William Shatner: ‘My whole career has been a close call’
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William Shatner is headed back to television with a new comedy pilot for CBS, and he’s also busy in the world of comics with his assorted projects for Bluewater Productions. The 79-year-old icon is also coming off of the great success of the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, a fundraiser that since 1990 has bridged the world of celebrity and saddle culture to raise money for children in need. I sat down with Shatner at the recent Anaheim Comic-Con to talk about the Starfleet universe, his unexpected interest in reviving radio drama and his insights into the difficult life decisions of an actor.
GB: You’ve had such an interesting ride through pop culture, going all the way back to the 1960s, but in recent years, with the role of Denny Crane on ‘Boston Legal’ and ‘The Practice,’ there was a new level of acclaim from your peers. They awarded you the first Emmy of your career in 2004, and two of those trophies are on the shelf at home. What do you think about now when you reflect on your odyssey as an actor?
WS: I wish I knew the truths or the verities of acting or performing. I wish I knew, really. Nobody knows. What is not talked about often are the intricacies of the decision of staying in acting over the years when it’s a game for the young and the beautiful. When you’re young and beautiful and talented, you have a real shot. When you’re a little bit older and you’re not as beautiful and the next beauty is coming up, more often than not you’re starting to see the end of your career. What do you do with the rest of your life? When do you make the decision: Should I try something else, or do I hang on and hope for the best? It’s a critical, life-changing decision, and it has to be made clear-eyed and not with an emotional point of view. And that’s difficult because you’re already emotional.
GB: There will be another ‘Star Trek’ film coming from J.J. Abrams and his team, and I’m wondering what you thought of the first. For me, I loved the spirit of the movie...
WS: I agree with you. That’s my opinion too. It was a wonderful ride. I think J.J. Abrams did a wonderful job in enlarging the franchise and constructing a foundation for the sequel. I don’t know anything about that sequel. I didn’t know anything about the first one. I know even less about the second one. I know less than nothing about the sequel, if that’s possible.
GB: ‘Less than nothing,’ I like that. I might make that the title of my autobiography. You always have a range of endeavors underway, both in entertainment and beyond. What are you most excited about right now?
WS: Well, as you know, I’ve got a series of comic books, four all together -- one is out there already, ‘Tek War,’ and another is coming out now, and two more coming within the year. So I’ve really entered the comic book world but for me the next thing is my plan to make them in radio shows.
GB: Oh, that’s interesting. The theater of the mind -- such a rich tradition.
WS: Yes, that’s it, exactly. And it will have brought ‘Tek War’ from novels to television to movies and to comic books and, hopefully, to radio.
GB: You have stage in your background, audio books and animation voice work too. With all that considered, I can see why radio would be alluring.
WS: Yes, it is. And I’ve done radio before as well. It’s a foreign vehicle now. These days, it’s hard to find people who can even write for radio. They’ve all disappeared. The production of a radio show is a challenge too, you’ve got to find sound people for all the effects, for instance, and that’s almost a lost art. A whole tradition has been lost. We’re barely able to recapture some of it, but that is exactly what I’d like to do. It’s all very early on. I’ve got to sell the idea. This piece you’re writing might be helpful.
GB: You also have a new network television project ...
WS: Yes, there’s a new pilot that I did that’s based on the Twitter that this son did about his father. ... We’re calling it ‘$#*! My Dad Says’ and that’s a whole new concept in that somebody twitters a statement and it gathers an electronic audience of 2-million people, and as a result a network and a studio make a pilot. It’s a whole new world that we’re all barely getting into.
WS: Across the platforms, you have a unity, which is acting truth -- storytelling. The technological means by which you tell that story change, but if you can follow that, then you can stay abreast of what’s happening.
GB: You’ve been coming to these conventions for years, and though so much has changed in your own life, I imagine the conversations and contacts you have in these settings don’t change much.
WS: You’re exactly right. They’ve come here to say hello to me and for me to say hello to them. It’s fan communication. It’s Twitter in person.
GB: Have you had any especially quirky encounters here today? I saw some of the ‘Star Trek’ faithful outside in their costumes. ...
WS: Well, I just got here, I just walked in. I was at MIP, the convention in France where television shows are bought and sold. And with volcano and everything, it was difficult to get out. I felt like I was on the last flight out of Vietnam. I got out of Charles DeGaulle Airport and two hours later it was closed and the planes were grounded.
GB: Well, as James T. Kirk you were no stranger to close calls. You practically invented them.
WS: Hah! The way I look at it, my whole career has been a close call.
-- Geoff Boucher
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Photos, from top: William Shatner in April 2010 in France at MIP. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press. Shatner on May 19, 2010, at the CBS upfront presentation in New York. Credit: Andrew Walker / Associated Press. The cast of ‘Star Trek’ toasts the future at a 1988 press conference. Credit: Los Angeles Times