Interview: Jonathan Frakes On Riker Getting A New Kind Of Adventure In ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 3

We are just hours away from the Thursday season 3 premiere of Star Trek: Picard. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to Star Trek: The Next Generation veteran Jonathan Frakes about doing double duty on Picard, appearing as Riker, and directing two episodes in season 3.

[Minor spoilers ahead]

In season one when you did “Nepenthe,” you said you were terrified to act in Star Trek again…

I was terrified because I had just finished directing two episodes with Patrick and I knew how his acting juices were flowing, and my television wife, Marina Sirtis had just closed in a play on the West End. So she was fully up and running. And I hadn’t acted with that much meat in five to ten years. So I was nervous, and it was all for naught because it ended up working out very well.

Now you appear in every episode of season 3, and many are saying it’s the best work you have done as Riker, myself included.

Thank you. I think it’s because I’m old. I have a little more confidence and I’m a little more relaxed. I think that’s part of it. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Terry Matalas, who wrote season 3, is a massive, massive Trekker. What he’s done for us as characters is immeasurable.

There is a new dynamic going on with Riker and Picard, described as a “Butch and Sundance” kind of vibe. But that is actually something new for their relationship, even though they were together for seven years and four movies.

It is new because Terry suggested that now that Patrick is no longer in Starfleet and he’s coming from the chateau. And he goes on an adventure. And he calls his buddy Riker to go on the adventure with him. Again, Terry set it up. And the two guys—Riker and Picard—they butt heads a little bit, which never happened on Next Gen.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker and Patrick Stewart as Picard

Regarding the drama and tension with Riker and the other characters and how they didn’t do that back on Next Generation, do you think they should have done it back on the show or in the movies?

That’s a very good question. Should they have done them in the movies? I think one of the reasons First Contact was a standout was because we examined some things about time travel and confusion about how to behave. You can’t look back and say what should have happened. [laughs]

You directed episodes three and four, the latter of which has a lot of action like the movies…

A lot of that is JZ [visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman]. The show’s not cheap. They put it up on the screen.

But did you approach directing differently as well?

No. Ever since J.J.[ Abrams]’s movies, we have all been encouraged by [executive producer] Alex Kurtzman to shoot and think cinematically, and filmic… as they say, “to shoot to thrill,” and that is our M.O.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker

The last time we talked, you mentioned you jokingly emailed J.J. after Matt Shakman dropped out of the Star Trek 4 project to let him know you were available. But are you seriously interested in getting back into the Star Trek movie directing biz? You also recently said you think TV is where it’s at for Trek.

I’m available for any and all. And I would be thrilled to work with J.J.

There has also been a lot of talk about you Next Gen guys continuing on, even Patrick has said it.

I know, right? He’s in! I guess he misses it. That’s it.

Do you miss it?  

Every day.

Embed from Getty Images

More Picard coverage

There are more interviews from the Hollywood premiere event coming, including series star Sir Patrick Stewart. Check out previously released Picard purple carpet interviews:

We will be posting our regular recap/reviews on a weekly basis, starting with the first episode on Thursday, February 16, and each week our All Access Star Trek podcast will discuss the latest episode, starting on Friday, February 17. Our Shuttle Pod podcast crew will also discuss the upcoming season. Until then, you can read our spoiler-free review of season 3, written by Mark. A. Altman.

The third and final season of Picard premieres on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and Latin America, and on February 17 Paramount+ in Europe and elsewhere, with new episodes of the 10-episode-long season available to stream weekly. It will also debut on Friday, Feb. 17 internationally on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.


Keep up with news about the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.

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Oh Jonathan Frakes… SUCH a great guy. He’s just so affable… he’s the dad or uncle we all wish that we had. More Frakes, please! MORE!

I could not agree more!!!

I have always loved and idolized Frakes and makes no apologies for it. I’m just happy to see him so involved with Trek again and clearly so does he. He’s getting a lot of praise for this season.

