Jonathan Frakes returned to Star Trek as the director of “Fly Me to the Moon” for Star Trek: Picard’s second season, which brought back some of his old Next Generation co-stars John de Lancie and Brent Spiner to join star Sir Patrick Stewart. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to him about that reunion, bringing some First Contact vibes to the show, what he has in mind for Strange New Worlds, if he will return as Riker, and more.
Episode 205 feels like a kind of grab bag of different genres like action, psychological thriller, heist movies, and horror movie. Which were your favorite to play with?
I was thrilled to play with the heist genre. It’s a little Ocean’s Eleven that we’re setting up at the nightclub. But I also think it’s a callback to our friend the Borg Queen and the way that she was introduced to us in First Contact and has the same kind of control. And when she takes over Jurati, it’s a full-on callback, both visually and psychologically to what happened on the Enterprise in First Contact.
You can steal from yourself, right?
I think you should. [laughs] If it worked the first time! I hadn’t seen the completed visual effect of the fingers entering the neck, which is a complete homage to that assimilation in the corridor on the Enterprise in First Contact. It’s been wild to have Brent [Spiner] back as Soong. And [John] de Lancie, who’s my favorite nemesis in the history of Star Trek, as Q. So all that and we’ve got the astoundingly talented Alison Pill. I’ve got my old buddy, the good Captain Picard [Sir Patrick Stewart]. And this new Raffi and Seven relationship—their rhythm together is spectacular, I think. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention how charming and sexy Santiago [Cabrera] is. The cast is great and I think the audience has warmed up to this show in a way this season that I didn’t know that any of us were expecting. But we’re thrilled by it.
I have talked to [showrunners] Terry [Matalas] and Akiva [Goldsman] about how this season was designed to have a different feel and tone. Did they talk to you about that approach to direct differently than in season one?
They didn’t talk to me about directing it differently, but they did talk to me about the tone and I was in complete lockstep with them. I thought that what they’re doing with this season and then casting the same actors in these parts–like Orla [Brady] and Isa [Briones] playing two parts—I thought was clever and intelligent. I think the idea of going back to Earth and telling this story about our condition is a really Star Trek appropriate cautionary tale that would have Roddenberry—despite his determination and loyalty to being an atheist—smiling down on us from somewhere. [laughs]
You know these guys so well and they are your personal friends. They know these characters so well. So, no offense, but what is there for you to do as you are directing Patrick and these guys?
Just to keep them on track. First of all, let me just say I think both Brent and de Lancie may be at the top of their acting game. There is a confidence level in their work. I really enjoy watching them work as actors, as I always have, but they seem even more confident now than they were 30 years ago. Brent is playing a new character. Even though it’s a Soong. It’s not Data, it’s certainly not Lore, it’s certainly not the old Soong. And I think he has found, with the help of Akiva and Terry and Cindy [Appel] and the writers, this more cynical, wizened, and bitter character and embrace it. And I love the beard. I love the physicality that he’s put into it. The suit helps him. He’s different. And because Brent is so facile as an actor, he is able to convince. You completely forget about Data when you’re watching this, I think.
Who made the choice for John’s psychiatrist character to have a little fun and play into the Freud accent?
Oh god! We decided to do that on the set. And Akiva and Terry questioned it. And I said, “Well if you don’t like it, you could revoice it.” But everybody seemed to embrace it. It was a little on the nose. It was sort of sitting there like low-hanging fruit so de Lancie and I decided to pick it. [laughs]
While you were calling back to your work in First Contact, there was something different this Borg Queen, she actually isn’t the same character…
Right, but she’s informed by the power of the Borg, having assimilated all of mankind they could get a hold of. There’s a certain competence that this Borg Queen has. And a hunger and power. She’s different, obviously, because the actors are different. But I thought what Annie [Wersching] brought to this Borg Queen was fascinating. I keep thinking about some of the choices she made, some of them with a smile, some nasty, mean-spirited shit, and some threatening things that the Borg Queen said which Annie delivered with this mischievous, confident smile.
I also thing we’d be missing the boat if we don’t mention and congratulate both James MacKinnon and Neville Page, as well as Jason Zimmerman and that whole team, who have created this 2022 version of the Borg queen which is still dangerous, but kind of beautiful, and sexy and weird. There is a seamless blend of the practical effects, the prosthetics, and visual effects. And Dave Blass’ production design for the Queen, tied and drawn and quartered. I just think that the character is really well served in this show. And then by the end of episode five, she has essentially assimilated herself into Jurati, which is kind of the reverse Borg vibe.
