Turns out Gene Roddenberry and Jonathan Frakes wanted rather different William Rikers.
One of the most fascinating aspects of watching the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation is watching the actors and the writers add more color and depth to the characters as the series went on. The people you meet on the Enterprise bridge in the first season are in many ways not the same people you see on the bridge six years later. Few characters embody that quality of the show more than Riker, and not just because he didn't have the beard in season one.
In a new interview discussing the role, Frakes noted that when he first began shooting the series, Roddenberry asked him to keep Riker from doing one particular thing: smiling.
"Gene Roddenberry, the late Great Space Bird Of The Galaxy, had asked me originally not to smile, that he wanted Riker to be played with what he referred to as a Gary Cooper, Midwestern glint—not a scowl, but not smiling. And my nature is to smile, so I looked, or thought I looked, very uncomfortable—certainly in the first season—because I was playing Roddenberry’s wish, his note."
Over time, with the help of some other creative forces on the show, Frakes was able to loosen up Riker, with a little help from his trombone.
"But Maurice Hurley came on the show and sat me down and he said, 'So what do you do?' And I told him about the trombone and the jazz, and then all of a sudden the character started to have a few of the qualities that I could relate to personally."
So the Riker Frakes ended up playing was a somewhat sunnier version than what Roddenberry initially envisioned, but there was one change to the character Roddenberry did like: the legendary beard.
"And then after the writers’ strike, I’d grown a beard because I hated to shave. And Roddenberry fell in love with the beard, and the beard became a part of the character in a way that was, as Gene described it, was a nautical, decorative beard, which he took great pride in designing on my face. [Laughs.] So somewhere in there, I sort of found my legs, and I felt like we were really off and running."
So, in a clash between a creator's wishes and an actor's instincts, it's nice to know they could at least agree on facial hair.
(Via The A.V. Club)