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.
Ah Future Imperfect. A great episode let down by a hilariously bad denouement . “Ethan” should have stayed human. I actually cared about him. As soon as he morphed back into pantomime fish outfit man I was like ” nope. couldn’t care less now. ”
I like that they tried to make a non-forehead alien for once, but I wish they’d tried a little harder. Something a little better than a bug-eyed Martian bought at a Halloween store.
I’m cool with it. Very Trekkie. Here’s a creature who looks very alien and yet he feels that he has to present himself as human in order to feel loved and accepted by another creature and end his solitude. The subterfuge ended up being unnecessary because humanity had evolved those understandable concerns.
I agree entirely. I liked that he was a fishkid in the end.
Glad to hear Frakes quash “Roddenberry fundamentalism” and embrace the cinematic style of today.
Uh, side note: I know things are tough re: site monetization, but the endless scrolling feed of clickbait Taboola links below the comments really detracts from the site. Is there a way we can financially support the site through subscriptions / Patreon instead?
Curious why there isn’t more tailored sponsorship from advertisers who might be interested in our nerd-cinema-tv Venn diagram :)
Lol calm down.
There is an optional Patreon monthly or one-time contribution system that was set up since COVID-19 hit.
I believe there is a link in the menu.
It’s good to see you posting Fred Javelina.
They had put up a patron site a while back. Took a while to get everyone to put down the torches and pitchforks.
Those uniforms are the laziest thing I’ve seen in modern Trek
Ship design wins that category for me.
When have we ever seen any fleet of ships all of the same type (yes, I am aware there were minor differences, but not at first glance, or second).
Can anyone give me a reason why SH is sticking with the same designer for all the shows given that they are supposed to each have their own look?
Very good question, its just like food, a little variety is always better.
I like the uniform design. It’s true to other 24th century uniforms.
My complaint with the costuming in Picard has been that the execution (i.e. cut, fit and sewing) has been visibly poor in several cases, including for major characters. It really surprised me given how much attention was paid on Discovery to ensuring everything would look good in HD magnification.
The workmanship and detailing on every costume on Discovery has been meticulous. Gersha Phillips colourful uniforms are fantastic, and the design works so well that fans in premade internet purchased cosplay uniforms look by-and-large great.
The Uniforms that they used during the Romulan crisis were much better and should have been the main uniforms.
Captain Riker should get a ship in season 2
Captain Riker should get his own series.
It should be called Star Trek: Riker. He could very his own series.
I’m hoping that he get’s the Titan back, it always seems a shame that we never got to see it. I’m hoping Worf’s got the Enterprise E!
Picard should get a ship too from Starfleet not a rental car.
I know tie-in novels aren’t canon, but Picard’s tie-in has Worf in command of the Enterprise.
Yeah I’d saw that and although I wouldn’t call the novels canon there is a stronger link now between The publishing and production sides with some story elements introduced in the books first. Of course there’s enough of a gap between the book and the series for things to have changed so there’s no way of knowIng if this was an Easter egg put in solely by the author or at the request of CBS. I’d expect the Enterprise to appear at some point in the show though and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some fan service involved with whoever they ultimately put in command.
I wonder if they can de-age Frakes and Sirtis a bit and get them to do the Titan show.
It doesn’t have to be on the Titan. He should command any Starfleet ship than that.
I know, but personally I am curious about their adventures on the Titan. Although I have a feeling with Strange New Worlds now announced I think the producers will slow down their show development a bit. We don’t want these new writers/producers to burn out so quickly now do we?
I loved the Titan novels (even if they’re not Prime Universe now).
The Titan has passed to another captain, and it would be a disservice to go back to it. However, it would be great if one or two of the Titan officers from the novels, or some of the new Enterprise officers show up on screen.
The for-hire writers of the Trek tie-in novels have noted that CBS retains all the rights/IP for the novels, including the new characters. There’s no impediment to using some of the stand out ones.
My personal favourite new character from the Enterprise-E Relaunch novels is T’Ryssa Chen. She’s half-Vulcan, but leans to the irreverent human side. She’s a xenobiologist and a first contact specialist. In 2486 she was a lieutenant and fairly junior in the Relaunch novels. By 2399, she could be a commander and a first officer to either Riker or Worf.
While de-aging a character for select scenes seems to be possible now at a TV budget de-aging 2 of your leads for the whole show would most likely still be cost-prohibitive.
I’m not going to pitch my idea here for Riker because I always see stuff online that says “Dont share your ideas because the powers that be are then worried that about legal implications” so I’ll just say that I’d LOVE to have Captain Riker as a regular cast member.
I think its time for the new crew to go in their own direction and drop the sentimentality of needing to include a bunch of TNG stars in this series. On or two quick cameo eps, sure, but I really don’t need to see nearly half of TNG cast and possibly two of the Voyager cast in next years show — that is way overdoing it and is not fair to the new characters and cast.
