'Star Trek: Picard' actor and director Jonathan Frakes talks playing Riker again in exclusive interview excerpt

Star Trek Explorer #7
"Star Trek: Picard" actor and director Jonathan Frakes. (Image credit: Star Trek Explorer)

Number one is back. 

The upcoming issue of "Star Trek Explorer #7" arrives on Earth on May 2, 2023 and the prestige quarterly is packed with extensive coverage of "Star Trek: Picard" with an all-new exclusive interview with the prolific filmmaker and actor Jonathan Frakes

There's also a sneak peek of the upcoming "Star Trek: Resurgence" video game, and interviews with two "Star Trek" fiction authors, novelist John Jackson Miller, and comics writer Christopher Cantwell. Larry Nemecek puts "TOS" doctors and canon continuity under scrutiny, and Treknology explores how "Star Trek's" Treknology is being reimagined and realized today.

Cover of "Star Trek Explorer #7" (Image credit: Star Trek Explorer)

Plus, enjoy a "Star Trek: Prodigy" roundtable with the Hageman Brothers, Kate Mulgrew, Brett Gray, Jameela Jamil, Ronny Cox and Bill Campbell, read the second half of the magazine's interview with Nana Visitory, and check out a definitive guide to "Star Trek" crossovers.

But first, "Star Trek Explorer" caught up with Jonathan Frakes and the conversation covered so much territory that they're spreading the illuminating chat across two issues. The concluding part will be found in this summer's "Star Trek Explorer #8."

Here's Space.com's exclusive excerpt from "Star Trek Explorer #7:"

Star Trek Explorer: You were in season one of "Star Trek: Picard." You directed two episodes in season one and two episodes in season two. What stood out to you about both those experiences, acting and directing?

Jonathan Frakes: I was at the end of Season 1. I was in the "Nepenthe" episode, when Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Soji (Isa Briones) came to visit Riker, Troi (Marina Sirtis), and their child. Then, at the end, I flew in and kicked some Romulan ass, which was great. Michael Chabon was responsible for bringing me back into the "Picard" world, and he was fabulous. I wish he was still with us. He's moving on to other projects. I had a blast. When I was asked to play Riker again, I got nervous because I had spent years directing Patrick, but I hadn’t done much acting in anything and he was on fire from doing Picard and everything else he’d been playing. 

Marina closed a play on the West End that she had been starring in. Both of them had their acting chops and muscles flexed. I thought, "Oh man, if my friends bury me, I'm going to be pissed." It turned out to be great. We had a ball doing it. And for season three, the writing and the reunion were wonderful How it was set up, this was probably the best season of "Picard."

Jeri Ryan, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes in "Picard." (Image credit: Star Trek Explorer)

Star Trek Explorer: How did season three fall into place? Did Terry Matalas call you and ask you to both act in and direct for it?

Frakes: When I was directing in season two, early on – Episodes Three and Four – and he said, "Are you ready to play Riker?" I said, "Yeah, sure." Then he said, "No. I mean a lot of Riker." I said, "What are you really asking?"

He said, "I want to make sure that you’re all in, because Riker is going to be a big part of this. They're going to be a big part of this. They’re breaking in the writers' room right now." He wrote the best s--t Riker ever had to do! Riker is in conflict with Picard, Riker takes the piss out of Worf. Riker and Troi have a very emotional reunion. Our marriage was having problems. 

He's let me be sarcastic. Terry has embraced all the things that I've always liked when they let me put a little of Frakes into the character. I don't know how everyone else feels, but I feel like I was well served in season three, as an actor. And I got to direct Episodes Three and Four of season three as well, which was great.

Star Trek Explorer: You were in all 10 episodes of season three. How ready were you to be what amounts to a series regular again?

Frakes: It was great. It's easier to be an actor that it is to be a director when it comes to your mind and body. You get to rest as an actor. Actors, you've got people pampering you, filling in your bald spot, putting makeup under your bags, giving you clothes that fit, and bringing you lunch. You're pampered as an actor. It's great. Like I said, the lines don't come in and go out quite as easily, but there's time to work on that. As I said a minute ago, I was thrilled with what I got to do as Riker. 

It's so hard sometimes to separate Patrick and Picard, as those two people have become very fluid. But let's talk about Riker and Picard. Riker was who Picard chose to run this mission to go and save Beverly (Gates McFadden), who had reached out after many years because she was in very dire straits. Her son who turns out, as we now know, to be Picard's son – which was a very clever, dramatic, and emotional storyline – was beautiful. I got to direct the episode where she broke it to him. I thought that was clever. And this guy Ed Speleers crushed it as Jack. 

Jonathan Frakes in "Star Trek: Picard." (Image credit: Star Trek Explorer)

Frakes: So, the idea of being brought in by Picard early and being part of the adventure, if you will, then after we've rescued them, when he has to deal with that, it was sort of a carryover from the season one thing, where he comes to Riker and Troi because he doesn't know how to parent or what it's like to be a parent. This resonated the same way, because Riker has lost a son and lives with that pain. 

He advises his old dear friend and sort of brother, Picard, "Don't f--k this up. This is a great gift you've been given." Picard is torn, overwhelmed, and not thrilled that he hadn't been told. Patrick got a lot of colors to play with. "I've got a son that I didn't know about, at my age. An adult son." Riker tires to steer him towards embracing it and Picard doesn't really buy into it, which carries the story. The drama in the show is great. Remember, Gene Roddenberry always insisted that we not have any conflict among the crew. Gradually, over the four shows that Rick Berman supervised, and then on "Picard," "Discovery," and "Strange New Worlds," the conflict and drama has filtered in. And it's all for the better.

Read the full Jonathan Frakes interview in "Star Trek Explorer #7." Trekkies looking to subscribe can score up to 25% off, plus receive an exclusive digital supplement with extra content and two additional exclusive short stories!

Titan Publishing's "Star Trek Explorer" magazine is your home starport for insider info, exclusive interviews, engaging features, and behind-the-scenes peeks into the wide world of "Star Trek" for film, TV, books, comics, video games, and collectibles.

"Star Trek Explorer #7" arrives at newsstands, bookstores and digital May 2, 2023.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.