Interview: Jonathan Frakes On Directing Notaro, del Barrio, Ajala & A Cat In ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3

Coming off his recent GalaxyCon event, Star Trek: The Next Generation star and current Star Trek TV shows director Jonathan Frakes talked with TrekMovie about a wide range of topics. We began by discussing his work directing on the third season of Star Trek: Discovery, which premieres on October 15. We will post more of the interview as the week goes on.

So, let’s talk first about the next thing coming, which is Star Trek: Discovery season three. As I understand, you did three episodes.

Yes, I did. I actually just rewatched 303 a couple of days ago. Season three is really wonderful on Discovery, by the way. So the first episode is Michael Burnham alone in Iceland [for location shoot], which is a foreign land. And she meets “Book” [David Ajala]. The second episode is the entire crew on Discovery. And the third episode, which is the one I was fortunate enough to get, is their reunion. And it is very heavy on the emo.

On the emotion? So, lots of hugging?

Emotion, yes. There is a lot of hugging.

Which means a lot of coverage for the camera. Right?

Yeah… but it worked. Between the hugging and the music, it’s wonderful. I love Discovery! Those guys remind me of the Next Gen cast.

Anthony Rapp as Stamets; Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou; Mary Wiseman as Tilly; Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery season 3

Can you talk through how you approach shooting Discovery?

The style of the show is… Tunde [Osunsanmi], Alex [Kurtzman], myself, Doug [Aarniokoski], and all the directors are encouraged to ‘shoot to thrill.’ You are never discouraged to try something and it’s a wonderfully competitive shooting atmosphere. Tunde and I particularly love to create long oners—fabulous, intricate, complicated. And he’s a masterful shooter. Then you still have to get coverage because when you get in the editing room, producers and others are going to want close-ups on things that they feel they need, which is always the case with television. And they spare no expense. If you have a legitimate plan, they will get you the toys that it takes to carry that plan out. It’s a very filmmaker-friendly television show. It’s great to work on.

Did this style at all change in season three, with the new setting? I joked with Tunde before the season started about how he maybe goes a little too crazy with the spinning camera and the Dutch angles. So are you guys ramping all that up or down in season three?

It’s still there. But it’s been toned down. (laughs)

In season two, Alex came in and directed the first episode and kind of reestablished a look and a new style. In fact, he literally changed to an anamorphic format. So you had to study that episode to do your season two episodes, right?

Exactly. I was actually prepping [Episode 202 “New Eden”] while Alex was shooting. So I visited him and saw it on the set and saw what was happening, how the boss wanted to do a new show. And it was beautiful! It made the bridge of the Discovery set even more powerful, because it was built for an anamorphic lens.

Jonathan Frakes on set

So this time you shot the third episode of season three. Was there a need to study how the first two were shot to fit with a new style?

Tunde shot the first two in Iceland with Glen Keenan as his DP. Originally, I was going to do episode two and we were going to split it. But because it was Iceland in both, they took one and two and then I came in and did three.

And did those first two episodes inform how you were shooting episode three?

No. What Tunde was doing with episode one was a brand new world. It’s a two-character movie with Sonequa and David, and nothing on the ship. And then episode two was on the ship with the characters we know. But, it was more tonally different than it was cinematically different.

Season three introduces us to some new characters and new actors. The biggest one would be Book; can you talk about what it’s like working with David?

David fell into it so easily and he’s very user-friendly and there’s great chemistry between he and Sonequa. He’s got a wonderful on-set demeanor. He’s funny. He’s physical. He’s prepared. He’s gorgeous. He’s powerful. He works hard, he’s got a great heart. He’s a movie star, even with that damn cat on his ship, which is our least favorite new actor.

I think that the stars that they’ve cast as season-long guest stars, they’ve just batted 1000. With Jason [Isaacs in season one] and Anson [Mount in season two]. And now David. It’s really impressive.

David Ajala as Book and Grudge the cat in season three of Star Trek: Discovery

And what about Blu [del Barrio as Adira] and Ian [Alexander as Gray]?

I’ve not worked with Ian, but I did with Blu. If you talk to Anthony Rapp (Stamets), he and I experienced their first scenes together and we shared a number of eyebrow-raising looks. Anthony was shadowing me as a director and obviously, he was also in the scenes with Blu. There is a calmness, that they have for not having ever been on a television soundstage before, that really surprised us.

