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

TrekMovie had a lengthy and exclusive chat with Star Trek acting and directing legend Jonathan Frakes. Yesterday we shared what he had to say about directing on Star Trek: Discovery season 3. Today we have Frakes’ thoughts about his work (as both actor and director) on Star Trek: Picard, which includes some talk of season 2.

Pivoting to Picard season two, you have been tapped to direct? 

Yes, but everybody’s afraid to give people a start date because of COVID.

Didn’t the unions just work out a deal?

That was a couple of days ago. I read every tiny little detail of that… Picard’s not starting, allegedly, until January. Patrick [Stewart] is eager to get back to work.

Yeah, although I imagine he wants all those testing protocols, isolation, and all that jazz for shooting in LA.

He does, but he’s also dying to get back at it. He’s not a fragile man. He’s 80, but he’s fit and he’s healthy and he’s hardworking and he’s got energy and is used to working.

So in the first season of Picard, you obviously returned to the role of Riker.

Oh, yeah! Now that was peculiar how that happened.

In what way? They always said they would have some people back, so wouldn’t you be near the top of that list?

No. When the season was broken, we were sworn to secrecy that they were going to bring Data back, which I thought was great.  And maybe more surprising for the fans and better for the show, was bringing Jeri [Ryan as Seven] back, who’s never been better. And Jonathan [del Arco as Hugh] too. There was no plan for anybody else. It was clear from the beginning of the season, it was clear from  Patrick’s negotiation with them that he did not want this to be a reboot of Next Gen.

So I was directing episodes four and five. The nightclub episode and the one with the nuns, a couple of great episodes. And Patrick was in fabulous form. And there was no mention of this “Nepenthe” story, which ended up being episode seven. Then somewhere late in the shooting of those two episodes, I guess there was a meeting about it, and then they called and said, “What do you think about doing this?” And I said, “What do you think I think?” [laughs] But it was not part of the plan. When they broke the season, there was no Rikers-in-the-cabin thing. It happened somewhere during a re-break. I don’t know, but I’m so grateful. And it was such a great episode and so well received.

Jonathan Frakes on set for Picard episode 105 “Stardust City Rag”

I think [showrunner Michael] Chabon said something about how they knew they had to give Picard a break and find him a refuge and they wondered where he could go and who would he trust? And that’s how they gravitated towards some of his old friends.

Yeah, that sounds like a very Chabon thing. He’s amazing.

And now they have Terry Matalas as showrunner.

Yeah, from 12 Monkeys.

But Chabon is still around right? I think he wrote some episodes.

I think he broke the whole second season.

But he’s not in the room as showrunner anymore, he has his new show [Kavalier and Klay], right?

From his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, that’s right. With his wife, Ayelet Waldman.

For “Nepenthe,” did you and Marina [Sirtis] do anything ahead of time? Maybe rehearse or talk about your characters to get back into it, or just jump in?

We just jumped in. We had to wait to shoot it, because Marina was starring in a play on the West End in London. So it was out of order in terms of the shooting schedule, based on her availability. I had a script early, because I was nervous about learning all the lines. And I knew, after having directed two episodes with Patrick, how his acting blood was flowing. And I rightfully expected that Marina, who was starring in a play and performing eight a week, would also be really up and running, she wouldn’t be rusty. I was rusty because I hadn’t acted in a decade. And I didn’t want to get shown up by my buddies.(laugh)

Chabon was great. He gave me the script and then we went through it. I had a couple of thoughts about how Riker might say things, and he was very receptive. There wasn’t much time to rehearse. But there’s a certain comfort in being on the floor with Marina and Patrick as characters that we did. I mean, we did 182 episodes and four movies together. So we’re pretty close.

Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis in Picard episode 107 “Nepenthe”

Did Chabon or you develop anything besides what we saw on screen about the Riker backstory for the last 20 years?

The story about this son was explained to me. And that’s what motivated our move to that Nepenthe planet. And I’m hoping—I don’t have any indication the hope is going to come true—but I’m hoping that there will be more Riker/Troi family.  Lulu [Wilson] was spectacular as our daughter.

So if we see Riker and Troi again, you are hoping we will see him behind a pizza oven, or on the bridge of a ship? 

I like the pizza oven, but I’m afraid we’ve already seen him on the bridge of the ship. So he’s gone back to work.

So you see that as it wasn’t just temporary? Riker is back in Starfleet?

I don’t know. Frakes would rather be at the pizza oven.