There definitely is something different going on here. It isn’t the usual First Contact-like assimilation. Can you talk about what exactly do you see as going on between these two? Is Jurati falling for it? Does she like it?
That is a really, really astute question. I feel like Alison has chosen to like it, or not to resist it as much—interesting drop of word… resistance. She obviously had no choice but she trusts. In the episode before five, she tells Picard, “Let me go in there And I gotta figure this shit out with the Borg.” She trusts that she has a big enough brain that she can not be assimilated. And then to see her with that wonderful callback to the First Contact assimilation and the corridor where the spikes come out of the Borg Queen’s hands and essentially, I guess, enter Jurati and incorporate and take the power. She has the power now over Jurati’s behavior, some of which Jurati is able to resist, but ultimately, we’ll see that it’s very complicated, what’s going on inside our friend Jurati at the moment.
You have been doing a lot of Star Trek directing lately, but these episodes are different with the contemporary setting and a lot of location, especially in the next episode which you also directed. Can you talk about what that like to get out of the studio more?
Anytime we do any of those of the Star Treks, personally, it’s great for me to get off the bridge for change. And to get out of the spacesuit and get into a different environment. It was great back in Next Gen to do the Dixon Hill stuff or go to the Minuet stuff. And then on Deep Space Nine, we went back in time. There’s something about taking the kids out of the camp that they’ve been in and sending them to another camp that affects the crew. It affects the actors. And I believe it affects the audience. So I think that going to LA and shooting Seven driving a cop car is visually a blast for everybody. And it is different enough from what we’re used to seeing our characters do that everyone benefits on all sides of the camera, behind in front of, and in the audience. I think if we don’t take too long at the fair, I think it’s good for a show to mix it up.
Is it right that in the last year you have directed for all three live-action Trek shows?
I haven’t started on Strange New Worlds yet. My slot from season one disappeared because of my schedule on Picard, and the COVID of it all. So I got to do Discovery last year. I’m actually next week going up to Toronto to do an episode for season two of Strange New Worlds.
So with Strange New Worlds already on your mind, how do you approach directing Picard differently than that and Discovery?
You approach it the same. which is to make sure you have a plan and that you are serving the script. What changes is the dynamic of the set. Who’s set is it? One of the things I found as a director that really helps… I’m going to Strange New Worlds and I know one of the cinematographers. I know a few of the designers. I have the privilege of having spent so much time with Anson [Mount] when he was Pike on Discovery. And I am really proud to be part of Ethan [Peck]’s development of Spock. And I’ve done three series with Rebecca [Romijn]. So those relationships are in place. So that’s really what helps me is to have some places that I can plant and build from. It’s hard to go in as a guest on these shows and not know somebody or something about it. And not all Star Trek’s are created equally. Each of them has a director’s guide, if you will, a kind of stylebook and what they aspire to do. I’m told Strange New Worlds is a much more episodic and one story at a time, which I’m really looking forward to. Because both Discovery and Picard are linear. In that regard, it can be standalone and we can go with a style for a show, which is something I know they embrace on Strange New Worlds. So I’m looking forward to that.
Alex Kurtzman is cooking up more Star Trek. Would you be interested in coming on for a role like Olatunde Osunsanmi for Discovery, and being an executive producer/director for a series? Or would that cramp your style to play the field?
You ask a very interesting, prescient, accurate question. And you have answered it for me as well. It’s better for me, first of all, to be able to stay home instead of working for nine months of the year in Toronto. I think I’m better off, bouncing around and bringing whatever I can bring. Because I know what a grind the producing/directing job is. If I had it in LA, I would jump on it. But to go to move away from my wife and her job and life here, because she’s got a career here, is too long. One month is long enough. So I’ve managed finally to put family first. [laughs]
Any chance you are going to step back from behind the camera and put on the spacesuit as Riker again?
I think the Pizza Riker and the Riker that saved the day in season one was plenty of Riker.
There’s never enough Riker, I’m sorry. And isn’t there some more Lower Decks?
Yeah, Riker lives on in Lower Decks with Boimler. I love Riker and Lower Decks.
Yeah, I see him as almost a Riker from an alternate jazz universe.
Yeah! Exactly right. [laughs]
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