The Next Generation rebuilt Roddenberry's dream for the '80s and beyond. JONATHAN FRAKES tells Tara Bennett about his enterprising past and future
he’s not just Riker of course.
Jonathan Frakes has served the Star Trek franchise for 28 of its 50 years, playing Commander William T Riker on four different series and directing no less than 24 episodes as well as big-screen entries Star Trek: First Contact and Star
Trek: Insurrection. Despite his busy schedule as a TV director, Frakes tells SFX that the 24th century is never far from his life and heart.
You’ve been part of the Star Trek franchise for half its existence. Is that strange to process?
The longevity blows my mind. I was naive to how much of a cultural icon Star Trek was in the world. I wasn’t a Trekkie when I started on this project. I was blessed to join this family now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
What did your cast get right and maybe not quite land?
Riker and Picard had a relationship which was its own friendship that was father/son, big brother/little brother, cerebral and physical that took its time for the writers to find and for Patrick [Stewart] and I to embrace. What we missed – that Patrick and Brent [Spiner] and I fought and searched and tried to find a way to reinvent – was that incredible triangle that Bones, Kirk and Spock had. It was one of the greatest elements on classic Trek. We tried and never really reached it because our characters didn’t lend themselves to that as much. But in trying for it, we found moments that we probably would not have found if we weren’t as inspired by that other fabulous triangle.
Looking back now what’s your assessment of the Next Gen films?
I think each film was its own animal.
Generations we started a week after we finished the last episode of the series so it was just thrilling to be part of the movie franchise. First
Contact is arguably one of the best of the Star Trek movies ever made and that’s because the script from Brannon [Braga] and Ron [Moore] was brilliant. Insurrection was an entirely different animal. Then we got buried in
Nemesis. My theory is that was because it wasn’t about the heroes but about introducing the wonderful Tom Hardy character.
How do you feel about the Abrams era of films?
I’m a huge fan of JJ. I wish I had the budget he had, frankly. I think the cast is spectacular. Pine is perfect as Kirk but my personal favourite is Karl Urban in the role of Bones. I lobbied very hard when the director fell out [of Star Trek Beyond] but I think Justin Lin is going to do a great job. I’m looking forward to that. But it was painful to not have participation at all in Star Trek. I was on the set of both films so I visited their bridge but it was verboten for anyone from our Trek to work on them. I know some of my cast mates aren’t as thrilled about the way JJ has done things, but I’m a big fan.
Can you remember stepping on set for the first time?
I do and I remember thinking, “This looks bigger on TV.” [laughs]
Klingons or Vulcans? And why?
First of all, I served with the Klingons. I slept with their women. Now if you were to ask Klingons or Romulans, I might give you a different answer but I am very pro-Klingon. Worf is a friend.
Is there a prop or costume you would have loved to have taken home?
I took a couple of costumes and a couple of phasers, I won’t lie to you.
What is Star Trek’s greatest contribution to the world?
When I’m at the conventions I hear stories of people who say they were raised in an abusive family. They tell me “The only time my father and I were able to sit in a room together was watching TNG”. It’s heartbreaking. But vets have come back with legs missing saying they got through it because they watched season whatever over and over again and it took some of their pain away. It’s a great thing to receive. The conventions are a blast but when you hear people comfortable enough to tell revealing, honest, painful, raw stories about how the show has affected them, that is the takeaway.
All good things…