Interview: William Shatner loves playing evil in 'Escape from Planet Earth'
The iconic actor is getting ready for a new round in the Star Trek/Star Wars feud
Though he’ll be 82 next month, William Shatner shows no signs of slowing down. The legendary actor has starred in a range of high-profile TV series including “T. J. Hooker” and “Boston Legal” but is, of course, best known for playing the iconic James Tiberius Kirk on the 1960s “Star Trek” series as well as in seven "Star Trek" feature films. He’s also hosted a reality-based TV series, was the official spokesperson for Priceline, has written many fiction and nonfiction books, and has toured the country in his one-man show “Shatner’s World.”
In his latest project, the 3D animated sci-fi adventure “Escape from Planet Earth,” William Shatner plays an unscrupulous government official working on some top secret projects in Area 51. The film begins on Planet Baab where beloved astronaut Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a national hero for the blue alien population. A master of daring rescues, Scorch pulls off astonishing feats with the help of his nerdy brother, Gary (Rob Corddry), head of mission control at BASA, the planet’s space agency. When Lena (Jessica Alba), the no-nonsense head of the agency tells the brothers about an SOS from a notoriously dangerous planet (guess which one!), Scorch heads off for another dangerous mission. Upon arrival, however, the astronaut is entrapped by the evil General Shanker (Shatner), forcing the terrified Gary to leave his wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) and their son and head to that scary planet to save his brother. “Escape from Planet Earth” also features the voices of Sofia Vergara and Ricky Gervais.
I was very excited to sit down with William Shatner in Beverly Hills.
MSN Movies: Is it as fun as it looks playing someone who is as deliciously evil as General Shanker?
William Shatner: Yes, it was great fun. I tried various things to find a voice and attitude that wasn’t already out there. Voice acting is very interesting, I’ve done several animated projects and you have to make the voice reflect the character and try and do as much with a word as you can with a look in a live-action film.
Did you base this character on any real-life figures?
You know, you’re my very first interview so I have to search for my answers a little bit because I haven’t thought about this stuff before. That’s an interesting question. I was going for some really prissy, overbearing, mad character—I guess I had Hitler in mind now that I think of it!
I assume that you had to record your part in isolation from the other actors?
Yes, you’re there in the studio completely alone. I really don’t know why we have to do it that way. I’ve done a lot of animated films and I keep asking that question because it would be so much better to have someone to bounce off of, especially if your dialogue is as intimately connected as ours was. Why can’t you record more than one person at the same time and create more of a sense of spontaneity?
Is it because the casting of the voice talent takes place over a long period of time?
Yes, the logistics involved are always difficult. But, honestly, it’s the bane of all actors who do animated films because we’re in total isolation and have to imagine what the other guys are going to do.
You obviously have one of the most amazing careers in show business—
Do you really feel that way? That’s good to hear!
Are you kidding? At this point in your career, how do you choose the things you want to get involved in?
Here’s an example. I was watching the Doritos commercial during the Super Bowl, and I got struck by this idea of something I could do that’s simple and funny for that campaign so I start the wheels in motion. I made it known that I had a creative idea for a Doritos commercial and the fun part is seeing what I can do to bring my idea to fruition.
My favorite celebrity “feud” is the one between you and Carrie Fisher. Have there been any recent salvos?
Carrie is a sweetheart. I’ve been on tour in a one-man show that was taped for broadcast and I needed permission to use some footage that’s in the show and she was the first person to sign off on it! We’ll try to keep our competition going.
Especially now that J.J. Abrams is directing the new “Star Wars” movie!
Oh, yeah, doing both series, that’s a great angle! Who does he love more—Captain Kirk or Princess Leia? (Laughs.) That’s a great one, I'm going to use it!
I have to mention my favorite “Star Trek” episode—“The City on the Edge of Forever” that was written by Harlan Ellison. I thought it was fantastic, but even as I kid hated the fact that you guys had to let Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) die since, according to the story, her successful peace movement in the 1930s would have ultimately led to a German victory in World War II. Did you have any second thoughts about that plotline?
There’s a lot of higher-level mystery in that question—the mystery of how time is evidenced in the bizarreness of the universe, how it would be possible to go back in time which is what we all yearn to do, and yet not affect what happens if you change something. You don't want to become your own grandfather! I find the whole time travel question very unsettling if you take it to its logical extension. I think it might eventually be possible, but then what happens?
"Escape from Planet Earth" is currently in theaters.