Jonathan Frakes was the first guest on a brand-new video podcast hosted by veteran Star Trek journalist Ian Spelling called To Boldly Ask…, the premise of which is that Spelling has to ask questions the guest has never been asked before. The discussion between Frakes and Spelling was full of tidbits new and old, covering topics from the very beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation to how he’d like to take his Star Trek work to the next level. Below are some highlights from the conversation, which include a lovely story about getting a call from DeForest Kelley, The Original Series‘ Dr. McCoy.
Early days on The Next Generation
During season of TNG, when no one knew whether or not the show was going to succeed, the on-set trailers for the actors to go back to between scenes were, as Denise Crosby told Spelling before this interview, “crappy.” Frakes described them as “the training wheels of trailers” and said they were pretty awful, so the group tried to liven things up.
We had a bunch of them lined up, and I think what we did was we jimmied them around so that the doors—so it would feel like a courtyard, and the doors would face in. And then somebody stole AstroTurf from the prop shop or something like that, and then somebody found some flamingos that we could stick that would stand up on the AstroTurf and we’d take our folding chairs and put them out there and have it like we were on a patio. It was a very funny time, and we made the best of what was really not that bad of a situation, frankly.
“I wore some embarrassing things”
Spelling showed Frakes a meme from the TNG episode “Angel One” showing Frakes in his “boy toy” outfit with Marina Sirtis as Troi and Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar grinning at him.
This is a costume designed by Bill Theiss, who was the costume designer from the original show who was with us on season 1 … They dress Riker as an object of quote unquote desire. The best part of the photo besides my left nipple is Marina’s face. Both of them. “Frakes, what in God’s name are you wearing?” is what I see coming out of their heads.
He was astonished to hear the outfit sold for $1800 at a Christie’s auction in 2006 and joked to Spelling, “Who bought it? You?”
“We can’t be too woke, can we?”
As a director on Star Trek: Discovery, Frakes was one of the first to work with non-binary actor Blu del Barrio (Adira), and said he was astounded by their “talent and disarming confidence” on set. He said he did have an adjustment to make when it came to using correct pronouns—especially as Blu changed from being “she” to “they” during filming to reflect their real-life journey—and felt it was extremely important for him to lead by example. He said he screwed up, he got better at it, and that it was “great that it’s part of our brave, strange new world… not so strange.”
He brought up the familiar-to-some story of how he felt that Soren in TNG’s “The Outcast” should have been played by a male actor, saying that “the network or someone didn’t have the guts” to cast a man, likely in fear that Riker would have been seen as gay. He said he always saw that as a missed opportunity.
As for Star Trek being woke, he told Spelling:
People perceive that Star Trek is too woke because it’s dealing with what’s really going on in the world in a very timely and conscious and appropriate way, it seems absurd.
He got a call from DeForest Kelley after First Contact came out
The very first movie Frakes ever directed was Star Trek: First Contact, and he wasn’t sure how things were going to go:
After First Contact was finished, and released, I went to a friend’s house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Genie and I sort of hung out and hid, because I didn’t know what this was going to be like. I’d never directed a movie, I’d never had a big studio … it was a really big deal and I was nervous.
But De had tracked down Berman, who had tracked down me at Great Barrington—I think this might have been pre-cell phone, even—so I got a call from DeForest Kelley to congratulate me on the success of this move. And that stuck with me forever.
And what were DeForest Kelley and Rick Berman doing together? Kelley used to live down the street from Berman, and had met Frakes a few times at gatherings at Berman’s house.
What might be next?
When asked what he’d like to do within the Star Trek franchise that he hasn’t done yet—as someone who has acted and directed on multiple Trek series—Frakes expressed his enthusiasm for all the work that’s being done on the new shows, and said, “I would like to be involved in the birth of one of these shows, that’s a very attractive job.” He elaborated:
It’s a writers’ medium. And in the last five or ten years, there’s always a writer with you on the set. So when you get along with that writer, you can collaborate with that writer, and the actors, who always have questions about a scene or about the story or about an arc, the writer can take that, he or she can help you, or they can bail you out, or they can explain what’s going—what they know from the writers’ room what’s coming down the line, which helps actors understand why they’re doing this now. So I’d be thrilled in being part of the birth of one of these series, that would be a thrill.
Frakes has worked consistently over the past five years as a director on all three current live-action Star Trek (Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds), however, he has yet to direct a pilot episode. Pilot directors can have a big impact on a series, setting a style and tone, and even being involved with production design and casting. And we know there are more shows in active development, so maybe he will get his wish.
A trailer, plus more to check out on To Boldly Ask…
Check out the rest of Jonathan Frakes’ interview at The Companion; there’s a subscription fee of $6.99/month that gives you access to all of their content, and you can start with a free trial. The company’s press release says “Next up is a guest from The Original Series…Oh My,” so interpret that as you will and you’ll know who their next guest is.
In the meantime, check out the trailer for episode one.
Keep up with all the news and analysis of the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.