As a member of the Star Trek family for over 30 years, Jonathan Frakes has seen the sci-fi franchise grow and become a global sensation that rivals even Starfleet. His role in the series has grown, too.
Frakes made his debut as Captain Jean-Luc Picard's trusted Number One, Commander William Riker, on Star Trek: The Next Generation and appeared in four Trek feature films. He's also delved into directing, first getting behind the camera during the third season of The Next Generation for the 1990 episode "The Offspring." His most recent work can be seen on the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Aside from galaxy-hopping in the USS Enterprise, Frakes has also lent his voice to characters in a range of television series, including Gargoyles, Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, Guardians of the Galaxy, Futurama, and Family Guy.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Frakes to reflect on the legacy of Star Trek, hear his take on how the iconic property helps provide relief in uncertain times, and see if he'll return to the director's chair for Picard Season 2 and the newly announced Discovery spinoff, Strange New Worlds.
What are your feelings on the recent manned SpaceX launch?
I'm a great advocate, and I wish I was on it. I really want us to return to the moon, and I've been a huge supporter of that project for 30 years. So I'm glad to see that we're moving in the right direction. And then it's on to Mars, and then Venus!
What are some of your proudest moments from being part of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the entire Star Trek family?
I used to work with the greatest group of people ever. Everyone was doing what they wished. To look forward to going to work every morning. We told stories we were proud of. Provided entertainment we can all still be proud of 33 years later. Inspired people to pursue jobs in professions they saw reflected on the screen. We made astronauts because of Star Trek, and physicists and astrophysicists and psychiatrists and pilots.
The show has been an inspiration, and when we go out to the conventions, the great joy of being at the tables is that people come up to us, even though we're just the actors that say the words, and share that they were inspired to make their career decisions, their life decisions, based on Roddenberry's bright vision of the future.
How does Star Trek and its integrated, optimistic sense of the future help people in fearful, turbulent times like today?
It gives us hope. It gives us an opportunity to think about what could be, instead of what is. It projects a vision of optimism, particularly with the current events, in which there is no racism, no sexism, and an appreciation of the qualities we need to be reminded of, sadly.
What's made you become a better director over the years, and where did you draw inspiration from when first getting behind the camera?
Well, I stole from the great directors like Spielberg and Tarantino and Zemeckis and Scott. When you like movies and you like television and you watch it closely, you see things you could feel, and I try to steal from the good people and never lose track of the story that we're telling.
The reason that Star Trek has been so near and dear to so many people for over 50 years is not because it's a space show or not because it takes place in the 24th century or the 26th century or whatever timeline you're in, but because of the relationships of the people. That's at the very core of its success, and being aware of that as a director has allowed me to continue to work with the franchise.
What are you most looking forward to in directing new episodes for Picard Season 2, and are there any surprises you might tease?
I can't wait to get back with Sir Patrick. It was wonderful to have Jeri Ryan on the show, and Brent Spiner and Jonathan Del Arco from our timeline. And I'm looking forward to whatever the brilliance Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman and Alex Kurtzman bring to the table. I haven't seen any scripts yet, but I'm chomping at the bit.
Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn are returning for a Star Trek: Discovery spinoff. What involvement will you have in the new series, Strange New Worlds?
I've been asked to direct, and I'm looking forward to it very much.
I've had great experiences with all three of them. Anson and I worked through finding Captain Pike. And Ethan and I worked through finding who Spock was. And the mantle of Spock, in particular, was so complicated and so emotionally taxing and was such huge shoes to fill, and Ethan felt it. Rebecca and I have a long relationship from back on The Librarians, and we have a fabulous working shorthand, so it will be great getting back to the floor with three old friends.
While on shore leave between creative projects, are there any sci-fi TV or movies you're watching?
I like Black Mirror. I don't watch much science fiction. I'm more of a psychological drama guy. I watched Picard, which I hear is fabulous. [Laughs.]
You can catch Frakes on June 13 at 2 p.m. Eastern for a free GalaxyCon Live virtual con Q&A with his The Next Generation co-stars Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher) and Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar).