Star Trek: First Contact blasted into theaters on November 22, 1996, wowing Star Trek fans and, much like a tractor beam, attracting even non-Trek fans to the second big-screen adventure of Captain Picard and his Enterprise crew. Jonathan Frakes made his feature directing debut with First Contact, eliciting terrific performances from the Star Trek: The Next Generation regulars, as well as co-stars Alice Krige, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell and Neal McDonough, and he translated the script’s winsome mix of action, comedy, drama, thrills and pure Trek into a wildly entertaining box-office juggernaut.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of First Contact, we at StarTrek.com reached out to Frakes, who agreed to answer questions posed by fans via our Facebook page. And you, the fans, flooded the site with hundreds of questions. We then posed to Frakes as many as time allowed during a recent half-hour conversation. We’ve broken the resulting interview into two parts. Part one, down below, focuses on TNG (the series), Frakes’ career and his current projects. Part two, which will run tomorrow – First Contact’s actual anniversary – will be all about the film. Here’s what he had to say:
These first dozen or so questions from the fans are about other facets of your time on TNG and about your career. Several people asked what you’re working on now. So…
I just finished editing and delivered an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, which will be on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I did 32 visual effects shots for The Librarians, which I’m a producer-director on, and which started on November 20. That’s on TNG. And I’m going to go up and work for Robbie Duncan McNeill on Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, which is Marti Noxon’s show. And then I go to work on Seth MacFarlane’s new show, which is currently titled Orville, though it will probably be retitled. It’s sci-fi comedy that stars Seth and is written by Seth and Brannon Braga. It’s fabulous. Jon Favreau is doing the pilot and I’m doing one of the episodes after that. So, that’s what’s lined up, and then, hopefully, The Librarians will get picked up, and we’ll go do another season of that.
Any chance you're going to join the Star Trek: Discovery team as a director? The show can really use your experience and expertise.
I’ve been lobbying to get on that show. So far, it’s been to no avail. Now the show has been pushed. I worked with (Gretchen) Berg and (Aaron) Harberts on Roswell. They’re really good. I’m still lobbying, but I don’t know where they’re at with things.
If given the opportunity to play Will Riker again, would you, if it were another movie or show, or even video game related?
Yes. Absolutely. In any form. I’d have to dye my beard black and wear Spanx, but I’m in.
That same fan asked, How about Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. If they brought it back would you host it again?
Yes. I loved that show, too. I loved that job. I really enjoyed working with the writers and producers, Al Schwartz and Barry Adelman. So, yeah, in a minute. In a heartbeat, I’d do it.
So, what was with the way Riker always straddled a chair to sit down on TNG? And have you seen the super-cut of all times Riker/you straddled a chair?
(Laughs). Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it. That video has over a million hits. I started that after they built Ten-Forward. The chairs at the sort of cocktail tables had tiny little backs on them. They were so low that you could literally step over them. I did it one time. I must have found an opportunity to do it again in Picard’s ready room. But I must say I had no idea it’d become a thing. And I love the video.
I have an identical twin brother... which isn't exactly like having a transporter clone of yourself, but probably close enough. My question is what were the challenges you had to address when you wound up playing two Rikers in the Season 6 episode "Second Chances"?
I found that the psychological implications fascinated me and I wasn’t a good enough actor to find much nuance between the two. I love what Marina always says, which is that Thomas Riker is much cuter. But I was very grateful to be in LeVar’s hands for that episode. I think that episode was LeVar’s directing debut. So, he was very, very involved in making whatever choices we made for Thomas, who I think was a little less outgoing than Will. That was the one broad stroke that I remember playing, was that by virtue of being wherever he was for such a long time, his social skills were not as honed as Will’s.
I feel that “The Outcast” was a huge step forward in mirroring LGBT rights in real life, especially involving your character, who some see as a playboy and philanderer. How do you feel about that episode, and did anyone have any reservations about doing it?
I’m very proud of the episode. I have gone on record as saying that if they really wanted to tell the story, they should have cast a man instead of an androgynous woman. But maybe that wasn’t the story they wanted to tell. It’s a great episode, sort of classic Star Trek. Roddenberry, I think, would have approved of the way it addressed the issue through a science fiction story.
You spent a lot of time in space on Star Trek, both acting and directing what it’d be like to be out there. And you also explored a lot of what ifs with Beyond Belief. So, in what ways did those affect your thoughts on the existence of life beyond Earth?
That’s a great question. I have always felt, from the first time I was ever asked this question, that we Earthlings would be arrogant to assume that we are the only lifeforms out there. I’m kind of waiting to meet the aliens. Do you think they’re here?
Mr. Frakes, if there’d been a fifth TNG film, what would you have liked to have seen happen?
I have to be honest. I have no idea.
Do you prefer Riker with or without the beard?
Bearded, without a doubt. I’m so proud that Riker’s beard is in the Urban Dictionary, defined as the opposite of jumping the shark. So, I’d have to go with the beard. And I’ve always liked the beard.
How close to your personality is Riker?
Riker is smarter than I am. He’s a better human being. He walks a little differently than I do. But my clothes, the pants have pockets.
We’ve got to be honest and tell you that many people asked variations of this question: Why do you keep canceling convention appearances? Especially the European appearances?
Oooooh. It’s been a string of good luck. When I sign up for conventions, there’s always a clause that says if you get a job, you can cancel. I love the cons, obviously. I also love a trip to Europe. And I love to see the fans. But I’ve gotten work directing and it seems to have affected my going to conventions in England and Germany. I’ve been blessed with work, so I guess it’s a blessing and a curse. I hope that with the 30th anniversary of TNG that the schedules will coincide so that I can do both next year, direct and get to the conventions.
Again, we got variations of this question: You've directed so much television. What is your favorite episode from any show you've ever directed?
I still hold the first episode of TNG that I ever did, which is called “The Offspring,” so dear to my heart. I completely overprepared for it. I also really enjoyed “Cause and Effect,” which was one of Brannon’s episodes, and it repeated the action several times. And let’s see, non-Star Trek… I did an episode this year of The Librarians that was written by Noah Wyle, and it is surreal. There’s a sort of Alice in Wonderland bent to it. The characters in the show become part of his redemption. He goes to it and there’s an intervention thrown at him at the beginning of the show and throughout the episode his character discovers how to address his behavior toward others. It’s a very different, off-style show for The Librarians and I had a ball doing it because not only was it Noah’s first writing effort, but because we had free reign stylistically because we could use this surreal world. That’s my current fave episode.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read the second half of our interview with Jonathan Frakes, in which he answers your specific questions about Star Trek: First Contact.