Jonathan Frakes Marvels at His 38-Year Love Story with Genie Francis: 'Why She Would Go Out with Me Is a Mystery'

Frakes, who stars in Hallmark's 'A Biltmore Christmas', exclusively tells PEOPLE about his undeniable connection with the 'General Hospital' icon on the set of the 1985 miniseries 'North and South'

<p>David Livingston/Gett</p> Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis attending the Camie Awards at the Wilshire Theater in May 2008

David Livingston/Gett

Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis attending the Camie Awards at the Wilshire Theater in May 2008

Jonathan Frakes has enjoyed a long and fruitful Hollywood career as an actor and director, most notably in the Star Trek franchise, but even more enviable is his nearly four-decade relationship with his wife, daytime drama icon Genie Francis.

“We've been together for 38 years,” Frakes, 71, who appears in this weekend's Hallmark’s holiday film A Biltmore Christmas, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I met my wife, the wonderful Genie Francis, on a show called Bare Essence, which was the last of the nighttime soaps – and she was too young for me!”

In 1983, the miniseries–turned–weekly series launched Francis — venturing into primetime television after her red-hot run as Laura Spencer, part of General Hospital’s then-zeitgeist-dominating super-couple opposite Anthony Geary — into primetime. She was 20, while Frakes was a decade older.

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<p>Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty; CBS Photo Archive/Getty</p> Genie Francis in 'General Hospital' and Jonathan Frakes as Commander William T. Riker in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty; CBS Photo Archive/Getty

Genie Francis in 'General Hospital' and Jonathan Frakes as Commander William T. Riker in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

Bare Essence aired only briefly, but the show’s producer subsequently cast both actors in key roles in ABC’s sprawling 1985 Civil War miniseries North and South, opposite fellow emerging stars including Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley.

“The dailies were so good that they said, ‘Why don't we make it, from six hours, make it 12 hours?’ or whatever it was,” recalls Frakes. “So we were on location in Charleston and Natchez, and we fell in love – and now, somehow, she wasn't too young for me. So we have been together ever since our first date on North and South when we took a break for Memorial Day and went to New Orleans 38 years ago.”

Frakes admits at the time his future wife’s star shone considerably brighter than his own in Hollywood. “Somehow, she took a chance on me, because I was like, number 37 on the call sheet on North and South and she was up there with Patrick Swayze and Lesley-Anne Down. So why she would go out with me is a mystery!”

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<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty</p> Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis in 'North and South', circa 1985

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis in 'North and South', circa 1985

But soon after Frakes was cast in his own soon-to-be-iconic role as Commander Will Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which he recently reprised to great acclaim in the third season of Star Trek: Picard. The role also paved the way for his prolific career as a director, both with the Trek franchise and on series such as Roswell, Leverage and NCIS: Los Angeles.

At the same time, Francis has consistently remained one of the leading lights of daytime, including stints on Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and returns to General Hospital, as well as numerous primetime guest appearances.

Today, the couple remains a classic show business couple: just before arriving at Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas holiday party in Los Angeles, Frakes had been running lines with his wife to help her prep for a sudden shift in her shooting schedule.

”She has two shows she's doing tomorrow, probably 30 pages of dialogue,” he marvels. “The soaps were not affected by the [SAG-AFTRA and Writers'] strikes, so she's been working straight through.”

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Frakes and Francis have two “amazing” children, and he notes that couple’s Hollywood fairy tale might prove daunting for their daughter Eliza, an actor and writer herself.

“She has this idea, because she was raised with the two of us, that this is how [things work]. And we both know that that's not the case, right? So it's hard, I would think, to come into a family where two people have been as fortunate as Genie and I have been," says Frakes.

A Biltmore Christmas marks a rare non-Star Trek acting turn for Frakes, who’s following his wife’s footsteps to the Hallmark Channel. “My wife has done a number of these movies,” he says. “This brand is quite amazing, and I'm always looking for another outlet. I've been blessed with this Star Trek thing for 36 years, so to be part of a new franchise is kind of a treat for me. And I had been very nervous about acting until I did the third season on Picard. And then they asked me to do this, and I thought, ‘Oh, this will be fun for me, plus the story is great.’”

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A Biltmore Christmas premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on the Hallmark Channel.

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