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Jonathan Frakes: The TV Squad Interview - VIDEO

by Mike Moody, posted Feb 10th 2009 11:01AM
jonathan frakes star trek leverageThere is life after Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes, Star Trek: The Next Generation's former "Number One," has moved on from sci-fi stardom to a successful career as a TV and film director. He's helmed four feature films, countless hours of Star Trek and Roswell, plus the two latest entries in TNT's Librarian telemovie franchise. Now, he's joining one of TV's most critically acclaimed new shows.

Frakes directed tonight's episode of Leverage, TNT's hit heist drama starring Timothy Hutton. The episode is a Star Trek reunion of sorts with Frakes behind the camera and his former Star Trek co-stars Brent Spiner (Data from TNG) and Armin Shimerman (Quark from Deep Space Nine) guest starring.

I spoke to Frakes by phone for a few minutes this week and, somehow, I was able to hold back from asking him a million geeky Star Trek questions. (Now I'll never know if "Tom" Riker ever escaped from the Cardassians!) We discussed his love for Leverage, his friendships with his former cast mates, and the possible return of "Number One" Will Riker.

frakes, spiner, holly on the set oe leverage

Tell me about the genesis of your relationship with (Leverage executive producer) Dean Devlin and how that led to you directing a few episodes of the show?

Dean and I go way back. I guest-starred on a show he did called Hard Copy many many years ago. I pitched him a movie we wanted to make together, and since then we've been looking for something to work on together. ... We worked on the Librarian franchise starring Noah Wyle, we did two of those, and then along came Leverage and he asked me to direct. We've done two so far. We're a pretty good team.

Star Trek alums Brent Spiner and Armin Shimerman guest star in this episode. How did they get involved?

How about that for a coincidence? We were casting the show and the part that Brent plays seemed like a perfect fit for him. Dean became a big fan of Brent's because of Independence Day (which Devlin produced) and Data from Star Trek. I asked if we could offer the part to Brent and he said "by all means." ... We had casting sessions for other parts, and the part of the corrupt juror went to Armin Shimerman, a fabulous actor from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Then I said "what about Kitty Swink (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) to play the judge." ... I just happened to know these actors who have been around the Star Trek family for so long. They're great actors and it's also a great marketing tool for us to make it a Star Trek reunion of sorts. It's a double hit for us to have members of the Star Trek family on the set and have good actors playing these parts.

You've said that Brent plays a "slimeball sleazy" character in this episode. That's quite a stretch from Data from Star Trek, but a lot of people aren't aware that he's a really talented character actor.

I think he's a terribly underused actor. He is a great actor and hopefully people will tune in to the episode that airs this Tuesday and he'll start getting the offers he deserves. People identify him with Data, of course, but he's a wonderful and interesting actor and comedian and a talented singer. I sound like his agent!

Was it a very familiar vibe on the Leverage set since you've worked as Brent and Armin's director before on Star Trek projects?

It was a very familiar and comforting place to be -- especially to see them without their prosthetic rubber ears or high gloss gold makeup. It was great to be together again.

Do you appear onscreen in this episode?

No, but I made a cameo in an episode that aired a few weeks ago, and I'm looking for an opportunity to do it again.

Can we look forward to more episodes of Leverage directed by Jonathan Frakes?

We certainly can. The show has been picked up for another season and things are looking up.

What are some things you like about Leverage, as a viewer?

I love heist shows, I love the pace of the show, and I'm a fan of Timothy Hutton. One of the things that makes Leverage special is that they (the characters) are all so different from each other. They each have their different talents, different energies and their own particular insight. ... It's wonderfully written and it has a great sense of humor. Let's not forget Dave Connell, the director of photography and a first-rate cameraman. I really love the look of the show. It has a great pace and it's clearly found an audience, particularly with men. That really has not been the case for (the network) with The Closer being the highest-rated show on TNT.

It must be refreshing and a little different for you to be working on something outside of the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

You can only imagine how nice it is to have so little green screen and no prosthetic noses around.

Let's talk about the Leverage cast. These are some really talented actors you're working with. What's it like directing an Oscar winner like Timothy Hutton?

The thing about Hutton and most "number ones," like Patrick Stewart, is that they have so much experience that their ideas make you a better director. ... The good ones think all the time and they bring ideas and their best to the set. ... And Lauren Holly is in this episode too.

That's right. I haven't seen her in a while.

She looks fantastic, and she plays "tough" as well as anyone I've ever used before. She's really cold as ice.

She's usually cast as the "nice girl," but it looks like she plays a real shark in this episode.

She gives great shark.

You seem to have a reputation for keeping things very fun and energetic on set. Leverage isn't a comedy, but it's a lot lighter and has a lot more humor than , say, Trek or Roswell. Would you say the tone of the show gels more with your sensibility or personality?

The tone of the show is very appealing to me, but that credit should go to (Leverage writer/show runner) John Rogers and Dean. I'm a good director for this show because I like the style, and the tone we have is dramatic, but we pepper in comedy, irony and sarcasm that makes it to the surface. Audiences are more sophisticated now, so it makes for a better viewing experience.

Being identified with Star Trek must feel like a blessing and a curse for you. You got your first shot at directing with Star Trek and you worked with some wonderful actors who you are now able to cast in new projects, but do you find yourself getting typecast or are your directing offers mainly for science fiction projects now?

Exactly. Yes. You answered your own question there. It' a double-edged sword. Leverage is nice because it breaks it up. ... But people do like to pigeonhole you in this business.

Leverage has another Star Trek connection. Former TV Squadder Wil Wheaton is a friend of show runner John Rogers, right?

Yes, they both blog! We're trying to find a part for Wil. I think with the new season, with any luck, there will be a part for Wil when we return.

Are you excited about J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek movie? I read that you were invited to the set.

I'm looking forward to it. I'm a huge J.J. fan and a fan of Lost. I think he has the soul of the franchise at heart and he's not trying to reinvent the wheel.

You think we'll ever see "Number One," Will Riker, again in a new Star Trek movie or project?

I certainly hope so. With any luck!

airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (EST) on TNT.

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Armin Shimerman played the corrupt *doctor,* not juror. Since I'm sure Frakes knew that, it must've been either a slip of the tongue or a transcription error.

February 11 2009 at 6:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve G

Cool article.

I've never watched Leverage - thinking it was just another lawyer show (even though, ironically, I've watched them all since before 'Alley McBeal" and "The Practice" were on)... but after reading your interview and seeing that embeded video trailer, I'm going to start watching and give it a shot.

It looks more entertaining that I'd first thought it would be! Good job! :)

February 11 2009 at 1:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

She gives great shark...that Riker cracks me up...(What a great opportunity you had there)...I would have puked.

February 10 2009 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, its from the novel Imzadi II, sorry, after I posted it I realized it was sort of passive-aggressive nerd of me.

February 10 2009 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chrisw's comment

is cool, is cool.

February 10 2009 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thomas Riker, with the help of the Romulans, escaped the Cardassian labor camp and had an affair with Sela. He was driven insane by the marriage between Riker and Troi and tried to assassinate Chancellor Gowron and Emperor Kahless, but Worf, Odo, and Riker stopped him.

February 10 2009 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chrisw's comment

Is this from one of the novels?

February 10 2009 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cincinnati Mike

Nice piece. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have an opportunity like this, and not dissolve into a total drooling fanboy.

February 10 2009 at 11:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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