Interview: Jonathan Frakes On ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’; Hopes To Helm ‘Short Treks’ Musical

TrekMovie had a lengthy and exclusive chat with Star Trek acting and directing legend Jonathan Frakes. We have already shared what he had to say about directing on Star Trek: Discovery season 3 and working on Star Trek: Picard. Today’s interview includes the part of our conversation dealing with his potential work in other Trek projects, including Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Short Treks, and the Section 31 series.

So Alex [Kurtzman] likes to do experiments with Short Treks, which you have yet to be involved with.

I know. I feel like I’ve been left out. (laugh) I LOVED “Calypso” from three of my comrades: [writer] Michael Chabon, [director] Olotunde Osunsanmi, and [star] Aldis Hodge.

So let’s say he called you up and asked you to pitch any crazy idea. You could do anything you want. He’s talked about doing a black and white one, he’s talked about doing a musical…

Yeah. I was just about to say musical. I’m dying to do something in that world anyway, ever since Maurice Hurley, who was our showrunner briefly on Next Gen, took me to lunch and said, “What do you like?” I said, “I like jazz. and I like baseball and I play the trombone.” The next thing you know there I was in the holodeck with Minuet. I think that a musical, especially in a Short Treks, would be spectacular. I think it’d be wonderful. The dancing in “Calypso” was magical.

Now, are you thinking of this as both a director and as a Riker?

No. Well… maybe Riker’s in the band. [laughs]

There’s an interesting thing Kurtzman’s doing, I think he’s also using it Short Treks like a farm league, in a way… giving people—editors, writers, directors, and composers—their first shot. He’s trying to use it to cultivate young talent. 

Exactly! That’s his thing. I think Secret Hideout’s philosophy has been very, very positive.

Craft and Zora dance in Star Trek: Short Treks "Calpyso"

The dancing scene in Star Trek: Short Treks‘ “Calypso”

Have you been tapped yet for Strange New Worlds to direct?

I don’t have an assignment yet on Strange New Worlds yet.

Well, let’s assume the call comes. How is it not going to come? Right?

I take great pride in being part of… first of all, Anson [Mount]’s discovery of Pike, but particularly Ethan [Peck]’s journey to find and tsuris over Spock. He so felt the mantle. And he delivered this wonderful new, surprising pre-Spock version. A lot of it happened in a couple of episodes of Discovery I did and I have a real attachment to those two guys because…  At the beginning of season two when we went out to Ball’s Falls and shot that episode in the church [“New Eden”], It was Anson and we took Oyin [Oladejo] and Sonequa and we’re out in the country. It’s so rare to go on location on Star Trek.  It’s wonderful. Anyway, I have a very strong connection with those two. And also the Rebecca [Romijn] factor… She’s the new Number One! She was also the star of The Librarians and King & Maxwell on which we had worked together.

So they are talking about going old school with the show, episodic. But exactly how old school are they going to go? There is a style for Next Gen, which you did when you essentially replicated it on The Orville.

Yeah.

Or might they go even older school, like ’60s style?

That’s a good question. Akiva [Goldsman] is the man to ask.

Rebecca Romijn and Jonathan Frakes

Rebecca Romijn and Jonathan Frakes

Has anyone ever actually used the phrase “Section 31 show” in a serious “we’re gonna definitely do this” fashion with you?

Yes. I actually had Boey [Yeon Kim] and Erica [Lippoldt] with me on The Ready Room with Wil Wheaton because they wrote 303 of Discovery and they’re very optimistic. But obviously, it made sense to the network to do Pike’s show before Section 31.

Right.

But talk about international… Michelle Yeoh brings it!

For sure. So if you get it you’re going to angle to do to shoot the pilot? They wrote a pilot last year. 

I did angle for it, but I think it’s going to be a woman… It’s primarily a woman’s story.

Jonathan Frakes and Olatunde Osunsanmi with Michelle Yeoh on the set of Star Trek: Discovery

Beyond Star Trek and The Astronauts, what is your 2021 looking like? Any other shows you would like to work on?

I was looking at that musical Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, I would kill to do shows like Fargo or Watchmen. I would love to get on Twilight Zone. And I think Ozark is a genius show.

How does that work, does your agent call to pitch you for these shows, or you wait for the call?

Hopefully the former. [laughs]

Riker playing the trombone in "Conundrum"

Riker playing the trombone in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Condundrum”

You just did another virtual convention with GalaxyCon, and I understand you may do another soon. Do you feel like even in the post COVID world, virtual cons are here to stay? And what do you miss most about the in-person convention experience?

I think they actually are here to say. When I was on the last [GalaxyCon] panel with [John] de Lancie, I said, “What I miss most is when the convention is over, and we have dinner together.” We’ve all known each other for 35 years. So if we get sent to Omaha together, we get a table and we catch up.

Maybe you guys should arrange a special zoom chat for yourselves afterward, like the one you had for Marna’s birthday.