Also in Discovery S2, the Enterprise saves the day, and in Picard S1, Riker saves the day. That’t OK, BUT PLEASE, no more of having these seasons of the new series’ ending with old Trek characters/crews bailing out the new crews — it’s going to get laughable if they keep going to that fan-service plot device.
I was really looking forward to Picard and the first episode kind of showed some promise. After that it felt a slog to get through. Seven another character I loved from Voyager feels a bit shoehorned into the proceedings.
Maybe it will grow on me, sometimes the passage of time helps..
There have been worse first seasons.
Yup, Loremat. Picard is in the middle of the pack in terms of first season quality.
Not sure the first season of TNG has more than 6 semi-good episodes out of 26. (And yes, this surprised me when I introduced our kids to TNG a few years back.)
Picard season one has at least 4 very good episodes out of 10, and even the worst of them have excellent moments. The problem is the sum is less than its parts, and this matters when the season is supposed to be a “10 hour movie.”
The Borg were immensely disappointing here. I’m not sure what I was expecting but what they delivered was a bit off the mark.
The foul language is a bit unnecessary too lol.
This is Science Fiction and mostly we watch Star Trek to escape our too often depressing and stressful realities for a while.
I’m sure I’ll give Picatd S1 another go around soon enough and maybe it will improve in my mind after a while. My first impressions were it was often boring and lacked any sense of fun or creativity or something.
Patrick Stewart I love him and he’s a class actor but he is also passing 80. It kind of feels a bit sad to see your own hero from years past looking so pale to the vibrant and charismatic man we all remember from the 90s!
But I’m sure S2 will improve things so here’s hoping
No disrespect to Mr. Frakes, but say no.
As the saying goes, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you!
Don’t piss off the director….oh, wait.
Say no to what!
I love Frakes. He seems like good and genuine man. But he’s wrong about Gene. There’s no way Gene’s “adapting with the times” would mean removing the humanism in Star Trek and making it just like any other action show for the masses. That’s what JJ and Kurtzman have done. This isn’t “adapting Star Trek” to fit the times. It’s ripping out its soul to be like everything else in The media. Gene was very clear he wanted Trek to be better than that.
Star Trek doesn’t have to rely on Gene and his vision. This is 2020 not the 1960s anymore. Star Trek is better than that. It forces us to look in the mirror and change.
Star Trek does that, yes.
Discovery and Picard do not. That’s the problem.
Star Trek does what? Look if you feel Disco and Picard don’t live up to your Star Trek standards, then enjoy your DVDS and Blu-rays and let us enjoy the new series.You guys bitched when there was no Star Trek and when they give you Star Trek you bitch…You seem to live in a bubble,again that’s your right ,I have mine.Let it go.
Yes they do.
Then why not just make your own show? Why does it need to be on some dead guy’s antiquated vision and namesake? Are you planning on modernizing a stage coach factory too?
Maybe the lesson you’re missing is that creating new content without repurposing old intellectual properties is a novel idea in 2020.
But hey, enjoy 8 more Spiderman and Batman origin stories over the next 30 years if you like to recycle everything.
Really i was a kid in the 60’s and TOS was great and still holds up well, but come on lets move on.So many Trek fans long for those days,news flash it’s over and done.Even if the producers of this show gave you what you wanted you find something to bitch about.People by nature are never really happy. I take this show for what it is. When you do that you can enjoy it and see it’s still Star Trek.
I agree Thomas Vinelli.
Star Trek evolved even while Roddenberry was at the helm. More, his own narrative about the franchise changed a lot between the 60s and the end of the 80s. What didn’t change was Roddenberry’s ambition to tell stories that couldn’t otherwise be told.
When The Cage was released to video in the 80s close to the time of TNG’s premiere, Roddenberry was speaking out at cons and interviews saying “this is what I really wanted to do from the start”, implying that TNG was closer to his original vision.
In fact, Roddenberry said that the entire ” Wagon Train to the stars” thing that some here lock into as “real Star Trek” was just a reframing pitch to get the network executives on board.
I definitely have my critiques about the uneveness and plot coherence of the new series, but I really welcome them.
The Orville gives me something reasonably close to what I want. I haven’t complained about it once.
Why do some fans need to feel that those who complain about these new shows are trapped in the past, or just impossible to please, or whatever it is that you’re saying? There are plenty of modern shows that I love, because they are well-written, well-made, and thematically coherent. Better Call Saul, The Expanse, Bosch, Stranger Things, Watchmen, For All Mankind, etc. Both Discovery and Picard fail (outside of the technical aspects and occasionally the acting) to reach those levels, in my opinion. Mostly it’s due to the writing, which is frequently quite poor.
But sure, keep telling yourself that we’re only complaining because of __________.
Yes, the Orville gives us dick jokes. What’s not to love.
They haven’t done that since season 1. And if it’s funny… I’m fine with it.
Exactly. I’m a big fan.
Well said and thank you. My immediate thought at seeing this article about bringing back Riker (and the article before it, about bringing back Kirk) was back to the well yet again.
