserves hoots and hollers. And I will tell you a little anecdote from a conversation I had with Alex Kurtzman, who is the keeper of all things Star Trek now. We were talking about a new episode of Discovery and there were some questions we talked about and the Picard episodes I had done, and then we talked about Chabon, who has become showrunner, and what’s going on with him and how he is learning this job. He said: “after all, Michael is Mozart.” That is a pretty serious compliment.
Even though the show has been described as highly serialized, Frakes revealed that each episode has its own style:
Picard has been advertised as ten movies, by Patrick and Alex and all of the people involved. And the two that I did were completely different stylistically and were written differently and shot differently and therefore each will have their own identity. Discovery is much more of the J.J. [Abrams] cinematic filmmaking, shoot-to-thrill sort of approach, which is a blast, I have to say. Picard is a more thoughtful show, and very elegant. We still got some lens flares. But it is stylistically, each episode is driven by the story and therefore the shooting style is different.
Taking secrecy seriously
The inclusion of these Trek actors in Picard was kept as a closely guarded secret, revealed for the first time at the Star Trek Universe panel at San Diego Comic-Con two weeks ago. Ryan noted how she was surprised they were able to keep the secret that long. It was revealed at the STLV panel that the production has gone to great lengths to maintain secrecy.
The show is using the same kind of secrecy on set as the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, including requiring Jeri Ryan to always wear a hooded cloak when outside of her trailer, including gloves. Ryan talked about how she was surprised it worked, revealing that earlier in the year they shot at Universal City Walk in Hollywood, which is a tourist destination and she would be driven around (cloaked and hooded) in a van between her trailer and set right next to the tour trams, and thinking at the time “this is so going to get out!”
Del Arco noted he has to work with the same level of security, but noted it was worth it:
Once I am in makeup, I am not allowed to leave my trailer…because they haven’t revealed the Borg’s makeup, because they are so secretive about it. And I think it is kind of great. Aren’t surprises awesome? Aren’t you so glad to see that for the first time?
Billingsley lobbies for a Denobulan in Picard
As often happens at Star Trek Las Vegas, there was a fun moment with a party crasher on stage. For the Picard panel it was John Billingsley who played the Denobulan Dr. Phlox on Star Trek: Enterprise. Shortly after the panel started he popped his head in from behind the stage, shouting out the question: “Ask if the show needs a Deonbulan!” And then lobbying “Call a Denobulan!” Later during the Q&A Billingsley got a fan to ask “Is it possible that there is going to be a Denobulan on the new series?”
More STLV to come
The TrekMovie team was in Las Vegas to bring you all the news, so check back soon for more articles from the convention. Check out all of our coverage on STLV.