Jonathan Frakes Cranky Critic StarTalk with Jonathan Frakes
On the release of Star Trek: Insurrection, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Also in StarTalk: Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart

 

Jonathan Frakes once again does double duty as cast member and director of Star Trek: Insurrection. In his conversation with the Cranky Critic, we talked about the Trek Curse, How the story got made, and discovered Frakes' personal definition of the "Perfect Moment".

Cranky Critic: You walked into this knowing damn well that the odd number Star Trek movies always suck so...
Jonathan Frakes: BUT! ... I already had it couched. I was calling mine "nine of ten" so I was covered.

Cranky: You know how Trekkers get . . .
Frakes: Do I ever . . .

Cranky: Obviously it was a concern to Paramount. What news leaked indicated that you were trying to get a lot done in not a lot of time.
Frakes: Well even before the getting it done quickly was the decision to do a 180 degree turn from First Contact, which was really a horror movie. Close dark tight horror movie. Star Trek: Insurrection is obviously bigger in scope. Shot wider, shot on location primarily, still a big action adventure movie but it's a romance and a political thriller, so it's a different genre than any of the other Star Trek's that preceded it. I hope. That being said, it was a bear. We started a year ago this week and the first draft of the script was enormous and cumbersome. We had to find the stories that we wanted to tell. When we delivered the movie, the studio decided maybe we should have another climax. So we went to work and reshot reel eleven. So it's been a pretty wild year.

Cranky: What was the original ending?
Frakes: In the original climax, F. Murray Abraham and Patrick Stewart were climbing through the collector. Ru'Afo is ejected in a pod through the metaphasic rings of the planet which are the catalyst which create the fountain of youth effect. We see inside that pod that Ru'Afo is de-aging in a fabulous moving morph from Ru'Afo to young Ru'Afo to old Murray, young Murray and then down to a kid. In the new ending, we wisely added the Enterprise saving the day, blowing up the bad guy and his science vessel. Worf gets his last testosterone rush as well, and retakes the Son'A ship. So we have intercutting of the three ships and 18 new opticals and, I must admit, a much more potent climax, I think.

Cranky: How is it different directing yourself as an actor, versus just acting a part?
Frakes: As a director you have to tell the whole story. Playing a part you're primarily, obviously, concerned with your arc in the film. When you're wearing both hats you have to consider both on the days that you're doing both. I'm now, after this year, really looking forward to doing an acting job for somebody where the director has to make all the decisions, 'cuz it's a trying, exhausting, family straining kind of job. I have two little kids (4 and 1 1/2) so it's loud at work and loud at home.

Cranky: Is it more fulfilling when you direct as well as act?
Frakes: They say, and I think whoever "they" are, are right; it's really the best job in the world. There's nothing like it.

Cranky: Was it a conscious decision to make this Trek more family friendly? It carries only a PG rating, and you never use the word "kill".
Frakes: We say "eliminate."
Cranky: Which is a real Saturday Morning kind of rule.
Frakes: I think it just happened, by virtue of it being a romance. I've had more women say to me "Is this a chick flick?" [laughs] and I said "Well, sure it is!" I'm not saying we don't blow up spaceships. I think the franchise, historically, has done better; like Star Trek 4 (the one with the whales) which I loved. It was accessible to a family. Also, I think when you stage something that looks mysteriously like Earth [grins] people make the leap more easily into the fantasy.

Cranky: Do you think this flick will attract people who may only be vaguely familiar with the characters?
Frakes: We're counting on it. I've talked to a lot of journalists who weren't familiar with the franchise, who hadn't seen any of the TV shows act pleasantly surprised that they didn't feel like an outsider, the way they did at X-Files, for instance. That's really the most wonderful compliment. We know that we honor the Star Trek legion of fans because we made the film the way Star Trek works best. It's a big action adventure thing with a lot of space battles and explosions; a well told story, a little morality play; stuff that Star Trek has historically done best, I think we do in this movie. But also without knowing anything about it you can meet Picard for the first time and watch him fall in love with Donna Murphy, who I think is magical in the movie. We have the best villain we've ever had on Star Trek, with F. Murray Abraham. You've got these b-stories. Beta and the boy, Riker and Troi. . .

Cranky: Worf and zits
Frakes: Worf and zits. Michael Dorn says to me "Let me get this straight now. You're directing the movie. You get to be in a bathtub with Marina Sirtis and I get a huge pimple on my face. What is the deal here?" [laughs]

Cranky: It's important in the Star Trek:9 script, so I'll ask you: from your personal life, have you ever experienced a "A Perfect Moment?"
Frakes: When I saw my daughter come out of my wife, that was something that somehow feels perfect, magic. If you've been through it, you'll know what I mean.

Cranky: How long have you had one eye on the directing career?
Frakes: I started during the series. Our guest directors come in every week and I'd stay on the set and watch them work. Somehow it seemed that if I was going to spend that much time at work I might as well learn a new craft. I knew about the acting. I knew how to move the camera, somewhat but I had to learn about the editing, in which I was a novice. I spent about 300 hours in the editing room and came out with a pretty good awareness of what the editor needs to be given to put a show together.