Blu is so well cast that as the character reveals themself, I think they’ll be a new favorite. Much like Tilly—do you remember how offbeat and non-Star Trek Tilly felt in the beginning? Blu brings a different dynamic and a different color totally, but a brand new color to the palette of the group. Much in the way Tig [Notaro] did. Tig brings an entirely different tone, color, rhythm, music to her character. Jett Reno is completely different from anyone else on the show. And Blu does the same.

I hear Tig was ribbing you pretending she didn’t know who you were… what’s it like directing her? Especially because she openly says she hates the technobabble. Is it a challenge or is it easy directing her?

Both. [laughs] Fortunately, Tig doesn’t pretend to want to do any kind of method acting or traditional style of acting. But what Tig has and what Alex had the clarity to realize, I guess they are personal friends, I’m not sure. But the addition of Tig to the show created another shade in the palette of that fantastic Discovery crew. A day with Tig is unlike a day with anyone else. [laughs]

I believe they have known each other for years and Reno was a character specifically written for Tig. It’s a little like how Guinan was written for Whoopi [Goldberg]. So they created a character around the actor they knew they wanted.

Yeah, I forgot that—I was told the same thing. And they wrote to her so that the lines would feel like they were part of Tig’s sort of comedy routine, essentially.

Tig Notaro as Jett Reno in “An Obol For Charon”

More to come with #FrakesWeek

The fun and lengthy interview also covered Star Trek: Picard, Short Treks, Strange New Worlds, the state of the film franchise, and even some of his least favorite episodes of The Next Generation. So stay tuned all week as we share our conversation with the “Number One” Star Trek legend.

Check out: Interview: Jonathan Frakes Talks Directing ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 2; Wants More Riker-Troi Family


Keep up with Star Trek: Discovery news and analysis at TrekMovie.com.

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I think that the stars that they’ve cast as season-long guest stars, they’ve just batted 1000. With Jason [Isaacs in season one] and Anson [Mount in season two]. And now David. It’s really impressive.”

So Book isn’t sticking around for season 4 then?

This isn’t the first “hint” , but I’m not sure how to read it.

Michelle Paradise spoke of Book (the character) in the past tense at certain points during the Discovery panel on Star Trek Day.

Which seemed really weird to me, pitching how Burnham is joyous and then say that Book WAS her first true match.

Either they are intentionally avoiding giving away a hint that David Adjala will be staying on as Book for season four, or they’ve unintentionally told us that the relationship will be ending.

Is season 4 in production yet or no?

I’ve seen some reports suggesting it is but I don’t know how reliable they are. Being local to the production TG47 might be the best person to ask.

I’m not sure how to read it either which is why I included a question mark. I’m not convinced that Discovery will remain in the new time period for season 4 but that wouldn’t preclude him from remaining in the show. That being said the innocuous nature of Frakes’ s comment did make it seem like a slip. I suppose there’s another angle to consider as well and I’m almost hesitant to say it because it will probably fuel a certain amount of negativity but there is a possible scenario in which Burnham gets her happy ending but Adjala only sticks around for one season and that’s if it’s the final season. Now most of the reports I’ve seen suggest it’s not and I hope it’s not but CBS do seem set on trying to expand All Access/Paramount+ into new territories and Netflix being the international distributor of their flagship show could complicate matters.

Ninja, TrekMovie likes to wait for information to be confirmed from multiple sources, which is the good journalistic practice that keeps many of coming here. So you won’t see rumours quoted here.

In any event there’s been a lot of verified Trek news recently and it’s hard for even keen fans to keep it straight.

Given how fans who don’t stream didn’t distinguish between the free broadcast of season 1 on CBS stations vs the season 3 upcoming streaming premiere, not to mention Netflix dragging its feet on a public announcement of season 3, one can hardly critique ViacomCBS for keeping a lid on news about Discovery season 4.

I’m hoping for a confirmation at New York Comic-Con.

Certainly, there have been indications for a long time on the guild sheets in Toronto that season 4 will start production sometime this fall. You’ll see that some other places have picked up on some sandwich boards on the streets directing crew and cast to entrances at the studio.

What that actually means isn’t clear. Folks could just be in for preproduction. Or, it could be that some Short Treks are being produced.

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

Funny, that bit of logic has never stopped Discovery’s haters.

