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INTERVIEW: Jonathan Frakes Knows the Importance of Riker in ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Jonathan Frakes as Riker in Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of those things that if you watched it growing up or as it was airing, you have your favorites. As someone who comes from a very Trek heavy family, I always was pulled towards William Riker while watching the show. So it is no surprise that my favorite thing in Star Trek: Picard is the journey that Jonathan Frakes’ Riker has gone on. From season 1 up to the most recent episode of the series, Riker has been there for Jean-Luc (Sir Patrick Stewart) but he’s also done a lot of growing of his own.

In season 3, we’ve seen Riker teasing Jean-Luc about Jack being his son and we’ve seen the two fight but what was incredibly moving about the most recent episode of the series was that Riker opened up about his own loss in his life and how it has, for the last three seasons, been weighing on him in his own way.

I was lucky enough to speak with Jonathan Frakes, who also directed the episode, about Riker’s arc and what has been his joy in returning to this role all these years later. But the exciting part of episode 4 of season 3 titled “No Win Scenario,” is that not only was it a great episode for Riker as a character but it also was another Star Trek episode directed by Jonathan Frakes himself. So I asked him about an episoe like this where we saw a lot of pain for Riker and whether or not it was a challenge for him as an actor.

Directing yourself

Frakes has directed episodes of Star Trek before and he’s directed himself before but having this emotional arc for Riker, talking about the death of his son, was different. We talked about how that helped him when he was directing “No Win Scenario.”

“I’m glad I’ve done a lot of directing of myself, I will say,” Frakes said with a laugh when I spoke with him. “I’m also glad to have people around me whose opinion I trust. Terry Matalas, who wrote the season, was always on the set. Doug Aarniokoski, who is our producing director, was always there, who has been incredibly helpful to me, is sort of, co-directing me, keep an eye on me in terms of just fine tuning certain things in my own performance. I’m generally in scenes with Patrick, who is arguably one of the world’s finest actors. So I feel like my game as an actor has improved as sort of the cliche about playing tennis with a better player.”

He went on to praise his on-screen love of Deanna Troi who is played by Marina Sirtis saying that she is an “incredibly underused, brilliant actor.” But he went on to just praise how Stewart and Sirtis made him a better actor. “My two acting partners are better than me as an actor. So they make me better. And that helps. And it doesn’t hurt that you have, I’ve said it a number of interviews. I think it’s the best writing for Riker that I’ve ever had the privilege of spitting out.”

Riker’s journey through Picard

One of my favorite parts of Riker’s journey in season 3 has been his hinting at Jean-Luc about his son. When Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers) shows up, Riker seems to instantly recognize that he’s Jean-Luc’s son with Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). And it is done in a way with side eyes, comments about how he should see it and more. It’s hilarious, perfect, and such a Riker move and so I asked Frakes about that levity and how he balanced those moments with the more heartwrenching ones we see with Riker in episode 4.

“I think the levity in the story between…I mean the conflict between the two characters is great but I think more interesting than that is the levity that Terry has infused into the scripts and frankly, his whole writing staff and Patrick is so dry. So when the stuff lands, it really does. You make me very happy by pointing it out. It’s my favorite part of the whole thing,” he said to me which did make me happy as well because it truly is just so Riker to poke at Jean-Luc and make him see who Jack is through little comments versus just saying it outright and it was so fun to watch play out.

The excitement of this season

But Frakes is aware of what Picard means to fans of Riker and Trek as a whole. “The reaction to this season of Picard is frankly unlike anything I can remember since First Contact,” he said. “The people are jazzed about it. I think the majority of the people are really glad to see all the family back together even though we’re all old and gray. And that’s been really, as you can imagine, it’s been really satisfying.”

And what a journey we’ve been on with Riker. Episode 4 was an incredible look into the character we’ve come to love and I can’t wait to see where the rest of season 3 takes him. And as always, it’s such a joy getting to talk to Jonathan Frakes.

(Featured image: Trae Patton/Paramount+)

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She/Her. A writer who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.