Jonathan Frakes has carved out quite a career for himself as a TV and film director, but no matter how many of hours of television he adds to his IMDB page, he will always be connected to Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek franchise.
To some, that might sound like an encumbrance, but Frakes seems happily married to the notoriety that his role as William T. Riker has brought to him. Even though he does think that his status as a beard icon is “bizarre.”
Frakes’ Star Trek bona fides don’t yield only meme mentions and shouts of “Number One” when he goes to conventions, though. Now there is a social media campaign to add Frakes’ name to the list of people being considered to direct Star Trek 3 being that Roberto Orci is no longer occupying the director’s chair. Does Frakes have a chance? I’m not sure, but he’d clearly be thrilled to direct another Star Trek film (he helmed Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: First Contact), and he knows what kind of story he’d like to tell if given the chance.
Earlier today, we had the chance to talk to Frakes about Star Trek 3, why Riker positively attacked all chairs when he sat in them, working on The Librarians, and whether Gene Roddenberry’s concept of Star Trek: The Next Generation was too rigid.
Uproxx: Let’s say you get the job directing Star Trek 3, what would you want to bring to the project? What kind of story would you hope to tell?
Jonathan Frakes: I mean, nothing I’d like better… but if I come to Star Trek 3, I’m coming to the script that exists, so I’ll do the best version of whatever story we’ve got to tell. Our friend Captain Kirk, I gather he’s been signed up, so there’s gotta be some way to work Kirk in, which I think would be great for the fans.
Uproxx: If you had your say, though. If you were able to shape the story, what kind of story would you want to tell? Would you want to tell a story of exploration, something that’s a little more original, something that kind of pays tribute to the long history of the franchise? What would you do if you had your say?
Frakes: I think the success of the show and the stories that I’ve always enjoyed telling are the ones that have a little more emo. A little more about relationships and a little less about blowing sh*t up. So complicated relationships and moral dilemmas like we faced in Insurrection, First Contact. I like the sort of visceral, emotional relationship part of the Trek lore.
Not that I’m opposed to blowing sh*t up, because it’s always fun and visually exciting (laughs).
Uproxx: Has it surprised you how popular the #BringInRiker campaign has been?
Frakes: I’m overwhelmed. I’ve gotta say thrilled, but overwhelmed at the way it’s taken off and I watch it with wonder and excitement and not a little bit of hope.
Uproxx: You said before that you view yourself as a longshot to direct Star Trek 3. What do you think stands against you, in your opinion?
Frakes: Well, I don’t know the people at Paramount. It’s a new regime and I’m not sure if that’s going to help me or hurt me. And I know that they’ve circled Edgar Wright and I’m not sure who else is on the short list. I’m just happy to have my hat in the ring. I’m also a kind of a big JJ fan. I like his style and I like his storytelling.
Uproxx: I gotta ask you about the memes, Commander Riker is an internet sensation. How do you feel about that? Specifically, the beard worship. You’re a beard icon to a lot of people.
Frakes: Isn’t that bizarre?
Uproxx: It is! But I gotta tell you, it was a fine beard.
Frakes: Someone pointed out to me recently in the alleged Urban Dictionary, that “Riker’s Beard” is defined as the opposite of “Jumping the Shark,” which I think is the best compliment of all.
Uproxx: What about the chair sitting? Are you familiar with this? You kinda had a way of just climbing over the chair.
Frakes: I just did a spoof yesterday, oddly enough. It’s called Nerd Court, it’s going to be a YouTube series. And this is someone who was defending Riker and I was brought in as a special witness, playing myself, and I entered and I threw the leg over the chair and it was all part of the gestalt now. I did that one time in Ten Forward in Whoopi’s bar on the Enterprise.
Uproxx: I don’t think it was one time, I saw a video…
Frakes: No, I did it a thousand times afterwards, it turns out, but I didn’t remember doing it quite as frequently as the video suggests. (Laughs)
Uproxx: Do you have any recollection of why you did that, did it just feel like the thing to do?
