Little-known sci-fi fact: Helix star almost played Riker on Star Trek: TNG

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Jan 14, 2014, 2:40 PM EST (Updated)

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jonathan Frakes -- and his famous beard -- in the role of Cmdr. William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but did you know that the role almost went to current Helix star Billy Campbell?

Back in the 1980s, when the powers-that-be were looking to cast the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s Number One for a new Star Trek series, there were two actors down for the role: Frakes and Campbell. Campbell -- who’s got a bit of geek cred with roles in The Rocketeer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The 4400, Ghost Town, Meteor and Eureka -- revealed how close he’d been to nabbing the role in an interview with Star “Oh, I think I was pretty close,” the actor revealed. “I think it was down to Jonathan and myself. And the best man got the job.”

However, as a “consolation prize” and a bit of a “thank you,” the actor was offered the role of the roguish adventurer and womanizer Thadium Okona in the TNG season-two episode “The Outrageous Okona.”

“It was kind of that. It was kind of a consolation prize. I think Junie felt sorry for me… Junie Lowry, the casting director. So I’d phoned her up and said, “Junie, do you suppose there’s any chance I could do a spot on the show?” And she was all over it. So I got to be on the show anyway, which I was thrilled about because now I’m part of the Star Trek universe.

“I had a great time. I had a fantastic time. It was just such a thrill to work with Patrick (Stewart) and Jonathan and all those people. My transporter chief was Teri Hatcher. I think that was her first gig on camera.”

As for working with Frakes on the episode, Campbell had only nice words to say about the actor-turned-director:

“We spent a fair amount of time together. He was, of course, a gentleman. He’s a gentleman through and through. And it was actually very friendly in the run-up to auditioning for the part. I was as thrilled for him as I was disappointed for myself. There was never a moment of anything but good will.”

How do you guys think Billy Campbell would have fared in the role?


(via Star