Thirty years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Jonathan Frakes branched into directing, which has become the focus of his life over the last decade, and has included working on all the new Star Trek shows. But this year he returned to acting, and after some initial hiccups, he is ready for more.
Frakes over his wariness, now ready for more Riker
On Thursday night, Jonathan Frakes participated in a livestream charity event with the TrekGeeks podcast to support Feeding America. The discussion covered a wide range of topics, including his recent return to the role of William T. Riker for two episodes of Star Trek: Picard. Recently his TNG co-stars Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis talked about how easy it was for them to get back into character; apparently, it wasn’t so easy for Frakes, who explained that it took some time when he filmed “Nepenthe”:
I was comfortable about halfway through the first day. I had just [directed] two episodes [of Picard] and so I knew where Patrick [Stewart] was. He was as great as he has ever been. And Marina was just closing having starred in a play on the West End, so I knew that her acting chops were in great shape. I hadn’t acted in a decade! And I really didn’t want to get buried by my friends. [laughs] That was not going to sit well with me.
Michael Chabon snuck me the script and I was in Maine [where he lives] and I was working on it every morning. And one morning [wife] Genie [Francis] said, “Do you want me to run those with you?” And I said yeah so we started to run the lines and it was clear to me that I was woefully unprepared. Genie gave me the script back and said, “You better keep working on this.” [laughs] And I did, and it worked out fine.
Frakes returned for the season finale of Picard, this time in a solo scene as acting Captain Riker of the USS Zheng He. He spoke about how this time, he quickly returned to old habits, including his trademark “Riker lean”:
I did find myself getting into the lean as soon as I sat down. I liked that scene actually. I thought the writing was clever. I was wary of when they had gone to the well to have Riker show up again because he had said he had left Starfleet. But I think between Akiva [Goldsman], and [Michael] Chabon, and Alex [Kurtzman], they cleverly wove it into the story. And I hope that we see him again. I certainly hope to see… to have the spacesuit on again.
Last month we reported that Jonathan Frakes was glad Star Trek: Picard had the Rikers retired from Starfleet and no longer on the USS Titan, but it seems the lure of the chair is strong. For her part, Marina Sirtis recently told TrekMovie she was jealous of Frakes getting back into space and she was hoping she too could return to the role of his wife Deanna Troi for Picard.
Kurtzman Trek is “big” but still fits with Gene Roddenbery’s vision
When it comes to the new Star Trek shows, Frakes’ main involvement is behind the camera, having directed multiple episodes of both Star Trek: Discovery and Picard. Frakes directed three episodes for the upcoming third season of Discovery and will be back to helm for the second season of Picard as well as the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. During the livestream, Jonathan contrasted how directing for executive producer Alex Kurtzman’s new Star Trek shows is different from his time on Star Trek: The Next Generation under executive producer Rick Berman:
There was a period on Next Gen early, when Rick did not want to cut from a moving shot to a moving shot. If you remember, there was a lot of static two-shots and singles. It wasn’t very theatrical. And on Alex’s shows – on Discovery, and Picard, and I believe this will be the case on the new Pike show Strange New Worlds, we are encouraged to—as Robbie Duncan McNeill says, “shoot to thrill.” And we are given the tools in which to achieve that.
J.J. [Abrams’] movies are very visual and very cinematic. And that style—especially on Discovery—is encouraged. We are encouraged to create shots that help tell the story and are given the tools with which to do that. Picard is a little more cerebral, so the toys are not as much a part of our game. But, we had to make elegant shots and we had time to let the cinematographers and the gaffers and the grips create looks on those shows. On Next Gen we did an episode in seven days and you were done. On the new streaming shows, they are big. They are expensive. They have a lot of time and it shows. They don’t scrimp and Alex… Alex likes a big show [laughs].
The Trek veteran also weighed in on how he feels new shows and movies fit with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
I think everybody who has been given the reins, from Rick, through JJ, through Alex, are very, very conscious of honoring Gene’s [vision]. He was a futurist. This is 2020. This show was made in the 60s. I think if anyone would have adapted and adjusted, it would have been Gene. And he would have encouraged what we are doing and attempting to do in terms of storytelling…I am weary of complaints about what Gene would have thought. Gene inspired all this. The reason we are all watching and fortunate enough to be working on these shows is because of Gene’s vision. And that vision is big enough and carried us for fifty years, and will for another fifty I am sure.
Jonathan was also optimistic about Noah Hawley taking on Star Trek for a Paramount film:
Hawley has been discussed; he is the guy that gave us Fargo. A brilliant writer and director. Just the idea that quality of filmmaker is interested in our world is very encouraging.
Watch full livestream with Frakes
The extended chat with Jonathan Frakes has more, including him talking about his history acting and directing on Star Trek, his thoughts on the cast of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and how he feels about recent events.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news and analysis on TrekMovie.com.