Long before his time serving on the Enterprise bridge as Commander William Riker, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star Jonathan Frakes cut his teeth at Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center in the early ‘70s.
“It was a very significant start to my career,” Frakes told the Globe of his early acting experiences and time in Cambridge. Fast-forward at warp speed a few decades and Frakes is still as passionate as ever about the arts, particularly when it comes to his work in front of and behind the camera within the growing Star Trek universe. In addition to directing episodes of “Discovery,” “Strange New Worlds,” and other new entries to the franchise, Frakes is set to reprise his role opposite the rest of “The Next Generation” cast in the upcoming third and final season of “Picard.”
Ahead of his return to the Hub at this weekend’s Fan Expo Boston, we caught up with Frakes to chat more about his connections with the city, his relationship with Spock (a.k.a. late-great Boston native Leonard Nimoy), and his return to deep space.
Q. Returning to the Boston area must be a treat, considering your past with the Loeb Drama Center.
A. I did two summers there. It was a big equity company and then it was filled in with students like myself who had auditioned. I’m very sentimental about it and I have nothing but fond memories. We lived down in Central Square. Christopher Reeve, Margo Martindale, there were people there who I continued friendships with and whose careers were just starting.
Q. How did those early experiences influence your approach to the arts?
A. I’ve always given the advice that the most valuable thing in theater, film, or TV, and probably most things, is to do it. Get up, accept every job you can — the smallest, little scene, the indie movie. It’s all about the doing. That’s where you learn it. The privilege of being in that company. We did Shaw. We did “[The] Threepenny Opera.” We got to do classic plays in a very serious professional environment.
Q. It seems like many great artists have spent time in Boston or were born here, like Leonard Nimoy.
A. Prime example. Also, a lot of people came through Emerson. I’m glad I stayed where I was because it worked out, but it’s a hotbed.
Q. Speaking of Nimoy, did you get the chance to spend much time with him over the years?
A. I spent a lot of time with Leonard before he died. We obviously both played first officers, both directed a couple of films. There was always a strong connection drawn between the two of us, personally and professionally.
Q. You’ve remained so active in the Star Trek universe. What keeps you inspired about this franchise and playing Riker?
A. I had done an episode in season one with Marina [Sirtis] and [Sir] Patrick [Stewart], and I directed [in] a couple of “Picard” seasons. I knew how wonderful the new “Picard” was, and, frankly, when I was told by [series co-creator] Michael Chabon that I was going to come in and play the character, I got very, very nervous. I hadn’t acted in about 10 years and Patrick was at full steam..
Going forward, [showrunner] Terry Matalas said to me while I was directing during season two, “I hope you’re ready for a lot of Riker.” I thought he was pulling my leg and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You’re really ready to play Riker again, aren’t you?” So I got back into Riker shape and it’s been nothing but a pleasure.
Q. Why do you think Star Trek has remained so relevant to the cultural zeitgeist?
A. I think the answer is that [creator Gene] Roddenberry’s vision of the future was optimistic and we are in desperate need of optimism. But I think the more specific answer is that the writers who run these shows now, there’s a passion for what Star Trek inspired in them. They have essentially stayed with canon and stayed with the philosophy, but they have created new stories and strange new worlds. I’m very, very grateful to be part of this next generation of Star Trek.
Interview was edited and condensed.