Wil­liam Shat­ner


SFX - - Contents -

The king kicks off our party.

Men­tion Star Trek and chances are that de­spite 50 years of sto­ry­telling, with a deep ros­ter of beloved char­ac­ters span­ning five live-ac­tion se­ries and 12 (to date) movies, the char­ac­ter that im­me­di­ately springs to mind is Wil­liam Shat­ner’s Cap­tain James Tiberius Kirk.

Hand­some and in­tense with a rak­ish charm, Kirk has al­ways em­bod­ied the brav­ery and ex­ploratory spirit at the heart of cre­ator Gene Rod­den­berry’s vi­sion of the fu­ture. Sure, Kirk could be a skirt-chaser and more than a lit­tle im­pul­sive, but there was a wis­dom and grav­i­tas to the char­ac­ter that en­dures. Plus, he cut an im­pres­sive sil­hou­ette, even in yel­low velour.

In the half-cen­tury since Star Trek be­gan Wil­liam Shat­ner has head­lined five tele­vi­sion se­ries, writ­ten orig­i­nal science fic­tion nov­els, made doc­u­men­tary films and penned and per­formed a one-man Broad­way show. Yet he’s for­ever Cap­tain Kirk for a huge seg­ment of the global pop­u­la­tion and he tells SFX that he doesn’t mind one bit.

“It’s unique and a show­biz phe­nom­e­non to be shown some­where in the world, in a lot of places in the world, 50 years later,” Shat­ner says of Star Trek’s sin­gu­lar stay­ing power in the en­ter­tain­ment land­scape. “Yes, it is amaz­ing to me and I’ve never taken it for granted. I’m not in­ured to the awe­some­ness of it.”

At the age of 84, Shat­ner’s even lever­aged his iconic sta­tus into an un­ex­pected next phase of celebrity on so­cial me­dia, amass­ing a Twit­ter fol­low­ing of 2.2 mil­lion that he live-tweets genre TV shows to sev­eral nights a week. Co­or­di­nat­ing with the cast and cre­ators of shows like Haven or Su­per­nat­u­ral, Shat­ner has been savvy in en­list­ing them and their fan­doms to help him raise funds for char­ity causes. In turn, his frank and off-the-cuff com­men­tary has in­tro­duced the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion to his charms.

But Shat­ner knows Trek, even in the cy­ber world, is of­ten the en­try point for his fol­low­ers. “I think that a lot of them found me in Star Trek at one point or an­other, usu­ally not at its first show­ing, be­cause most of those peo­ple are dead,” he chuck­les. “But along the way they have found the Star Trek that I did, be­came in­ter­ested in me and then fol­lowed me in dif­fer­ent shows. Now it’s more Shat­ner than Cap­tain Kirk but there is still a great deal of in­ter­est in Star Trek. And be­cause JJ Abrams has re­newed the in­ter­est in the fran­chise, it’s cer­tainly con­tin­ued.”

Con­tin­u­ing mis­sion

Speak­ing of Abrams’ re­booted Trek films, since the first one in 2009 each in­stal­ment has swirled with ru­mours of a James Kirk ap­pear­ance akin to the cameos done by Leonard Ni­moy’s Spock. But Shat­ner con­firms that de­spite spec­u­la­tion Kirk will not be res­ur­rected for Star Trek Be­yond. “There was never a con­ver­sa­tion,” Shat­ner says of any meet­ings with the cre­ative team. “It would have been in­ter­est­ing to see what their fer­tile imag­i­na­tions could have done with some­body who is 20 years older than when Cap­tain Kirk died [in Star Trek: Gen­er­a­tions] and how they would have ex­plained the dif­fer­ence in ap­pear­ance. But that never came up. I’m sure they must have thought of it one time or an­other but I never had a sub­stan­tial con­ver­sa­tion about re­play­ing the role.”

In the mean­time, Shat­ner has spent the last year ru­mi­nat­ing on the loss of his friend, Leonard Ni­moy, for his up­com­ing mem­oir with

David Fisher, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friend­ship With A Re­mark­able Man. He’s of­ten writ­ten about Ni­moy in his own au­to­bi­ogra­phies but Shat­ner says this book ex­plores a dif­fer­ent as­pect of their half cen­tury con­nec­tion.

“There have been a lot of au­to­bi­ogra­phies,” Shat­ner ex­plains, “and his son is do­ing a doc­u­men­tary about his life, but for me, the rea­son for do­ing the book was about friend­ship and the na­ture of friend­ship. My the­ory, the­sis, if you will, is that men have trou­ble making friends, gen­er­ally. If you make one friend, you have done some­thing really great. Women seem to have more of a propen­sity to make mul­ti­ple friends and men don’t. Maybe it’s a cul­tural thing. I try to dis­cuss in some man­ner the na­ture of friend­ship and what Leonard’s friend­ship meant to me be­cause it was the only friend of that na­ture I ever had and that was the rea­son for writ­ing the book.”

Mem­ory Lane

Shat­ner ad­mits dig­ging into his mem­ory bank has been a bit­ter­sweet ex­er­cise. “The thing we don’t think about in discussing the death of a friend is that with some mem­o­ries you have of a de­light­ful in­ci­dent be­tween the two of you, the mem­ory of it be­gins to change as time goes by and you won­der specif­i­cally, ‘What was it, and did it ac­tu­ally hap­pen?’ And you’ve lost the one party that could val­i­date the mem­ory and that’s huge,” he sighs.

How­ever, Shat­ner says there’s also been a fair amount of dis­cov­ery that’s been rev­e­la­tory for him re­gard­ing Ni­moy’s history. “In truth, I dis­cov­ered a great deal about him that I didn’t know, strangely,” he shares. “Things that he did, things that in­ter­ested him and some of his back­ground. Who goes about look­ing into a friend’s back­ground, like where did they live, what did they live in? You don’t do that or­di­nar­ily but when you write a book you delve into the back­ground and sud­denly things come up that you never knew.”

In par­tic­u­lar Shat­ner says he has a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his friend’s prow­ess with a cam­era. “In a way, a rev­e­la­tion was his in­ter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy. As I was writ­ing the book, I thought he just picked up the cam­era and found an in­ter­est and dis­cov­ered he had a tal­ent, which he did, a won­der­ful tal­ent for pho­tog­ra­phy. I didn’t know he stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy at an ear­lier age and had a life-long am­bi­tion to be a pho­tog­ra­pher.”

Out­side of his writ­ing, tweeting, con­ven­tion ap­pear­ances and per­form­ing his show

Shat­ner’s World in the­atres around the globe, Shat­ner also spends a sub­stan­tial por­tion of his cal­en­dar do­ing phil­an­thropic work for char­i­ties and his own beloved Hol­ly­wood Char­ity Horse Show. Bring­ing that as­pect of his life back to

Trek, he’s clearly grate­ful that fan­dom’s gen­er­ous spirit has al­lowed him to raise tremen­dous funds for chil­dren’s char­i­ties Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity and the Amer­i­can Le­gion, among oth­ers.

“The pub­lic gives you celebrity by pop­u­lar­is­ing you, and you can use that celebrity not only for your own good with your liveli­hood, but for other peo­ple’s good as well,” he re­flects. “You can en­large the value of that celebrity to bring good things to oth­ers.”

Fine words to live long and pros­per by.

Can you re­mem­ber step­ping on set for the first time?

The most vivid mem­ory I have of Star Trek is look­ing at the pi­lot they made with an­other ac­tor. NBC didn’t want to give the or­der for that pi­lot, but they wanted to do an­other pi­lot so they asked me to look at the pi­lot with the idea of play­ing the cap­tain. I re­mem­ber look­ing at the pi­lot think­ing it was a ter­rific idea and agreed to play it. That was my first im­pres­sion.

Is there a prop or cos­tume you would have loved to have taken home?

No, un­for­tu­nately I didn’t. I was asked that ques­tion by some­one who said they could get me a lot of money for a gen­uine prop [laughs]. It would be in­ter­est­ing to try one of those shirts on again and see if I could still fit into one.

Is there a line of di­a­logue that’s stayed with you?

No, I have the kind of mem­ory that learns the words and af­ter it’s done, they’re gone again. The day af­ter it’s all gone.

When was the last time you watched an episode?

I have al­ways stayed away from look­ing at my­self. The longer I stay away it’s like look­ing at a pho­to­graph from school. Look what I looked like back then!

What is Star Trek’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion to the world?

Its con­tri­bu­tion has been mul­ti­ple and var­ied. In­nu­mer­able peo­ple have come up to me to say how it has af­fected their lives. I was shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary and I had to travel to quite a few places in the world but I couldn’t do it be­cause the air­fare would have cost more than I had to spend on the whole doc. Bom­bardier Air­planes out of Canada lent me an air­plane be­cause the head of the com­pany had be­come an aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer be­cause of Star Trek. And that’s just one in­stance of as­tro­nauts, doc­tors, tech­ni­cal peo­ple, writ­ers and sci­en­tists who have told me how their early years were in­flu­enced by the ques­tions and some of the pre­tend an­swers that Star Trek brought up.

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friend­ship With A Re­mark­able Man is pub­lished 16 Fe­bru­ary.


Wil­liam Shat­ner takes five

“For the last time, it’s my turn with the gym equip­ment!”

Cap­tain on the bridge.

Some­one didn’t get the uni­form memo that day.

“No, I’m just go­ing to take a lit­tle rest down here thanks.”

Cap­tains old and new.

Kirk and Spock: the orig­i­nal bro­mance.

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