Cranky: With 7 principal actors, how do you keep it all in balance? there must have been actors who said "I felt as if I didn't have to be in First Contact at all".
Frakes: [pause]. You ask a good question. It's one of the downsides of having such a big, and such a good, ensemble. I'm a half full guy. I've always thought that the advantage of having this deep a cast is; obviously you can't write for the seven leads and have everybody have good, meaty story line but when you get to the smaller roles and I see this in other movies I see how deep the casting is, you know what I mean? If there's somebody in a small part that sticks out as not being up to the caliber of the big parts it jumps out at me. In this movie, our cast, when we go to the bench if you will, it's still strong. You know it was a problem in the show. It's a problem in the movie. There are too many characters and not enough time to tell all their stories.

Cranky: With you directing the last two films, is Riker getting less important to the story? We don't see him much anymore.
Frakes: I think Riker fared pretty well, actually, in both movies. I did get to take a bubble bath with Counselor Troi, let's not forget that. And she gave me a nice clean shave . . . let's just take a moment to go back and think about that [huge grin]. I'd like to see more Riker, but Picard is the Captain. I think they gave me as much as they could.

Cranky: Have the hard core Trekkers come around?
Frakes: The hard core came around skeptically, but it took two or three seasons of the television series. I think, from what I gather, they're really with us. Some of them prefer Picard. It's always the battle of the two Captains, and there's a strong Picard contingent now.

Cranky: The Next Generation 3 will be 3 years from now. That's a good thing isn't it?
Frakes: I think so. I think you can go to the well too soon.

Cranky: Will you be directing that one?
Frakes: To be determined. We'll see what happens

Cranky: Would you want to?
Frakes: You know what? I'm not sure. It sure is a great job, working with Rick and this cast of actors is always a treat. I'm certainly going to be busy doing other things between now and then. We'll see what happens when "then" comes.

Cranky: Do you follow the other Star Trek shows?
Frakes: I follow them, not as much as I have, but I'm in the same building with them so I know what's going on. I've directed both those shows so I'm friends with the actors. Levar directs a lot of them and I see him so much that we talk about what's going on. And Dorn's obviously a friend. Levar fills me in on Voyager and Dorn on DS9.

Cranky: Did you ever have a chance to discuss the concept with Roddenberry; what Star Trek would have been had they not had to stick in a fight every other scene?
Frakes: Roddenberry took me under his wing. The late, great may he rest in peace. He was a real supporter of me as Riker. I auditioned seven times before I got the part. The last few times I used to go to Roddenberry's office, before we had to go to the studio to the suits and all the people in charge and Roddenberry would tell me in this wonderful gregarious way -- he had these long thin hands -- and he would tell me about his vision of the 24th Century. I cherish these times now because he's obviously gone and we're carrying on his legacy. He said to me Jonathan, in the 24th century there will be no hunger, greed and all the children will no how to read. And I thought oh gene and he really believed it and he believed it in a way that allowed us to believe it and allowed the fans to believe it. That's one of the reasons Star Trek doesn't apologize for being sort of honorable and upstanding and articulate, literate and take the moral and ethical stands because Roddenberry believed that. The success of the show speaks for itself but you know how sometimes you apologize for being too sincere maybe or too philosophically strong, especially in what is otherwise a big action adventure blow 'em up balls to the wall type of genre. Roddenberry set a tone that Berman, to his credit, has carried on and Patrick and the rest of us have honored. It's really a good thing to be part of. Part of why I'm here is because Roddenberry said you play this part and then, You know that was a pilot. Everybody thought who's gonna to to see a sequel to star Trek? or want to? then they picked up 13 episodes. Then 13 more. Then 82 hours of TV and three movies and CD-ROM You know and now we all own houses because of Star Trek.

Cranky: Is it that now, you're all so comfortable with the characters (and the icon stuff) that you can just have fun with them?
Frakes: Yeah, that's exactly what it is. We can really have fun with them and I think that pays off. The more I watch this the more I realize how valuable it is when actors get along and enjoy each others company and act well together, I think that gets caught on film. I know that some actors don't get along and it doesn't get picked up on film but when they do get along I think it heightens the scene.

Cranky: Look into the crystal ball and tell us of the future. . .
Frakes: That vision of the future is optimistic but we're starting to see a dark side to the Federation this time out. I think what this movie is telling you is that vanity is a strong driving force. There's human frailty. There are traitors, bad apples in the barrel. I think it's a more realistic view of what I was just talking about. It's more interesting to show people's flaws. It also makes for better story telling.

Cranky: And as for Riker and Troi?
Frakes: I'm thinking maybe marriage and a few kids. I'd love to see these characters get married and then examine what it's like to have a family on the Enterprise. Marina and I had a thought that we would do a sitcom The Rikers, their wacky Uncle Data and their little dog, Worf. Just a thought.

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