And if they decide to do a Picard season 4 if this season is a hit with fans, I’m definitely in!

I think Frakes is great, but I also suspect that he doesn’t always get it either.

He delivers what the EPs ask, and the actors are happy, but sometimes it would be good if he could challenge them back a little.

I can’t get past his having directed the Iceb abbatoir torture death scene.

Well we definitely agree about the Icheb scene but Frakes has defended that scene himself. I think we can all be honest and this was during the time Trek was still trying to be ‘edgy’. Can you imagine that scene on SNW? That show feels much too homely for something like that.

Fortunately I think all of that is out of their system now.

And I’m sure Frakes speak up if he doesn’t like something but he’s been doing this a long time, so he probably knows how much influence he has and can only go so far.

Loved that scene. Brutal, emotional, powerful, and something that has actual meaning for the story and characters involved. One of the best modern Trek moments!

Gratuitous. If you’re clever, you can get the same emotional reaction from dialogue and shots that don’t linger over scenes of gory torture p*rn.

You get the sense that if this team had produced Generations, we’d have actually seen Picard’s family burned to death.

A family he cared so much for not even mentioned in Picard season 2. He went back in time and didn’t even bother to try and prevent their deaths. So bizarre.

A little odd, because killing the family was Patrick Stewart’s idea, a sign of things to come.

Yeah, it’s good to get uncomfortable once in a while or Star Trek.

With R-rated violence? I don’t agree, and think that prevents a lot of families with young kids from watching Discovery, Picard and even Lower Decks. There is no rule on what the Trek universe can do, and Picard is going to have the oldest fanbase, but it just seems pointless to preempt so many kids from being able to get attached to these shows at their most impressionable ages and leaving them with a cartoon and maybe SNW when it doesn’t have Gorn babies ripping people up from the inside. Parents’ mileage varies, but I wouldn’t have shown Discovery or Picard’s first seasons to a kid under 12.

We’ve discussed strategies to get new people watching Trek, and keeping the shows family-oriented was one hell of a smart long game for franchise longevity as it’s paying off decades after the Berman shows ended.

After seeing the Icheb scene, one of our teens won’t watch any new live-action Trek until the season a season is completely done. If we can say there’s nothing like that, they’ll binge it then.

Why anyone thought anyone who had viewed Icheb as their Voyager point-of-view character as kids would be ok with that scene, I can’t fathom. What would have been the reaction if Chekhov had actually been tortured to death by Khan in TWOK?

Well exactly. I thought about what it would be like for a kid to go straight from Voyager to Picard to see more of Seven, and then they would be confronted by that scene, when they’d last scene Icheb as an innocent kid. It’s not his fate that I’m against, it has its purpose, it’s the gratuitous way it was portrayed. Pointless and lazy and it shot the show in the foot when it came to hooking younger fans.

Discovery did the same thing with gruesome deaths, gore and a graphic rape scene. Getting taken seriously by the prestige TV crowd comes at the expense of having a lot of kids grow up without fond memories of the show.

I don’t want a Season 4. I wouldn’t mind a continuation, but I don’t want it to be “Picard Season 4” if you catch my drift. Make it something new but with appearances from TNG and elsewhere.

Just not a show focused on Picard. Maybe it’s that anthology idea. A three of three-episode stories about a different ship and crew, different location, culminating in a big season-ending extravaganza that ties them together.

Something to open up the world a bit, while allowing returns from previous shows and other concurrent shows. Admiral Janeway teaming up with Colonel Kira and Lt. Commander Boimler? Sure. An all-new ship and crew, with a cameo by Admirals Riker and Picard? Yeah, that’s cool.

Could even do an episode set in the past about Admiral Archer.

Oh I like this idea

I understand and I’m assuming it would just be a continuation of season 3. I do not want a return of the first two seasons at all! And of course it will depend how much I actually like season 3. But it basically sounds like what’s next is just a question of will it be with or without Stewart at this point? I’m not suggesting all the rest will automatically come back (and maybe some might die) but most will probably show up here and there going forward regardless what happens after this show. No matter what, it seems to be made clear it will be a combination of old and new characters which everyone seems to want.