Frakes: I think it was kind of a cowboy thing and kind of, it was playful and nobody told me to stop so I just kept doing it. (Laughs)
Uproxx: That leads me to the next question here: What do you think you injected into the role of Riker? How do you think you made the character different from what is on the page?
Frakes: Well in the first couple of seasons, I think that I was not very successful at injecting much that wasn’t on the page. I was told by Gene Roddenberry to play him without a smile. What he referred to as a midwestern, Gary Cooper deadpan facial expression. And you know, your purpose is to serve the Captain and provide him with the best ship that you can. And that was all well and good, and that’s the way the character was written. But it sort of wasn’t fitting on my body as well as the guy who ended up playing the trombone and being a little bit more playful and adventuresome.
Maurice Hurley came in to help in the first season and he took us out to lunch and that’s where the trombone came from and where the appreciation of jazz came from. So a few things about me were put into the character, and all of a sudden I felt a little bit more comfortable in the clothes.
Uproxx: Do you think that Gene Roddenberry’s concept of the show, when it started, was a little too rigid?
Frakes: Frankly, I think that’s a very astute observation. [Rick] Berman always said it, too. Roddenberry didn’t want the characters to have conflict, which flies in the face of drama. I mean, drama is created by conflict. So it was a very challenging set of marching orders that we all were faced with.
I was lucky that I had Marina [Sirtis], so my relationship with her was well-defined at the beginning and then in spite of the fact that the writers didn’t address it, we maintained a depth of character relationship that helped inform the way we behaved. And then Picard and Riker had a very specific relationship established in the pilot that Patrick [Stewart] and I were able to maintain. Then it became the thing with Riker and Worf… so, everybody developed relationships that were on the page or that they created through, you know, smoke and mirrors with the hope that it would deepen and help tell the stories that were written.
Uproxx: Was there a lot of rehearsal or was it just [established] in brief chats before the scenes?
Frakes: There was never time for a lot of rehearsal. It would be something that we would discover after rehearsal while the crew was lighting while we would be running a scene together. Or we would go to each other in the makeup trailer and say, “You know this scene in 18 that we’re doing together today, what about this beat in here, should we play something?” It was a room full of actors, I mean actors who really loved acting, so it was always a pleasure to go to work. Because I’ve been on shows where the actors were something else first and actors second, and that’s a different animal altogether.
Uproxx: You directed two of the Librarian movies and now it’s a show that had a very successful debut and you’re returning to direct a few episodes, can you talk to me a little bit about the difference in the vibe on the set when you’re directing the movies versus when you’re directing an episode of the show?
Frakes: Well the vibe on The Librarians set is exactly the same because it’s driven by Noah’s energy. And John Rogers, who wrote the movies, is the showrunner on the show. And Dean Devlin who produced the movies is the producer on the show. And I’m the director of the movies and I directed three of the episodes. And Marc Roskin is a producer and the director on them. And the DP is the same. So the family has embraced the new additions like Rebecca Romijn, Lindy [Booth], and John Larroquette. The brilliant Larroquette. So one of the things about the series that is working is that we have already established that wonderful amalgam of action adventure comedy, that is really led by how delicious Flynn Carson is, the character that Noah [Wyle] plays.
Uproxx: Were you surprised to see the show come back? The concept come back, because the movies had been dormant for a few years.
Frakes: We were actually pushing for this for a long time. Either another movie Librarian movie, and then Michael Wright, who was running TNT at the time, suggested a series. We thought the movie was so complicated and dense to try to do in the little amount of time that we had, we couldn’t imagine doing a series, but somehow with the help of John Rogers’ genius, we found a way.
I did a bunch of them, the first one I did is coming up around Christmas starring Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus. Not your father’s Santa Claus. Another version of Santa Claus. No red suit.
Jonathan Frakes will be appearing with other Star Trek: The Next Generation cast members in both Seattle and San Francisco this weekend for Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek conventions. Click here for details.