After almost 20 years playing Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation and its assorted spin-offs, Jonathan Frakes got used to being called "Number One." But it was while still on TNG that he took that nickname a step further, taking the helm as the director of several episodes and parlaying that into a successful directing career. With several Trek series, two Trek movies and two Librarian TV-movies under his belt, he recently took on two episodes of the new TNT series Leverage, and this week's episode guest-stars three of his old buddies from the Trek set. We talked to Commander Frakes about J.J. Abrams' new time-warping take on Trek, his mission to Mexico City to direct a Lost-esque series for Fox, and why he wants to be promoted to Captain... America.
TWOP: An episode of Leverage can get pretty complex, with all of the characters and relationships and costumes and scams -- does that make it harder to direct than your average TV show?
Jonathan Frakes: Not if you plan well. There are a lot of scenes in these episodes, and a lot of pieces to the scams. But if you've got a script ahead of time, you can pretty much plan what you want to do, and hopefully get it done in the little amount of time you have to do it. But I think that's one of the show's charms -- that it is so complex, and it does look like a little mini-movie every week.
Were you the one who reached out to fellow Star Trek alumni Brent Spiner, Armin Shimerman and Kitty Swink when casting this episode?
Yes I was. I've obviously worked so much with Brent, and this seemed like a great opportunity to use him in a way that was not Data. So I asked [executive producer] Dean [Devlin], who is also a fan, because Dean had used him in Independence Day, and he said "Sure, I'll offer that to Brent." And then, when casting the other parts, I said, "How about Armin Shimerman" -- who I also knew from other places; I'd worked with him in New York, as well as on Star Trek -- I said, "How about him for this corrupt juror?" And then, "His wife Kitty would be great as the judge, so why don't we bring her in?" And it was serendipitous, in that it made the set a pleasure, it made my job easier to have three actors who knew what the hell they were doing in those parts, and now we have the opportunity to promote it as a Star Trek reunion. So it's been a win-win.
This is your second episode of the show -- will you be directing any more?
Yes, the show has just been picked up, and Dean has asked me to come back and direct a few next season, so I'm really looking forward to maintaining my place in the family.
What's the next project you're working on?
I'm going down to Mexico to do a second episode of a new television series for Fox called Persons Unknown, which is Christopher McQuarrie's pilot, who wrote The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, and it's run by a writer named Remi Aubuchon. It's a psychological drama in which people have been kidnapped and brought into an abandoned 1950s town, and they're trying to figure out why, and what they're doing there. It's loosely based on the English show The Prisoner, and feels a little bit like Lost, actually. It's a great show, and we shoot in Mexico City, so I'm going down there on Wednesday to do a second one of those.
What are you impressions of the new Star Trek movie?
I'm looking forward to it. I'm a big J.J. Abrams fan, and I think he had the franchise at heart when he made this one. If the trailers are any indication, it's gonna look great. I think hopefully it'll reinvent the franchise for all of us, so I'm very optimistic about it.
Is it true that you dressed as Captain America for Marvel Comics for a while?
[Laughs.] You've been reading some deep old bios! That is more than true. As a matter of fact, I just got a call while I was doing these interviews from my buddy who played Spider-Man, Charlie Davis, and his phone number comes up as "Spidey." It's funny that you should bring it up today.
You know they're working on a Captain America movie, right?
They've been working on a Captain America movie for 20 years!
Well, apparently it's happening this time.
I hope it's a huge hit. I wish I was doing it.
One last question: what are you rocking these days? Goatee, full beard, or clean-shaven?
I got the goatee wraparound. The goatee-mustache connector, no sideburns, and a little bit of the soul dot under the lip. But I gotta say -- entirely white.
Catch Frakes' episode of Leverage -- starring Timothy Hutton and guest-starring Brent Spiner, Lauren Holly and Armin Shimerman -- this Tuesday at 10 pm on TNT, then discuss it in our forums! But first, check out some clips below!
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