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Jonathan Frakes calls it luck. Fans may call it kismet. Either way, the Star Trek actor-director is thrilled to be back in the saddle for another season of Picard, helming a special episode connected to his Next Generation film past.
Frakes found himself behind the camera for the latest episode of the Paramount+ series, titled “Fly Me to the Moon.” Best known in front of the camera as William T. Riker from TNG and subsequent films, Frakes compared once again returning to the beloved sci-fi franchise with pals Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and John de Lancie to slipping on a pair of his favorite shoes.
However, Thursday’s episode was not just any ordinary chapter in Picard. “Fly Me to the Moon” had some serious Star Trek: First Contact vibes, the 1996 film Frakes directed that introduced the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) and became the first Star Trek film to be rated PG-13 for its intensity and scares. Annie Wersching plays the queen in Picard. Frakes tells The Hollywood Reporter he could not be more delighted with how it all shook out this time around.
“I was thrilled,” he says of this story. “I was a huge fan of the Borg Queen with Alice. I always liked the Borg story. Alice, because she was our first queen, established the nastiness and the sexiness of the character. Alice established the groundwork, which Annie expanded on brilliantly. Annie works with a fearlessness that I really admire. It is not easy to work through all that rubber-head stuff. She really embraced it.”
The episode has a number of callbacks to First Contact, with Frakes giving a lion’s share of credit for those nostalgic feelings to the cast and crew, especially makeup department head James MacKinnon and lead creature designer Neville Page.
“This Borg Queen design is so out there,” he says. “They embellished it but did not change it to the point where it was unrecognizable. And the visual effects team used a lot of the same references [from First Contact] but then expanded, given the new tools they have to work with.”
This season of Picard focuses heavily on Jean-Luc’s past and family, a fascinating exploration after the 1994 film Generations, when Picard learns his brother and nephew were killed in a fire, so the Picard family line likely ends with Jean-Luc. In TNG, his brother, Robert, was played by the late Jeremy Kemp and his nephew, René, by David Birkin. The Picard ancestor Renee Picard (Penelope Mitchell) plays a key role in this season’s events.
“I think Patrick had always embraced that,” Frakes says of Jean-Luc’s family story, the good and the depressing. “He is writing his memoir and in doing that, he is going back to revisiting TNG episodes while we were shooting this episode. I remember him saying that he had forgotten how fabulous Jeremy Kemp was. So I think it rekindled Patrick’s feelings about all of that. It meant a lot to him.”
In explaining how directing Star Trek is vastly different from any other project — “It is the feeling of putting on your favorite pair of shoes” — Frakes commends two of his other pals from TNG who appear in “Fly Me to the Moon”: John de Lancie as Q and Brent Spiner as Dr. Adam Soong, a distant relative to Noonian Soong, who created Data, and Dr. Altan Inigo Soong, who appeared in the first season of Picard. All four characters are played by Spiner.
“I think about the day I spent with Brent and de Lancie in the diner,” Frakes recalls of a pivotal moment in the latest episode. “The scene is brilliant. The acting is fabulous. And the schmoozing, while we were having lunch together, was a gift. I think Brent and de Lancie have gotten better with age. There is a real confidence in the way they embrace their characters.”
The other character in “Fly Me to the Moon,” who had some big moments and revelations, is Alison Pill’s Agnes Jurati. Frakes found himself floored by the actress who plays the fan-favorite scientist.
“I think she is one of our finest actors,” he says. “There is nothing she can’t do. Her timing is impeccable. Her ability to find levity in anything is completely admirable. And yet, she can scare the shit out of you.”
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