If it was a goof that some character’s fate got mentioned, you’d figure somebody at the studio would have told trekmovie to X the reference before the story ran. With nearly everything I’ve ever written, I’ve submitted the final for review by the interviewee (and/or his/her minders) before it gets published or posted. It’s a professional courtesy, but more than that, it allows the interviewee to give additional info they didn’t think of originally. (And occasionally it keeps them from getting in trouble.)

The only real problem is when you’ve got multiple interviewees and they contradict each other, then continue to contradict each other after doing this backread. The late Joe Viskocil, the guy who blew up the White House in ID and the death star in SW, one time had a total opposite recollection from a producer about an event, and it had the whole editorial staff flummoxed, because both parties had been scrupulously honest on many previous stories. I think we wound up dropping the whole section, because we couldn’t figure out who to believe.

And then there are stories where you can only use the content of the quote without attributing it, which can lead to later charges of, ‘where’s your proof?’ On RED PLANET (it’s 20 years old, we can tell the story now I guess), Val Kilmer actually got a legal judgement keeping Tom Sizemore 90 feet (or some other impractical distance) away from him for the last part of filming (apparently Kilmer is very clever and sort of set Sizemore up to go off like that … this was a film with a first time director who was totally out of his depths, he had done beer commercials with Clydesdales and wasn’t used to star behavior. I got some of this info back then from VFX guys, and more just a couple years back, when I talked to a crew member who is now a successful cinematographer. He just couldn’t stop laughing when I mentioned it in passing, because he was there and saw how Kilmer set Sizemore up, and was very appreciative.)

So I had to write about how the filmmakers were forced to do split-screens of two main characters — without motion control! — on location, without explaining why. I wrote it six or seven times, and finally the whole section got tossed, because I had to be so euphemism heavy that nobody could understand what I was saying. I remember trying a line about scenic enhancement through combination of different takes to make it sound like the split-screens Lucas did in PHANTOM MENACE to combine best performances from different actors, but that didn’t read right this time either.

Ah, the email I was waiting for just came in. Sorry for (un)spooling.

That might be the case.

That’s how I read it. Time travel isn’t a one way trip in the Trek universe, so when they figure out how to flip the reverse switch on the suit, Book gets to stay behind to anchor the wormhole in the future….or some technobabble bulls**t like that.

Sounds plausible to me plus whether it was planned or not rebooting itself each year is now Discovery’s MO so it almost seems a given that we’ll have a brand new setting for each season.

That or he can just be killed off!

Again very plausible, they do like to put poor Michael through the wringer and what better way to do it than have her meet her soul mate only to have him kick the bucket.

How is this “joyful?”

Season 3 would be joyful, season 4 mournful!

The cat really held a Grudge….

A cat!

Star Trek wants a baby Yoda too…

No. That’s a very silly interpretation.

It’s called a joke for a reason.

If you have to explain the joke….it’s not a joke.

Exactly.

Star Trek had Spot long before Star Wars had Baby Yoda.

No love for Porthos?

Is there a reason some of you pile on Ninja?

The condescension isn’t particularly necessary or cool.

Agreed.

LOL — good one!

Wow, Frakes might be the only person to LOSE weight during the pandemic. He looks great!

Technically it was filmed before the pandemic…

I’ve managed to maintain….according to this app I put on my phone, I’ve run 111 miles in the last six months.

Wow!

Not the only one. I’ve not stayed in a single day (properly masked up etc.) and actually been more busy. A historic intervention is a prime opportunity for those seeking to extend their body of work!

Yeah, the additional (virtual) networking opportunities seem to be paying off here as well.

Last edited 29 days ago by Phil

Ha! I think you may be right!

I hope there was someone from the TNG days there early on who at least pointed out how much everyone hated working with Spot…

Ha ha ha. It is hard to train cats to be good actors. Ha ha ha.

I actually “interviewed” the cat actor that played Spot and their trainer in 1995. Fun fact: in the 90s, the cat actor that played Spot was the same cat as on the box of Friskies cat food :)

Cool, thanks for sharing. 😃

Last edited 29 days ago by TG47

Very much looking forward to Episode 3 of Star Terk Discovery Season 3 with all of the emotional hugging and emotional emo music. There has been buzz that Season 3 of Discovery is going to be the best season of Star Trek yet, after all these so many years. Sonequa Martin-Green and Jonathan Frakes are going to take Stra Trek to the next level where nobody has gone before on the final frontier of space AND time. Get ready to expect the bold unexpected.

