Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) premiered over 30 years ago, on September 26, 1987. The show was a revival of the Star Trek franchise that had started two decades prior. It was also an attempt to bring science fiction into the mainstream, network primetime world.
The show starred Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Commander William T. Riker, Brent Spiner as Lieutenant Data, Marina Sirtis as ship’s counselor Deanna Troi, Gates McFadden as Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher, LeVar Burton as Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi LaForge, and Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Junior Grade Worf.
Though some of these actors were familiar faces at the time, some were fresh faces for the small screen. Now, all of these faces are familiar to Star Trek fans all over the world. Here’s what each of the actors looked like during their first episode and what they look like today.
By the time Stewart was cast as Captain Picard, he already had an impressive acting career. He’d been acting for television and films for more than two decades. Stewart was also an accomplished stage actor. He landed his first stage role in 1959, which kicked off a decades-long career in theater. In 1966, Stewart joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and spent dozens of years as a classical Shakespearean actor.
These days, Stewart is still acting as much as he can. He reprised his role as Captain Picard for the series Star Trek: Picard and he’s working on season two of the show now. He still indulges his passion for theater regularly by starring in stage productions.
Stewart is also an advocate for the ASPCA and takes great pleasure in fostering dogs for the organization.
Frakes had been acting for over a decade before he was cast as Commander Riker. His career really took off in 1977, when he landed his first recurring role as Tom Carroll on the television drama The Doctors. In the 70s and 80s, Frakes landed numerous guest roles on popular television shows like Charlie’s Angels, The Waltons, Dukes of Hazzard, Hill Street Blues, Matlock, and The Twilight Zone. He also had multiple major recurring roles.
After TNG, Frakes’ television career continued to flourish. He appeared on several popular television shows and did quite a bit of voice acting.
Frakes also became a renowned director. He began his directing career by directing episodes of TNG. Once the show wrapped, he went on to direct Star Trek movies, and eventually branched out of the Star Trek universe to other popular television shows like Roswell, Leverage, Castle, Burn Notice, and NCIS.
Most recently, he’s directed episodes of Picard and Star Trek: Discovery. He also reprised his role as Commander Riker in Picard.
Spiner was also a well-established actor when he was cast as Lieutenant Data, the sole android member of Starfleet. He had a few television roles in the 70s, but his career really took off in the 80s.
Most of the roles he landed were single-episode guest spots, however, he appeared on some very popular shows like Hill Street Blues and The Twilight Zone. He had a few small recurring roles before he landed the role on TNG, but Data was by far his largest part at that point in his career.
After TNG, Spiner’s career continued to thrive. He frequently appeared in guest roles on popular television shows and took on a few major recurring roles. He portrayed Dr. Nigel Fenway on the sci-fi drama Threshold, Sidney on the horror drama Outcast, and, most recently, Ned Vanderhoff on the fantasy drama Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. He also worked with former costar Stewart on his show Blunt Talk and played himself in a web-series.
Spiner reprised his role as Data for the first season of Picard. However, unless there’s some really creative writing, he likely won’t be back for season two as his character was already appearing from beyond the grave.
In a GalaxyCon panel in January, Sirtis revealed that she was working in retail, folding clothes before she landed the role on TNG. She joked that she wasn’t even allowed to sell the clothes because she was so bad at it. She was only allowed to fold them. So, landing the role of Troi literally changed her life overnight.
Sirtis started trying to establish her acting career in the late 70s, but she hadn’t gotten the big break she was looking for. She got some television and movie roles here and there, but apparently, that wasn’t enough to keep her from needing a day job.
TNG propelled her career for decades after. She reprised her role as Troi in each of the subsequent Star Trek shows and movies in the 90s and 2000s. Then she went on to other television, film, and stage roles. She really got into the indie movie scene and has done multiple movies that did well on the film festival circuit.
These days, she’s focused on her career in the U.K. She recently announced that she’d be moving back overseas this spring.
Before Gates McFadden was cast as Dr. Beverly Crusher, she was a queen of the stage. She was a renowned dancer, choreographer, stage actress, mime, and puppeteer. She studied under the legend Jacques Lecoq and served as his teaching assistant for many years.
Though she had multiple guest roles and even some recurring roles on television before TNG, McFadden’s main work was onstage and behind the scenes. She was actually the Director of Choreography and Puppet Movement for the cult classic The Labyrinth, which gave her the opportunity to work directly with David Bowie.
After TNG, McFadden did some television and film work. However, her focus shifted back to her work in the theater. She started teaching theatrical arts at UCLA, became the artistic director for a local theater, and headed several stage productions.
These days, she’s still focused on her stage work, though she still takes the occasional television or film role.
Burton’s breakout role in the TV miniseries Roots established his massive talent almost a decade before he was cast as Lieutenant Junior Grade LaForge. In the late 70s and for much of the 80s, Burton was regularly cast in guest roles on popular television shows such as The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote.
However, he was best known for his role as the host of the children’s educational show Reading Rainbow. For many, Burton was already a household name by the time he showed up on TNG.
After TNG, Burton continued his acting and voice acting career, landing major roles on multiple television shows. He also continued his role as the host of Reading Rainbow until the show ended in the early 2000s.
These days, Burton has focused his career on his passion for reading. After a failed attempt to reboot Reading Rainbow, he launched a podcast called LeVar Burton Reads. He recently won the PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion award for his work on advancing literacy.
Dorn actually started his career in the classic movie Rocky, though his role as Apollo Creed’s bodyguard was uncredited. He became a household name in the late 70s when he landed the role of Officer Jebediah Turner in the wildly popular cop show CHiPs. After his role on that show ended, Dorn had some small guest roles on other popular television shows, but he didn’t get another major role until he was cast on TNG.
After TNG, Dorn continued a very successful acting career that’s lasted to this day. He’s had several major roles on popular television shows. However, he’s mostly focused on voice acting for animated series and video games.
Lately, Dorn has gotten back into film acting. His new movie, a sci-fi thriller called Agent Revelation, premiered last month.