And yeah I would love an anthology show, which Akiva Goldsman has said something he would like to do as well. That would be a lot of fun to have people like Janeway, Archer or Kira show up on the show. Would be all for that too. I’m very easy lol.

That said, I doubt they would want to do that kind of show episode by episode and probably season focused because I imagine it would be expensive changing out completely new sets, uniforms, time periods, etc every episode. Goldsman mentioned doing something like Picard, an entire season of a legacy character(s) and mentioned Archer as an example.

I don’t mind a continuation, either.

My thoughts are much the same.

I’ve wished for limited 6 episode series with legacy characters, or made for streaming movies.

I suspect an anthology is financially viable though.

I’m particularly worried that Patrick Stewart, and perhaps Kurtzman, will see any success as reflected on the appeal of Picard as a character and Stewart himself. Frakes says that Stewart misses the work already.

I don’t think they understand still that it’s the ensemble that is the special element that attracts TNG fans.

I don’t want the next thing to be limited to a Picard-centred show, or even to have him as a principal character.

Even if Stewart gives up creative control.

I was myself more than ready for a Picard-focused character drama before the first season premiered but like so many others my goodwill was completely squandered.

I would like thought to see more of Crusher, Troi, Worf and Riker. I’d even welcome an occasional guest visit from Wesley the traveler.

(Spiner in whatever Soong form has also worn out my interest in the past two seasons. I welcomed the season one resolution with Data, and I wish Spiner would understand that it was the character Data we longed to see not Spiner the actor.)

Let the next, next generation carry on with the legacy characters recurring and having their moments in the sun.

I think we all agree about Spiner and all the Soongs lol. Funny I rewatched the TNG episode ‘Brothers’ yesterday and I don’t think anyone thought we would ever see a Soong again after that episode…um. But the new Lore intrigues me (a reason why I watched that episode) and he could be amazing to have. That said I think if any of the main characters die this season he would be the easiest to go but some reviews I read says he’s also one of the better parts of the season. So I’m excited to have him back and more why he’s back?

I really think it’s time to move on from Stewart if they do what you’re suggesting. Sure, include him as a cameo in a couple eps, but I’d like to see Riker, Seven and some of the new cast they’re introducing in the following series. Is it finally about time that Riker moved into Picard‘s role? I think so

Agree with everything you said here except substitute Seven for Janeway. Janeway already has her own new series, so that’s covered.

Stop that silly search for a director.
He should direct the next Star Trek Movie an not some guy from outside!

I like Frakes. He’s a solid director. Perfect for television. But why he gets put up on a pedestal as a filmmaker beyond me.

It’s because he’s a professional and people like to work with him.

For a more personal side of Jonathan Frakes, you might want to check out the “Inside Of You” podcast done by Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville). I usually watch it on YouTube, Frakes really seems to be a cool guy.

I watched that episode of “Inside of You” this morning. Rosenbaum is fantastic and he always brings out a great conversation with his guests. It was delightful watching and listening to Frakes.

Yeah that was outstanding!

I agree.

He always seems so genuinely humbled to still be a part of Trek. It’s heartening.

Agreed

I would like to see Frakes bring back Will’s twin transporter duplicate brother Tom Riker.

Yes so we can learn his fate after Defiant! Kira says “I’ll get you out of there Tom.” but he is never referenced again. If I had to guess, he was executed when the Dominion became allies of the Cardassians..especially since he was a Maquis.

In some Wiki it is explained where Tom Riker has disappeared. But i do not want to write it here. So it would be a bit of trouble to get him out of there, but not impossible. Perhaps they tortured him that his face changed a bit. So they could cast some “look alike” Tom Riker for future Episodes in front of the Camera, if Frakes do not want it

In the Relaunch novel verse, Tom Riker is revealed to have been taken up as a covert operative by Starfleet Intelligence.

In fact, there’s an entire novel where he and Beverly Crusher team up when she unexpectedly needed to go to a planet on her own mcguffin chase. It really worked well.

There’s scope for Frakes to come back in a story (made for streaming movie or limited series) where Tom Rike teams up with Raffi and Worf, and perhaps others.

Gene did extremely well in casting TNG. I haven’t been this excited since the DS9 finale.

He did a good job with both the Trek features he directed. Though i liked First Contact more. Insurrection was like a retread of a TNG episode,and truer to the spirit of the series but a worse film than First Contact in box office. He should be considered to direct the next feature if it isn’t a 200 million dollar affair. He could bring it in on time and budget, depending on if he has the same hunger and fire in his belly he had when he directed First Contact. I would say give him a shot. Beam up two takes Frakes. Make it so.

We’ll for me, Insurrection was one of the most boring Star Trek stories I’ve ever seen, and that love story was so painfully awkward and silly.

Insurrection, followed by nemesis, nearly killed the franchise. Two duds in a row

It’s not Frakes’ shining moment, but there’s only so much he could do about Insurrection considering the story and circumstances he got saddled with.

I got to interview him for about 25min today and have to say he is exactly as advertised. Takes the work very seriously and himself rather lightly. Our talk was more tech oriented than this interview, but we also got into stuff about his various approaches to making problem scenes work out on the day. He did offer that the crossover SNW / LD show he did is going to be an utter blast, but we all knew that right?

Congrats!

Yes, definitely congratulations kmart.

It will be great to have a more technical perspective.

Michael Rosenbaum’s podcast drew out some of the acting perspective, but I haven’t seen anyone draw out the kind of detail you would.

Great catch Kmart! Please please link it when it’s published. We want to support your work.

As far as the SNW/LD crossover, he said in another interview it’s in the miid-point of the season, so it’s probably episode 5 or 6. Outside of Picard S3, that’s what I’m most excited to watch next!

Well done, kmart — good to hear you got some work too. I hope you’re able to go TV shopping soon

I’m not big on webspeak, but have to give a LOL on that one. Me too!

The idea that Riker and Picard never disagreed on TNG is a misnomer. Unfortunately even Trekmvie staff are even perpetuating it. It didn’t happen often but it *did* happen. Riker questioned Picard’s tactics v s the Romulans in “Nuetral Zone” . And he disagreed with Picard in “Silicone Avatar ” I’m sure there’s others. And there was plenty of conflict among the senior staff/starfleet in episodes such as “The Quality of Life” “The
High Ground” and “The Arenal of Freedom”

It was very rare, tended to be very tame, or on an alternate reality, or consisted of Riker insisting an away mission was too risky for Picard to go on. It was infrequent enough for “never” to be pretty accurate, all things considered.

The conflict amongst the senior staff was also minimal. Crusher and Worf were obstinate a few times, and Geordi fought with a guest star of the week once. Half the reason Ensign Ro was popular was that she upended the status quo by arguing in a way that was more pointed than the usual, “Here’s my POV of how to deal with this crisis, feel free to disagree though! Didn’t take my suggestion? Okie!”

A lot of that goes back to Gene’s initial rules about no conflict within the crew

OMG. That episode was amazing. What a true love for Trek the new showrunner clearly has. I’m just stunned. No words.

Seriously. I got up early to watch the episode, and even gave myself permission for a second viewing before work. And I’ll have another one tonight after work.

Frankly. I am not sure I will stick around to find out. I was going in to Picard season 3 with low expectations. Episode 1 didn’t disappoint in that regard. I can only assume the same will happen with episode 2 and 3 and so forth. They can’t even get Riker’s ship class right. At least Lower Decks and even Cryptic got right. (Cryptic never gets things right) And the winner of “Design the Titan”? Picard might as well punch him or her in the face. Show some respect. Geesh.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Enjoy your technical manuals.