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'Star Trek: The Next Generation' actor Jonathan Frakes reflects on the show's 25th anniversary

Jonathan Frakes is flanked by Patrick Stewart, left,

Jonathan Frakes is flanked by Patrick Stewart, left, and Wil Wheaton during April's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" 25th anniversary reunion at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in Canada. Credit: Sarah McGinnis

Jonathan Frakes is the answer to a trivia question: What actor appeared on screen with characters from every "Star Trek" TV show? Frakes, who portrayed Commander William T. Riker, reflected on the show's 25th anniversary in an interview this week.

What do you see when you look back on those first-season episodes?

We were so green and tentative in terms of our interrelationships. . . . I was told by "Star Trek" creator Gene] Roddenberry that he wanted Riker to be like Gary Cooper -- a Midwestern glint, no smiling, all about honor and duty. That was fine for the character, but it was a strange, limiting box for me as an actor because I'm a little more flamboyant. Eventually, that all worked itself out. As I watch those first-season shows, we're all a little stiff, but I'm particularly stiff, I think. Fortunately, we lasted long enough that we found a way to relate to each other.

The reaction that fans had in the very beginning ...

Oh, the incredible skepticism. I was not aware of the cultural phenomenon that "Star Trek" was when I first got the job. I quickly learned because the Kirk-Spock-and-Bones "Star Trek," and that triangle, the magic of that ironic, sarcastic relationship that developed on that show, was something that Patrick [Stewart] and Brent [Spiner] I always aspired to and never quite were able to achieve because the writing was different and the characters were obviously different. . . . When we were finally on our third or fourth season, when we'd found our rhythm, the audience began to find room in their hearts for both shows.

Just as your show did 25 years ago, J.J. Abrams put a new cast aboard a new Enterprise. Did the movie give you a sense of the ambivalence the original series cast felt seeing "TNG"?

J.J. Abrams wisely waited to reboot the franchise, and successfully rebooted it in a way that we didn't even dare hope would be as wonderful. He had a respect for the Prime Directive and for what "Star Trek" stands for. Also, the casting was brilliant. I thought Karl Urban channeled DeForest in a way that was uncanny. . . . I wonder if I would have had a different reaction if I had been seeing my character played by another actor.

Now that we have a high-def version, I wonder if the love for these shows has more to do with the stories and the characters than how good those special effects were?

People have favorite characters, they have favorite episodes, they have favorite moments, and with very few exceptions, they're not a Romulan ship exploding or going into the wormhole. Though some people enjoy and love that aspect of the show, they're generally about things that happen to and because of the characters.

There's a tendency for colleagues to drift apart after their last project. Has that happened?

Unlike some shows, ours provided us, in some miraculous way, with lifelong friends. We've all stood up at each others' weddings and are godparents to each others' kids, and still get together for lunch and for dinner. . . . I think that's part of the success of the show, that the actors liked each other as much as the characters did. And still do.

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