It’s not the same thing. There’s something missing in the convention … not having the one-on-ones with the fans because there are moments at your little booth or table where people bare their souls and remind us why Star Trek has this unique power and longevity and importance to people. And without being too Pollyanna, those are a very, very, important part of the convention experience, I think, for both the fan and for us. That doesn’t quite translate through the Zoom version. You don’t feel the energy as you look them in the eye, but you do when you’re in there, you know when you’re six feet away from them.

And there are also some advantages to virtual cons for you and the fans as well.

Oh, clearly, you don’t have to get on a plane for one. It is easier to do them from your home.

Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby, and John de Lancie in a GalaxyCon virtual panel

More #FrakesWeek

There is still more to come from Jonathan Frakes. In the coming days look for more updates from when our conversation turned to  Star Trek: Lower Decks, the state of the film franchise, and even some of his least favorite episodes of The Next Generation.

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How about a musical Section 31 / Thunderbirds crossover?

👀. That’s flattened me, tribbles.

Would there be marionettes?

…of course! Think of the marketing opportunities!

Last edited 23 days ago by Quarks pre-owned tribbles

I’d like to see him direct some Fargo. Great show. Watchmen S1 was pretty good, too.

Watchmen is so good. It deserves another season.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best thing that has ever happened to Star Trek since the five year mission.

Except it hasn’t happened yet…..

The only way a Star Trek musical will work is if it involves Klingon opera, and ONLY Klingons.

Do we know that Andorians don’t sing? Or Tellarites?

For all we know, musical theater may be a deep tradition in Tellarite culture.

And one can only imagine how Andorians’ antennae could enhance the expression and interpretation in dance numbers.

Last edited 27 days ago by TG47

Given what we know about Andorian culture, their operas must be very Wagnerian though ;)

Last edited 27 days ago by Vulcan Soul

Hey, how do we know that guy who booked the gig on Enterprise-D for the diplomatic reception, who was beating sticks together, wasn’t the 24th century equivlent of Elvis?

Wouldn’t or shouldn’t Klingons prefer Death Metal?

it’s great seeing someone who loves trek… he’s the best… does it drive the trek haters crazy someone like him…trek royalty… loves the new treks so much and is so involved?

absolute candor and stardust city rag were two exceptional eps of picard… stardust is def one of the best treks period.

would love to see kurtzman bring on other veterans like ron moore or ira behr especially with the section 31 stuff…

Loved Absolute Candor, my third favorite episode of season one after Nepenthe and Remembrance. Stardust City….eh, I liked the stuff with Seven though.

It’s a wonderful read. As always, TrekMovie delivers terrific interviews. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I do want to suggest that you folks work a bit harder on your proofreading process. The typos and misspellings are pretty much the only things on this site that come across as less than professional.

Reading this interview with Frakes vs reading the new interview with Quinto over more Kelvin movies, its very obvious which side of Trek has the priority and probably will for years. And as much as I would like to see another Trek movie, I’m completely fine if we don’t get another one for a few years, as long as the TV side keeps growing and clearly it is. Remember there is still ANOTHER show out there that hasn’t even been announced yet. Maybe it won’t happen or seriously delayed due to the Covid mess but even without it, this is most produced Trek we’ve ever gotten in one sitting in its entire history and its all from the TV side.

But its just great to hear Frakes is so involved with all these projects. He seems confident Section 31 will still happen and maybe it will. I think he’s right (and what many of us were saying should happen) and that SNW just became the bigger priority once fans made it clear that was what they wanted to see. I say this again and again, people may not like Kurtzman or these shows but he IS listening to the fans. Its why Picard and SNW are now a thing and Discovery being thrown out of the 23rd century. In fact one of the biggest complaints from fans was how sick they were of prequels and now we got three shows straight of post-Nemesis stories. Why I’m still very optimistic despite not loving all of it either. This era of Star Trek is still very very young, so there is still time to make these shows great (for the people who don’t think they are).

As for Frakes I would love to see him do a Short Trek and I really hope to see him come back as Riker on Picard or even LDS.

Last edited 27 days ago by Tiger2

Tiger, I think VERY FEW people, even those open-minded about this not being a TNG rehash or sequel but that “intimate psychological portrait of Picard in his emeritus years”, were asking for Picard to happen IN THIS FORM, as embodied on screen by that infamous travesty that was episode 5, so Kurtzman better KEEP listening ;)

Last edited 27 days ago by Vulcan Soul

Picard was definitely a disappointment, that’s very clear. It’s not to say people didn’t like first season, clearly many did. But it can’t be denied either there is a huge sense of disappointment among the base overall. You already know my thoughts on it, so I won’t make multiple paragraphs about it; but yes I do hope in season 2 it is vastly improved. And mostly that they keep their promise I felt they really didn’t in first season and that the show is still in the spirit of TNG, ie, more optimism and hopefulness. I think that above all else what disappointed many people such as yourself.

