Star Trek: The Next Generation veteran actor and director Jonathan Frakes has revealed some new things about his future on the franchise, his assessment of the expanding Star Trek universe, and what it is like shooting an episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
Frakes focused on directing sci-fi, including Picard show
Jonathan Frakes was a guest on this week’s episode of the Writer Experience podcast, which gets into the nuts and bolts of working in the film and television industry and is worth listening to in full (which you can do below). Frakes spent a lot of time on the podcast discussing his history and his work process. He also gave an update on what is keeping him busy these days as a director, noting that he has been pulled back into the world of sci-fi shows, including one headed by a certain Next Generation co-star:
Now my season looks like Star Trek: Discovery – the new wonderful Star Trek series, the Picard show – which Patrick [Stewart] is launching, and The Orville, which is some people’s new Star Trek. And I just finished The Gifted, which is a sort of X-Men Marvel origins show. So, I am back in that world.
It is not a surprise that Frakes, who has helmed three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, would be tapped as a director for the Picard series. The first season of the show is expected to have 10 episodes and is set to go into production in mid-April in California, with a planned release in late 2019.
Jonathan Frakes directing Patrick Stewart for the TNG episode “Drumhead” in 1991
Expanding Star Trek TV universe and assessment of Lower Decks
When asked how he sees Star Trek stacking up to the expanding Star Wars universe, Frakes gave his assessment of CBS’ plans for the franchise on TV:
My understanding is that Alex Kurtzman and Secret Hideout are creating a Star Trek œuvre that will hopefully allow fans of Trek to have something fresh to see all the time. That is why Discovery, now that it is a hit, will continue, and they have announced Sir Patrick’s show, which is not titled, that will air after Discovery. And they have announced they are developing a show for Michelle Yeoh, so Empress Georgiou who is a character on Discovery will have her own stories. They have hired the guy from Rick and Morty – [Mike McMahan] – to write an animated show called Lower Decks, which I have seen parts of that are hysterical. So you have one, two, three, four. They’ve got a Nickelodeon connection for a little kid’s Star Trek, so that’s five. So, there is a world that is being created by Kurtzman and his team that will hopefully continue for many years and provide entertainment, and obviously conversation, about Star Trek for decades.
The new series Frakes mentioned have all been previously reported, but his comments add some more context. He also seems to indicate that Star Trek: Discovery will continue into a third season, which is expected but has not yet been officially announced.
His mention of Star Trek: Lower Decks denotes the first time anyone associated with Star Trek has talked about seeing work for the animated comedy. The show was announced last October with a two-season order but is not expected to be released on All Access anytime soon due to the long production times for animation. Showrunner Mike McMahan recently made a joke about this when praising his fellow Rick and Morty writer Michael Waldron, who has been tapped for the new Marvel Loki show coming to the Disney+ streaming service. McMahan sarcastically noted that even though both started working on their shows at the same time, “his is live action, so it’ll be fun to see him rich, famous and finished while I’m still animating Starfleet court scenes.”
We start writing our shows on the same day, but his is live action, so it’ll be fun to see him rich, famous and finished while I’m still animating Starfleet court scenes.
— Mike McMahan (@MikeMcMahanTM) February 15, 2019
Understands being typecast as Riker, prefers directing anyway
When asked if he is still acting, Frakes noted the offers these days are keeping him behind the camera:
For some reason, I have not been getting work as an actor, and some of that is the double-edged sword of having been identified as Commander Riker for so many years. Obviously, Patrick has done very well and gone on to other things and [William] Shatner does a lot of other things. But for a lot of us in the Star Trek universe, there has been a certain typecasting… I have been told there are certain shows and certain parts I don’t get—or some of us don’t get—because we are recognized as Riker, or Troi or Data. So, it is an interesting quandary. So, I always feel blessed and grateful to have learned another craft, which I must say without too much conceit – that I am better at anyway and I enjoy it more.
But he made it clear when it comes to acting he is available and said he recently filmed a part playing himself for a German Netflix series.
Jonathan Frakes in the 2017 horror film Devil’s Gate
Fun and freedom shooting Discovery
The bulk of the podcast was about the process of shooting, especially on television. Frakes—who has directed three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery—would often use the show as an example, explaining how it differs from some other shows in that it allows more freedom as a director. Frakes tells Writer Experience:
On Discovery, Olatunde Osunsanmi, who is also the producing director, also believes we are free to do and express ourselves visually in an exciting a way as possible. So, the restrictions I mentioned from Castle and Falling Skies I don’t experience on my current shows, where I am encouraged to do what whatever. They want it to be cinematic. The thing about the new Star Treks, like Discovery, is they are very much in the J.J. [Abrams] world of very cinematic. A lot of moving camera. A lot of crane work. So, it is frankly more fun to shoot than sitting on a dolly and looking at a close-up that doesn’t move.
The TNG vet also noted that his favorite part of directing is working with actors, and he sees similarities between his Trek cast and that of Discovery:
My favorite part of the job is directing the acting, and enjoying the actor, and being sure I capture the moments that the actors created for us, especially with actors at the level of some of the stars of these shows. Sonequa [Martin-Green], and Patrick [Stewart]…and Anthony Rapp and Doug Jones. When you give them a note they take the note and you can watch them fine tune it. It’s like a musician, like a fine violin player. They don’t over-dramatize the note. They just tune the instrument ever so slightly in an elegant, creative, stylish way. That’s the real treat of a day’s work.
Jonathan Frakes on the set of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Despite Yourself” with Shazad Latif and Sonequa Martin-Green
Listen to the full interview
You can listen to Jonathan Frakes on the Writer Experience podcast below.
Keep up with all the news on the Picard show and other upcoming Star Trek TV shows here at TrekMovie.com.