So, you don’t know if you’ll be returning as Riker?

Yes. I don’t know that… I don’t know what the plan is for season two.

Riker has done some cooking scenes. So do you know your way around a stove too?

It’s funny, In the COVID times, my wife and I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, and we’re just looking at this morning at what we’ve got.  I found a great recipe for ratatouille. I’m going to take some eggplant and some peppers and some zucchini and some yellow squash, and then throw it in with some of our homegrown tomatoes today. Ratatouille Louie.

Jonathan Frakes in Picard episode 110 “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”

More #FrakesWeek

On Monday we shared what Jonathan Frakes had to say about his work directing on Star Trek: Discovery season 3. In the coming days look for more updates from when our conversation turned to  Short TreksStrange New Worlds, the state of the film franchise, and even some of his least favorite episodes of The Next Generation.

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Jonathan Frakes is a warm ray of sunshine in the Star Trek universe!

Yeah he’s a nice man!

Riker and Troi and their daughter are so cute together. One of my favorite things about Picard season one.

“Nepenthe” is the best Picard episode by far.

I cook with my mom and my brother. One time I baked homemade pizza. Cooking is a fun experience.

I used to grow corn, carrots, and tomatoes at my old house. Now I moved somewhere else and there’s no garden here!

I wish I had a pizza oven :(

Yep Ninja , Nepenthe was quite stellar and the one before… something the box if I remember correctly, was just as good.

I love Frakes as much as the next man but I don’t think the Nightclub episode was great. Not at all. A shambles of an episode from top to bottom. A complete disaster. Eye balls being popped out, silly costumes, bad French accents, clunky acting and storytelling. Not Trek’s finest hour. The Nuns one was actually pretty good though. A nice mini space battle and a nifty intro of Seven of Nine amongst other things saved that episode.

Picard had a rough season 1. Hopefully season 2 is more coherent and grounded in reality.

Seven of Nine was more interesting than Picard! The French accent was obviously bad lol

Seven of Nine saved the show for me. She’s just that good.

Isn’t she though?

If Jeri Ryan was a singer, I could watch her “voice” for hours! :-)

Totally agree Dvorak.

I hope that Kurtzman has been attentive to the negative fan response on “Starlight City Rag”.

I know they have to spin and promote, but Frakes and Chabon have seemed remarkably resistant to any negative reactions in their interviews and posts.

As you said, it had some good moments, to which I’d add Raffi’s disastrous attempt at a reconciliation with her son which was very authentically done.

Overall though, episode 5 was a major turn-off for some viewers. I suspect they lost audience after it.

My spouse took a several week hiatus in viewing after viewing it even though I fast forwarded through the eyeball extraction, and one of our young teens has refused to watch the show again.

I do have to agree that this was a bad episode–and I’m someone who enjoyed PICARD, despite the disaster that was Narek and his sister.

“Authentically done” is the right way to describe the scene with Raffi and her son. When she was telling him she was clean…that was tough. Very, very well done.

Definitely my least favorite episode though. After watching it I gave my folks a heads up to skip the first few minutes of the episode when they watched it. They raised me on Trek and have been watching Picard because of their love of TNG, but too much stuff like that and my mom would quickly get turned off from it.

That would be more the writers’ fault, not Frakes. I would think he has to work with what he’s given.

I don’t know that I’ve ever totally disliked anything Frakes directed…

…except that episode. And I TOTALLY disliked that episode.

Not even the awful film Thunderbirds? It is one of the worst movies ever made. It makes Insurrection look like Citizen Kane.

One of the worst movies ever made? Not a chance. It’s not terribly good, but I’ve probably seen several hundred movies worse than that one.

Whenever I need a pick me up, I pull up the final episode of Picard and fast-forward to the moment when Riker shows up. It’s very cathartic.

Yes, I know it’s flawed (cut and paste starships, y’all) but when I saw it, my 12 year old self was crying with joy.

Flaws aside, having Riker back on the bridge was cool :)

“We no longer enslave our animals for food purposes.” Riker, TNG
And then they go kill a rabbit in “Nepenthe.”
Just another example of how Star Trek has lost its way as a beacon of hope and enlightenment in the future and become just another Sci Fi show. These examples have become relentless. When I show my sign a show about how to be a good person, I won’t be including Picard or Discovery.

I guess you expect everyone to be Vegans or Vegetarians in the 23rd century? At least it was a free range kill and not a farm raised rabbit.

That’s fairly insulting to those of us that don’t support the meat industry complex but hunt for our own food Gary.