Last edited 27 days ago by Tiger2

I think it’s telling that the fan favorite of season 1 clearly is Nepenthe, which as it turns out was neither pre-planned nor fitting into the original mandate of not doing a reunion show. It goes directly against Chabon’s mantra of having to “probe” Trek in this deconstructivist way. Together with the extremely negative reception of Episode 5 (I saw about two fans here actively liking it), which is maybe the least Trek episode in history with its silly comedy book-ended by torture murders (and would’ve fit better on shows like Farscape with its cynicism and negativity of human depravedness), I think it’s fair to say Chabon’s mission here has failed and I’m glad he’s been down and replaced by a new showrunner. That in itself is not a guarantee for Picard finding back its way to the light (in more than one way) in season 2 (especially I’m very wary now of outsiders proclaiming how big Trek fans they are but clearly not getting the gist of it but instead trying to replace it with their favorite pet philosophy) , but it’s the only way.

Last edited 27 days ago by Vulcan Soul

I’m struggling to think of what “it” Yeoh “brings” other than martial arts ability and hammy acting. I mean, I enjoy both of those things in modest amounts, but I wouldn’t oversell them either.

“I’m struggling to think of what “it” Yeoh “brings” other than martial arts ability and hammy acting.”

Imagine how far Hitler would’ve gotten if he knew martial arts!

We’d all be eating kraut by now.

;)

She brings international visibility to a franchise that has historically performed poorly overseas.

My thoughts, as well. I’ve been saying since this show was announced that the market for Section 31 was never North America, but the international market. Particulary so Asia.

Funny, when they first started talking about a musical episode, I scoffed at it – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized – music has always been a big part of Star Trek starting way back in TOS with Spock and Uhura playing a duet back in Charlie X. DS9 and Voyager also had Vic and the Doctor singing in multiple episodes. Obviously Isa has a ton of singing talent in Picard, and with similarly trained singers like Anthony Rapp on Discovery, it now seems like the perfectly logical thing to do, haha. We shall see.
As for SNW, our numbers are climbing back here in Toronto/Mississauga (where SNW will be filmed) and the government has warned the the 2nd wave will be here soon – so let’s hope that a safe and effective vaccine is broadly available by early 2021 or sooner, so by next spring or sooner, production can be back on track, both up here with Discovery and SNW as well as Picard back in SoCal. LLAP everyone!

Spectacular interview with tons of good questions and less of the usual non-answers and self-patting but some actual revelations, such as the studio mandating Section 31 getting pushed back and SNW be made first. Another vote for studio interference, in good measure, to rein in toxic creativity that gives us stuff like Picard episode 5 or the outrageous fantasy that Space Hitler is a role model for women and Asians and has “international appeal” (lol). Of course we see that trend in many Western movies and other productions now, that representation trumps everything, even when the character is actually very negative, indecent and immoral, even criminal (see The Witch in Disney’s Mulan as the latest example) but somehow made look positive and uplifting anyway, and it’s unfortunate Trek has been infected by this as well.

Then there’s the little gem in there how we got the fantastic holodeck scenes in 10011100 (sic). Maurice Hurley, the father of the Borg, is a very underrated Trek showrunner and writer. Of course, in the current climate he’d never have worked on Trek or in Hollywood, but in the soup kitchen!

Last edited 27 days ago by Vulcan Soul

I hope Frakes gets to direct the premiere/pilot of Strange New Worlds. That would make sense to me. Especially if watched some of the best classic TOS episodes for research. This has become the golden age of Star Trek!

Last edited 27 days ago by Eric

Well….he did direct “Star Trek: First Contact. And a masterful job he did.

Yeah, he also directed Star Trek: Insurrection…..so lets not be hanging our hat on the notion he can’t churn out a sub-par effort.

I really think that Akiva Goldsman should and will want to set the tone for this series.

Making a Pike show was one of the key reasons he joined Discovery. He had a vision, he sold it and should lay the style down from the start.

While the 2 part finale to Picard S1 had a very different style than what Culpepper had established in the first 3 episodes, I do think that it gives a flavour of a directing style that would work for SNW. It needs to be a bit daring and trippy, but not in the kind of way that Frakes has brought it.

I really think that Akiva Goldsman should and will want to set the tone for this series.”

TG47, I’m sure you realize this sounds like a threat to many fans ;)

I for one will keep an open mind and hope that Akiva really has not found his perfect medium yet to channel his inner Dalí in writing. Grim-dark serialized Trek clearly is not it.

VS, I think if you rewatch the trippy Picard season finale 2-parter on its own, detached from the rest of the season, you’ll see what I mean.

Looking back at Discovery, I have a suspicion that Goldsman was a high status voice in the room that was pushing a different vision from the start. It likely contributed to the incoherence, but you’ve got to acknowledge that his determination to bring Pike, Spock and Number One to the screen was successful and well placed.

So, now he’s the showrunner of SNW. Let’s see what his vision will give us.

Last edited 27 days ago by TG47

How about no.

I don’t recall the episode nor the race, but an arc with the holographic doctor and those natives that loved his singing might work, if done properly. By now they could be operatic stars with training?!

I would love for Frakes to to an episode of The Mandalorian.