Spark the Conversation

An interview with Jonathan Frakes, a.k.a. William T. Riker

January 30, 2017
Posted By: TELUS Spark
If you could ask a Star Trek celebrity any question, what would it be? We recently had the honour of interviewing Jonathan Frakes, most notably recalled as First Officer William T. Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation series. We asked him some of our most burning questions about Star Trek, technology, acting and more. Here’s what he had to say:

TELUS Spark: How do you think Star Trek helped shape and inspire science and technology to date?

Jonathan Frakes: Gene Roddenberry was quite the visionary. I use a smart phone – I don’t know about you. Now if only we could figure out a way to beam up and I could get to Calgary in seconds.

TS: If you weren’t an actor or involved in the film industry, what career would you choose?

JF: I always thought that my backup plan would be as a trombone player… but that’s an even worse choice than being an actor, which was a ridiculous career to go into. I don’t recommend acting to anyone.

TS: It seems like it worked out well for you!

JF: I was blessed and I got lucky. I discourage people from going into the acting business unless they have no choice in their gut, their heart, their soul and their brain. It’s a ruthless, cruel and unjust career in which you are rejected – sometimes daily. The rewards and friendships are wonderful, but as a career it’s unreliable. I tell my kids that, too.

TS: Have any of your kids decided to pursue a career in acting?

JF: My wife is a very successful actress. My daughter is an incredibly wonderful young actress. I’m like the third best actor in my entire house – I’m glad I learned how to direct.

TS: Before we move on – what was it that was so intriguing about the trombone?

JF: I went to public school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I had really long arms. The school had a couple trumpets, a trombone, a flute and a clarinet. I started playing the trombone when I was in fourth grade – they gave it to me because my arms were so long.

TS: What has Star Trek taught you about real life?

JF: I learned about loyalty, diplomacy, friendship and honesty. Patrick and I have always said that we should be as diplomatic as our characters. However, we were just the actors – the writing was what made Star Trek so spectacular. It was such a wonderful expression of the human condition. It was a privilege to be a part of it.

TS: Star Trek is known for the moral and ethical questions it poses in its episodes. Is there any one quandary or problem that stands out in your mind?

JF: No – but I do find that as the conditions around the world get more dire and further from the vision that Gene Roddenberry presented – a vision of hope and a world without sexism and racism – the more valuable Star Trek feels to me – to a lot of us.

TS: What was the first gig you had, and how did you get started in the business?

JF: My first union job was in a Maxwell House commercial with actress Vivian Vance from I Love Lucy. I then got a job on an NBC soap opera in New York called The Doctors, and at the same time I was acting in an off-Broadway show called The Hairy Ape. My next appearance was in the Broadway show Shenandoah. So, you can imagine that in the 70s I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I had a day job on a soap opera and a night job on Broadway. I was single and living in the village – life was great.

TS: Which Star Trek device or technology do you wish was in your home? Other than the replicator, because that’s too obvious…

JF: The transporter room would be awesome. I travel a lot – most of my work takes me out of town. As much as I like to fly, it would be so much more convenient if I could beam.

TS: What was it like working with people in such over the top costumes? Was it difficult to keep a straight face?

JF: We often didn’t see them. When we communicated with aliens from the bridge we were looking at an X on a green or blue screen. The Borg looked really cool. Some of the rubber heads were quite absurd – the Bolians and Cardassians. But for the most part the great Michael Westmore, king of makeup, created quite believable aliens.

Thank you Mr. Frakes for taking the time to chat with us. We look forward to seeing you on February 3 at the launch event for Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience!