50 YEARS OF TREK
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.”
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.”
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.
"IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO TRY ONE OF THOSE SHIRTS ON AGAIN..."
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.