Man I love Frakes so much, it’s just nice to see his presence back in the franchise again, both behind and now in front of the camera. And lol, #FrakesWeek! Sounds like its going to be a great week now!

The little bit of info about Discovery sounds great though. We all basically knew Burnham would be alone at the start of the season with Book. But I’m happy they won’t draw it out too much and everyone is together by episode 3.

And so excited about the new characters Gray and Adira. I think the new actors are going to bring a lot to the show.

Looking forward to the rest of the interview. Would love it if he can confirm if he’s coming back as Riker on Picard next season. We need Number one back!

Frakes is a reassuring authentic presence in these interviews. I never feel he’s just giving canned responses to questions. His directing reflects that as well.
I remember frakes saying in interviews how much he hates working out. I hope a healthy diet becomes the norm for him. Trek needs him around for a long time.

They need to give Frakes his own Trek series as showrunner.

He seems to be happy just directing. Looking at his IMDB page there aren’t any writing credits. He was an executive producer on Roswell 20 years ago. But it looks like he lets others come up with the stories.

Is it just me, or is Frakes looking trimmed down and very fit?

Last edited 29 days ago by Methusalah

I’m hoping this means a certain other Trek show’s going to ask him to don a spacesuit again sometime soon….

My first thought too, he’s looking great

he’s so awesome… that’s all

I can tell you are a big fan! ;)

With a name like Tom Riker how could you not think so? ; )

It’s interesting, my reaction to Tig Notaru’s character was that she was another in a long line of eccentric and brilliant Starfleet engineers. It’s like Scotty set the tone for that role and there’s been some version of it ever since.

“What’s the problem? The human body’s just another machine.”

Really looking forward to Season 3. I guess Burnham’s whoops of joy are because she discovers the rest of Disco’s crew alive and well. This sounds very cool.

As a cat lover, I hope Grudge is able to give a good performance, though like Number One I don’t expect to see him for more than 1 or 2 episodes.

Maybe they’re setting Burnham up to break hearts all over the galaxy like a certain Enterprise captain did in his day.

As to Mr Frakes looking trim, he does in the first picture, admirably so! In the second, not so much. But the pics could have been shot at different times … or his posture on the stool, a curse to sitters everywhere, made his stomach poke out. We can forgive him.

Last edited 29 days ago by Marja

The picture of Frakes on the stool is from shooting of season 2, so it’s probably almost 2 years old. The other picture was also uploaded to Trekmovie in April of 2019 so it’s safe to assume it’s from season 2 as well. None of these are current.

“Jonathan Frakes on set directing the second season episode “The Red Angel””

I believe it was Hanelle Culpepper who directed The Red Angel, Frakes did the previous one – Project Daedalus. Or was it some kind of collaboration I don’t know of?

He was supposed to do the Red Angel, but when the schedule slipped he moved up to do Project Daedulus. Perhaps there was some overlap…

Oh, that’s understandable.

“Anthony was shadowing me as a director and obviously, he was also in the scenes with Blu.”

Am I understanding this correctly? Anthony is doing the classic trek actor thing and going to direct an episode? :D

I noticed that too. Looks like Rapp might be preparing to direct an episode.

This is an excellent tradition.

Agree, that would be marvelous! Anthony is such a great guy with good taste in sci-fi.

Yup. Hopefully Season 4 will be a musical and Anthony Rapp can direct and sing!

Mr. Frakes living the Dream! Good for him!
He always has come across in interviews as a really nice, decent person.

He is. I had the pleasure of meeting him once, of all places, in the drive-thru at the Bangor, Maine Burger King (I was the pleeb taking cash) just next to an airport not far from his Belfast home. I was floored it was him and actually asked him, “You’re not….?”, to which he put on that shit-eating Riker grin and said, “I sure am.” I promised him I wouldn’t make a big deal if I could shake his hand. He obliged and his wife laughed. I still regret not having him sign a napkin or a bag for me (and might have kept my DVD copy of “First Contact” with me at work for a month or so afterwards in case he returned). But I have that story, and that’ll last me ’til the day I die. Same weekend, I waited on local celeb Stephen King. It was a red-letter weekend for me!!!

That’s a lovely story A.S!

Just to point out – Tig Naturo likely didn’t know who Jon Frakes was!

I had seen her show from a few years back; the premise was simply that Tig doesn’t watch TV or movies, and so big stars would come onto her show and she had to guess who they were, what they did, etc. She literally has no idea! lol!!!