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Make it so, Number One

Chatting with Jonathan Frakes

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, June 2011, page 8)
Jonathan Frakes
Jonathan Frakes
Image by: Paramount Pictures

In 2010, Calgarians jammed the BMO centre in part to meet Star Trek’s Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). So leave it to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo’s organizers to take it to the next level in 2011. Captain Kirk himself (William Shatner), and Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) will be there.

"Our show is 25 years old, Shatner’s show is 40 years old. It never ceases to amaze me that our audience is so loyal. God bless ‘em, they still come out, which I think is a credit to Gene Roddenberry. It is a wonderful situation to walk into, people have chosen to come to the convention because a show I was lucky enough to be part of has had a positive influence on their lives. It is a win-win, you have a captive audience of people who already like what you’ve done. Your material works pretty well."

Frakes took a few minutes out of his busy directing schedule to talk to GayCalgary & Edmonton Magazine about Star Trek, directing, and more. You could tell over the phone that he was excited to be coming to Calgary.

"I learned from my beautiful wife Genie Francis that we wouldn’t be at any of these things if it weren’t for our fans. It is quite an obvious but profound way of looking at it. I don’t think actors and celebrities should go out and appear at these conventions if they are not going to interact and enjoy the experience. I still look forward to it because it is a room full of people that put their money down to come out and have a little contact. I try to have fun every day anyway, but there is a certain responsibility to the fans that have kept us in their minds for all these years. So I look forward to Calgary, I have heard it is a blast. Brent said he had a blast last year."

When Star Trek: The Next Generation started in 1987, nobody realized it would go on to be one of the most successful of the various franchises. It was a slow start, Frakes said.

"We had no idea it would be so huge. When we made the pilot the audiences and the studio and networks were so skeptical that we did three separate contracts, one for the pilot, one for 13 episodes, and one that if it went well we could stay on for additional seasons of the show. The audience was slow to come to our show because they were so protective of the classic ‘Trek. It took some persuasion on the part of Next Gen to get the really hardcore trekkers to come around."

Becoming so associated with one character can be a blessing and a curse.

"Leonard Nimoy said it is better to be typecast than not cast at all. I am blessed with learning another craft with directing. I certainly wouldn’t want to be trying to raise my kids on acting jobs after doing Star Trek because it is very much a double-edged sword. With the exception of Patrick (Stewart) and Shatner, having been on Star Trek isn’t always a blessing if you want to continue to have an acting career."

Frakes now focuses more on directing. He has directed two Star Trek films (First Contact and Insurrection) and episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. He has broken out of the Star Trek mould to also direct episodes of Roswell, V, Castle, Dollhouse, and Burn Notice, to name a few.

"I like telling a story and being involved in all aspects of the process. The reason I started doing it during Next Generation was we had so much waiting around I started to think what the hell is going on? I realized the director is involved in every shot that is done, coming up, and the decisions on everything from wardrobe to make-up. If you are going to do this for 12 or 15 hours a day, I prefer to be fully immersed. I really liked Dollhouse and thought that particular episode was spectacular. It is interesting that shows get taken off the air that we all have such passion about. I am in the middle of doing (TNT show) Leverage and it has a style that has been established by Dean Devlin.  So when you come to work you need to maintain that style, so when people click by it they can tell it is Leverage. I directed an episode of Burn Notice which has the same sort of thing, that it has established a style for itself. So your responsibility as a director going in is to put your stamp on it in terms of pace and storytelling but, stylistically you can’t reinvent the wheel."

While Star Trek: The Next Generation never had a gay character, the episode Outcast in Season 5 saw Riker fall for Soren, a member of an androgynous race of species that does not endorse gender specificity. The themes of being outcast resonated with the LGBT viewers.

"I am sure it was an intentional parallel. I always thought that episode missed the boat in not casting a man instead of a woman in the part of the androgynous character of Soren. It seems like they got right to the ledge and then lost their nerve."

Frakes celebrated his 23 year anniversary the day after this interview. His marriage to soap star Genie Francis has survived in an industry where most relationships do not. In an age where it seems every day a Hollywood star is getting divorced or involved in a scandal, Frakes and Francis are an example of a Hollywood couple that can survive in the spotlight.

"Part of the success has been that Genie and I both do the same thing for a living so we understand what our professional lives are like. We are both just small-town kids who just happened to be on TV so our role-models were not the type of Hollywood that you just referred to. A huge part of it is luck and falling in love with the right people. I was no kid when we got married, I had certainly sowed my oats. I am certainly blessed to have a partner for that long who puts up with me and still laughs at my jokes."(GC)

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