21st Century Trek reminds me of bands that keep putting out albums for decades after they last had anything inspiring to communicate. They just keep churning out pale imitations of their best work, and a small community of fans keeps lapping it up out of brand loyalty and memories of past glory and/or lack of discerning taste. The new releases bear a superficial resemblance to the older stuff, but without any of the spark that made the older stuff exciting and enduring.
The most exciting things in 21st Century Trek have apparently been revisits of characters from TOS and TNG. I keep checking back here periodically to see if anyone says anything interesting or intriguing or inspiring about the Kurtzman TV shows, and I honestly have yet to see anything. All of the talk tends to center around plot points. There doesn’t seem to be any meaningfulness underlying any of it. It’s all will this happen, or will that happen, or will so-and-so be back sort of stuff. And I just sit here feeling like I’m living in an alternate universe, because I know what made TOS and TNG great, and these new shows and their fans don’t seem the least bit interested in it.
Frakes is right about GR’s vision carrying these shows, though. It’s only because of how inspired, meaningful and resonant TOS and TNG were that, decades later, the corporation that owns them can attract one or two million viewers with the implied promise of tapping into that Roddenberry vein of inspiration. Or, perhaps there is no such implication for the newer fans. Perhaps, after two decades of decline, the newer fans have a completely different relationship with the Trek brand than fans of TOS and TNG did (to wit: Not your father’s Trek). Perhaps the values and sensibilities of TOS and TNG simply aren’t associated with the Trek brand in the minds of newer fans. Perhaps, to them, Star Trek means something very different (and apparently much less meaningful) than it does to the likes of us — rather like Metallica means something very different to their newer fans than it does to their old fans.
The merchandising sales kind of say it all, though. TOS and TNG are still, far and away, the best sellers, notwithstanding all of the Trek content that’s been released hence. Because the image of Kirk means something. The images of Spock and Picard mean something, because those characters and the stories about them communicate facets of the human condition in ways that have broad appeal.
Complain away. What disappoints me, personally, is when some folks can’t state their opinions without also stating that all fans (or most fans, or real fans, or Gene Roddenberry) would agree with them.
I don’t think you do that.
Agree. People need to adult up and just say “yeah, we took Trek and made it what we want” rather than twisting into pretzels trying to say it’s exactly where it should be because “Roddenberry.”
If my favorite restaurant went from serving pizza to only burgers but kept calling it pizza it’d be the same as what’s going on now.
Enjoy your “pizza.”
I just fuckin love this guy
“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.”
Wow, Berman really was a hardass!
Most of the comments I have read here are kind of dumb.Look Roddenberry is dead and gone.I’m sure the producers of these new shows are fully aware of the Roddenberry vision. I can image if the internet existed in the 60’s TOS would have been bashed and picked apart just like today’s shows. Trek fans seem to think because Roddenberry had this positive view of the future, the new shows have to embellish the same values.Remember TOS reflected the times back then UNDER THE COVER of SCI-FI to tell the stories and get away with it.The Twilight zone did the same thing. That’s what these new shows are doing today.That’s what story telling is all about.It may not meet your Star Trek standards or approved under the Roddenberry vision,but Next gen, DS9 and Voyager broke from those standards.They have to. You can’t really think staying within the bounds of the Roddenberry vision is going to produce better Star Trek? It will produce boring Star Trek for sure. Staying in the past never produces good results. Times change , people change and if you can’t embrace change then move over and let change happen.”Nature abhors a vacuum”…..Spock
Thank you. Why Trekkies always want to live in the past is beyond me.I’m sure they all have the latest smart phones,they aren’t communicating through smoke signals or pony express or dial phones attached to the wall. I’m sure they use washers and dryers to do their laundry,they don’t drag it down to the river and pound it on a rock. So why does Star Trek have to be stuck in the mid 60s? It makes no sense.
Will the riker sit continue hahahah.
Riker should really be a fleet Captain (which they kinda implied in the last episode) or an Admiral at this point.
I think the Picard series is probably going to use Riker as Picard’s Starfleet backchannel.
Like a runnning gag !
Every Season for one time we see “Acting Captain Will Riker” and the USS ??? ( every time with another ship )
Ok, cancel that ! ;-)
You can tell Frakes is living the dream again and loves it!!!
It must be crazy for him to have finished directing an episode of Discovery and then being asked to put on a uniform again to be Riker as Captain on a ship after that. Five years ago, I’m guessing like a lot of former Star Trek actors he probably assumed that part of his career was over for good and now he’s gotten an entire new leash on life with this franchise in both acting and directing!
I too hope he shows up as Captain again in season 2. I didn’t have a problem seeing him and Troi retired but it was damn good to see him on a bridge again. Hopefully we’ll see a few more old characters show up next season too, on a bridge or not! :)
Does he have more hair on the bridge? Is that part of the uniform? :)
Here’s a crazy thought. No more Picard. One season for each TNG character to wrap up their stories with some minor crossovers here and there.
Picard is dead. I don’t need to see what “Robo Picardo” is doing nor do I care.