Jonathan Frakes and Leonard Nimoy are Star Trek royalty, immortalized through their roles as Commander Riker and Spock respectively. While their characters are close to polar opposites, their careers followed a remarkably similar trajectory after their involvement in the science fiction franchise, having to battle against typecasting while also succeeding in the director’s chair.
But from one Star Trek legend to another, Nimoy was able to give his fellow first officer a motto to live by when it came to their role in the franchise, despite their different positions in the Star Trek timeline. “I always quote Leonard Nimoy because he was the person who first said — or at least the person who I heard first say — ‘It’s better to be typecast than not to be cast at all.'” Is it just us, or does that sound like it’s straight from Nimoy’s Star Trek character‘s mouth?
Frakes, who recalled Nimoy’s wisdom in an interview with the BBC in the aftermath of the actor’s death, continued, “Because, for better or for worse, a lot of us, with the exception of Patrick Stewart and [William] Shatner, have been typecast in these parts that we have played… as he grew older and wiser he realized there are worse things to be associated with than Spock.”
Nimoy’s experience as Spock clearly had a positive impact on Frakes, and helped the The Next Generation cast star to come to terms with his own status within the Star Trek franchise. But, that status is an inherently complicated one: Frakes, and so many other Star Trek actors, are elevated by Star Trek and beholden to it.
As Frakes notes, only a handful of actors have been able to overcome their association with their Star Trek series. Stewart and Shatner yes, alongside Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan, and TNG/DS9 icon Colm Meaney. Trying to piece together why these actors have been able to go beyond Star Trek, while others haven’t is difficult.
In the instance of Meaney, who has the second most Star Trek credits of any actor, it may be that he was able to disconnect himself from O’Brien by always finding other non-sci-fi work during his stints on the series, and he hasn’t returned to play O’Brien since DS9 ended. In contrast, Nimoy was still playing the half-Vulcan a quarter of a century after he first donned the Starfleet uniform, while Frakes returned to screens as Riker earlier in 2023 with Picard season 3.
But, the reality is that Nimoy and Frakes were (and in the case of Frakes, still are) nothing ever than exceptional in their roles, instantly bringing life and charisma to their characters within their shows and in the Star Trek movies. Still, today, Spock and Riker are iconic, and beloved, as are Nimoy and Frakes.
Now, Spock’s legacy lives on through Ethan Peck in Strange New Worlds, and Zachary Quinto in the Kelvin timeline reboot. Peck will return for the upcoming Strange New Worlds season 3, though whether or not Quinto will return for the apparently-cursed Star Trek 4 is still unclear.
Equally unclear is Frakes’ future as Riker. The end of Picard season 3 seemed to directly establish a new spin-off, Star Trek Legacy, which Frakes could be involved with through a recurring role as his character, and as a director. However, Legacy hasn’t yet been confirmed, meaning that for now fans really will have to deal with the fact that Picard season 3 might have been the Star Trek captain‘s last adventure.
If that is the case, we’ll console ourselves by bingeing Star Trek’s best Riker episodes. If you’re wondering, those are ‘A Matter of Honor’, ‘Peak Performance’, ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, ‘Second Chances’, ‘Frame of Mind’, and ‘Future Imperfect’… to start with. There are plenty of other great ones too. TNG is one of the best TV series of all time, after all, in no small part due to Frakes.
For more on Star Trek, read about the one TNG episode Frakes wants banned, and about how he had to break TNG’s rules to make one underrated gem. Or, see the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, before learning all about the Kobayashi Maru.