Yep. Those bunnicorns weren’t “enslaved.”Hunting ≠ eating meat from factory farms.

We’ve seen a diversity of views and debates about animals as food across the Star Trek series.

If your opinion is so rigid, I’m not sure that any series would meet your standard of “how to be a good person” .

TNG also showed Riker eating Gagkh when exchange on a Klingon ship as well as experimenting with cooking a scrambled eggs with a real egg he’d picked up.

Keiko and Miles were shown debating the issues of eating real meat early in their marriage. (Miles said his mother didn’t hold with replicated meat.)

We don’t know anything about the ecological balance of Nepenthe, and how the bunnicorns fit in. For all we know they were an invasive introduced species.

TG47, I think he is referring to a line very early in TNG season 1 that pretty definitely stated that “humans don’t kill animals to eat anymore”. That in itself does not mean veganism automatically (and I do not advocate for it) but most likely universally lab grown meat in the likes of synthehol (where it’s not replicated anyway). Its clearly one of these “unrelatable” (for the 80s) ideas of late Gene that got “decanonized” when he lost the rudder but I always liked this and other ideas in TNG’s early seasons that really made the viewer feel 400 years into the future is not just about technology but will also mean changing cultural norms. As I mentioned before, later Treks and scifi in general prioritized relatability over going wild on that part for fear of looking dated and silly later (which happens anyway because nothing makes you dated like being steeped in contemporary fads and fashions), and that is most unfortunate.

When I show my sign a show about how to be a good person, I won’t be including Picard or Discovery.

HAHAHAHA! Come on, man. That’s the kind of silly, over-the-top, manufactured melodrama one expects to see on reality TV shows. You’re better than that.

Hmmmm…. all due respect, GarySeven, but I’m gonna call bollocks on all that “when I show my <son> a show about how to be a good person, I won’t be including Picard or Discovery” jazz. Why? Because I’d be proud for my kids to learn from “Picard” that you take in your friends when they’re at their wit’s end and need a helping hand (and a slice of bunnicorn pizza). I also hope that my kids would learn from “Picard” that you fight for what you know is right, even if the current administration tells you you’re wrong. I would want my kids to learn from “Discovery” that the universe is a diverse place where people of all colors, beliefs, sexual orientations, and backgrounds can work together for a common goal. Finally, I would be proud to have my kids watch “Picard” and learn that ALL LIVES MATTER!!!

As much as I loved seeing Riker and Troi and their daughter was awesome, I’m happy to not see them again. They’re happy, making a life together, and I’m happy to close the door on them the way we did for Data.

As much as I want to see them again, I agree with Marcelo. I was filled with such absolute DREAD when Riker started throwing up defenses that something bad was going to happen to this happy little Nepenthean family. If we don’t see them again, I can assume they’re safe and sound and that Kestra grows up to be a real wildling.

Big Frakes Scoop Rattatouille!

My favorite episode. It is not only the characters, Picard with Riker and Troi, but the script was also the best from Season 1.

I really like Jonatan Frakes. Kind and very talented. Riker is cool, but Frakes is beyond cool. He improved the character, his directing skills are amazing, and almost all of his work, as a director, are a total success. First Contact is my favorite Star Trek movie.

Just thinking about the scene of the arrival of the Vulcans on Earth, makes me watch it again one more time. =)

This photo is all that is good about Star Trek. Sadly, it just wasn’t enough for me to keep my CBS All Access subscription.

Nepenthe was a fantastic episode. The he and Marina have never been better in their parts. It was so wonderful to see that time had passed, they were different, but the same. They took the Rikers, characters from the late 80’s/early to mid 90’s and and moved them into modern TV. If that’s the last we see of them, they have every reason to be proud of that. I HOPE we see lots more of them. But, my REAL hope is that Gates McFadden also gets a chance to do something great with Crusher. Also, bring on a great Geordi story. These characters were underserved in their original incarnations and this is a chance to really bring out something new and great. Can’t wait!

182? How does he figure? Season two was four short.

178 episodes plus 4 movies makes 182…

this site i so weird

I was hoping they’d be able to start shooting season 2 earlier, but totally understand waiting until all is safe to do that. Despite its bumps, I enjoyed Picard season 1 a lot.

Every interview with Frakes is a pleasure to read. Nepenthe was easily my favorite episode from S1, watched it twice. And I just remembered while reading this that Picard is now AI. Ugh. Anyway, looking forward to S2.