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.