Chatting With William Shatner
Actor talks new 'Star Trek' documentary, 'Get a Life' and more
In an infamous "Saturday Night Live" sketch from the 1980s, William Shatner is shown yelling at a bunch of "Star Trek" fans to "get a life."
While Shatner, 81, admits to having felt that way at one point, the actor who is best known for his career-shaping role as Captain James Kirk, said he now admires and appreciates fans of "Star Trek." The show originally aired on TV from 1966 to 1969, and Shatner went on to star in seven "Star Trek" movies.
To celebrate and better understand Trekkies, Shatner produced the documentary "William Shatner's Get a Life," a flick that follows fans from all over the world attending a 2011 "Star Trek" convention in Las Vegas. Inspired by his 1999 book of the same name, the doc will debut on Epix Saturday night.
To plug the film, Shatner, whose credits also include "Boston Legal" "Shatner's Raw Nerve" and "$#*! My Dad Says," talked to MSN TV about why he made "William Shatner's Get a Life" and what the future holds.
MSN TV: Why did you want to make this documentary?
William Shatner: I've been doing documentaries as of late. They're very fun to do in that you ask a question and you begin to examine why and how and where and you come across clues and you follow the clues. I had written a book called "Get a Life" where I did my due diligence -- this was years ago -- and I told some amusing stories about people who come to conventions and what they get out of it. And the conclusion of the book was they come to these conventions not to see the actors but to see each other. And I thought that was interesting. I always thought they came to see the actors. Years later, I got the idea to do this as an interesting visual. I asked the questions "Who goes to conventions?" Now, either because I'm older or because I'm led by chance to meet these very intelligent, very creative people who talk to me about passion and talk to me about cultural needs, I understand. And suddenly the conventions are on a whole new level of thought that I'd never conceived of and that became the place to go and discover more. So I began to find more people who could talk more on that subject and it became something totally different, something beyond what I thought it could be.
Is it hard to understand this type of fan devotion unless you're there at a convention?
Yes. Exactly. Comic-Con is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. As you know, I was at Comic-Con. Although we didn't walk the streets, we drove them very slowly. The people who were sitting at the cafes and the people who were in the panels -- it was amazing. There was no threat of violence, there was no threat of aggression. Everybody was so mellow and cool. It was just an atmosphere that it unbelievable unless you're there. It would be very easy to scoff at these people who are dressed up and in makeup and spending a lot of money on paraphernalia unless you know what was happening on a level that not even they understand. Many of the people there don't even understand why they're there.
Do you ever feel that you want Trekkies to look to you for your other works? "Boston Legal," which won you two Emmys, for example?
No. Look at the opportunity. I get to be given money to go with several cameras and talk to people and explore and ask questions about what are you doing and why? I love to talk to people and find out about them and at one point I had two interview programs on the air and it was the most enjoyable process of exploring some aspect of that person's personae and personality and being. That's what I was doing with these people who come to conventions. But focusing on why they were here and it became the most intriguing thing of all. Imagine this young man with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), only able to breathe using a tube. He calls himself Captain Dave and he's scooting around from one place to another at a convention, entirely in a battery-driven wheelchair, guided only by a mouthpiece. He's living 15 years beyond the time he was supposed to but he hasn't died -- according to his mother -- because of his passion for "Star Trek." That's mind boggling. Rather than being forced into a category because I've played this part, I see it as being given an opportunity in a myriad of cases to do other things that I never thought of doing prior to all of this. I feel an extreme amount of gratitude for the time I spent on "Star Trek."
How did all of this come about? Did you approach Epix or did they approach you?
I approached them. They bought "The Captains" (2011), which was the documentary I did prior to this and they had great success with it and great publicity with it. So when I broached this idea they agreed to do it. And so I got the money to make it so hopefully I'll sell it elsewhere in the world and they're getting the same bang for their buck as they did for the first one. So now I'm working on a third one, which I hope they'll buy. I can't tell you about it because I want to get more set. But it's equally intriguing.
What's next? You tried your hand at a sitcom with "$#*! My Dad Says, " but that didn't work out. Do you think you'd do another sitcom?
It became really popular. I don't know why they canceled it. The show was in the Top 20 most of the time and the Top 25 all of the time. I was perplexed as to why they canceled that particular show. But I loved doing a four-camera show. I was appalled it was killed after one season. But I was told people like relationship shows and apparently the relationships between the people on my show weren't as fully fleshed as they might've been on other shows.
It was a challenge. It was a rush working in front of a live audience. I did a one-man show on Broadway, which I took out on tour to 15 cities, and I'll be taking it out on tour to 20 cities this fall and winter. And that's a direct result of that sitcom and performing in front of 15,000 people not knowing what I'm going to say next.
"William Shatner's Get a Life" airs Saturday, July 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Epix.