Ahead of Star Trek Destination London, Scott Snowden spoke to one of the Enterprise captains attending, William Shatner about acting, writing, Gene Roddenberry’s vision and the convention sub-culture.
You’ve acted in theatre, TV, film, you’ve directed, produced, written books – you’ve reinvented yourself a number of times. Does it bother you at all that you’re still best remembered for Star Trek though?
Well, no, it doesn’t bother me. Coming to London to do a convention and be a part of a Star Trek event would be only natural. People say, oh yeah, the guy from Star Trek, but I’ve done other things than Star Trek and became known for it, especially in the US, and what I’m finding is the case more often than not is that it becomes Shatner and not just Captain Kirk. But, you know, my feelings of Star Trek is one of complete acceptance and the fact that I’m only too grateful that I was able to perform it and in some cases perform it well. And it went on to become extremely successful and become perhaps unique in the realms of TV history, and I’m part of it and so I’m proud of it.
Did you become a disciple of Roddenberry’s vision during production of the original TV series?
What an interesting question, because I am at this moment doing a documentary on the Next Generation, which I don’t know whether you know about how that had a vision – are you aware of that..?
I’m aware of the basic reinvention that it had to go through in order to update…
That’s it, that’s exactly it! So I didn’t know that – strangely. You knew it, I didn’t. So when I discovered it with conversations with people like Patrick, I felt there was a story there and that’s the story I’m doing on the vision that Roddenberry had that was antithetical to telling the story; man is protected, and there is no emotion between the members of the cast. And then the writers said, well wait a minute how do we write a story and it is that contrast, that competitive attitude that is the basis of the documentary that I am calling ‘The Next Generation’.
Fantastic. What’s the time scale for that?
I don’t know. I’ve just started it. I’ve finished the – if you will – sizzle reel, and I am going to present it to broadcasters who have indicated an interest probably next week, but in my mind it is filled with people who have attitudes and thoughts that are diametric opposite to everybody else. So there are people who are in collision with other people that go to make up the first two years of ‘The Next Generation’.
Does the phenomenon of Star Trek still amaze you?
Yes and no. I did a documentary, another documentary called ‘Get a Life’ – that’s out there now and it’s got really good reviews and you will probably see it in some moderation sooner or later, we’re distributing it now. ‘Get a Life’ asks the question, why do people go to conventions. That’s the phenomena and I get an answer. I finally get an answer to why people are going and I’m going to leave it as a mystery to you so you will have to see ‘Get a Life’ but when I’m asked as I have so many times for so many years why is Star Trek successful, what causes the phenomena I have an answer and I didn’t know I had an answer until now.
Are you looking forward to the Destination London event?
I am. They’ve become my buddies those actors and I’m ready to see them and go and talk to them on stage and also go out with them at night. We’re all footloose and fancy free, but maybe not Patrick. [Laughs]
Is this the first time you’ve been back to the UK capital since you hosted ‘Have I Got News For You’?
It might be actually…
How was that?
Oh good. Yeah, it probably was the last time. That was so much fun. That was a great deal of fun. I love that sort of written-on comedy. You never know what the next thing is going to be.
I think it was clear to see that you were enjoying yourself.
How wonderful. [Laughs]
Do you think English fans differ in any way from fan in the US? Are UK fans more reserved, for example?
You know they probably are. Probably better mannered is a specific way of…yes, the English are more reserved and better mannered than American fans. Americans are raucous and they want what they want and I got into a near fight with a guy who said “take a picture with me and my wife” and I was with some friends and my wife and I said, “not now” and then he launched into…he cursed me and finally I was about to go on him and my wife got in the way and it was an experience. And I thought I can’t afford to do that.
I was just going to ask actually has a particularly obsessive fan ever freaked you out!
Yeah, I was just freaked out. And another time – I must have cut in front of a guy in my car, I didn’t realise it, and then I turned down a block and suddenly I see a guy beside me and he’s racing me! He’s shaking his fist and I picked up speed and he picked up speed and we’re going down a residential area side by side, and finally he cuts in front of me only because I cherished my car more than he cherished his! He stops, and he gets out of his car, and by that time I’d lost it, I get out of my car and I was dancing towards him – this is like a year ago – and this young guy, he must have been 25, he was built like a swimmer and he’s coming at me and I’m fuming and I’m going to punch him out! [Laughs] And he suddenly stopped and said, “Shatner, I used to be a stunt man for you”, and I was ready to tear his head off and obviously he would have torn mine and got into a lot of legal trouble and it was stopped by a freak of luck, on my part, that the guy knew me and worked on a movie with me.
What are your thoughts on the J.J. Abrams reboot?
I think it’s terrific. I think that they may lack some of the storytelling impetus that we had had on our show and because we had a small screen and he had a large screen to fill up, but what he does with all of the action and drive and the ride he takes the audience on is certainly refreshing the franchise and I think it is terrific.
Do you feel the true home of Star Trek is as a continuing episodic TV series?
Well, you know, you might be right, if it were done well. Star Trek is at its best and has its philosophical base and that works well on a small screen and so I think if you’re going to tell a Star Trek story which should be human maybe the small screen is the home, although J.J. Abrams is proving us wrong.
Do you have a favourite movie or moment from the series?
You know, our movies were good – some of them were really good. I directed Star Trek V, which was not as successful as some of the others. Financially I made about the same amount of money, but probably I got reviews that weren’t consistent with the others. But I learned a great deal on that. I had the best time and although I wished it had been a better movie I learned a great deal. So, from a personal point of view my directing Star Trek V was a life enhancing time for me.
Was it difficult to make the transition from in front of the camera to behind the camera?
No, I had done that quite often on television and on other films and went on to do it more often afterwards but because there was more money involved I suppose it was more difficult and more people to answer to. But I found that I was onto something and then it turned out not to be. I knew the Hollywood disappointment. I wanted to say…my one line story was Star Trek goes in search of God, that was what I wanted to do and then because of a variety of reasons I mitigated and it ultimately turned out not to be that, but that was my original thought.
And what are you working on at the moment? You mentioned the ‘Get A Life documentary…
Well, yes, I’ve done that and I’m working on a Xena documentary. I’m trying to sell another documentary – I’ll know soon about whether I’ve got that. I’m looking at a treatment for a series – I’m up for some appointments for a series that I’m trying to sell, a half hour comedy. I’m getting an I-phone app, which will be out in October. Oh, God, I’m a one-man show. I opened in Broadway and toured 29 cities this past year. I’m doing another 20 cities in November and January.
You sound busy.
I’m doing a character in an animated film in the next couple of weeks. I’ve just done a music video. I did Shakespeare last night on stage with a group of well-known actors. You know, I’m doing lots of things! [Laughs]
William Shatner – or Mr Shatner to you – will be appearing at Destination Star Trek London from the 19th-21st October at ExCeL Centre. For more information and tickets, please visit www.startreklondon.com.
Scott Snowden writes for Bleeding Cool. For most of his childhood Scott was mocked for being a fan of all things science fiction…then he went to Comic-Con and realised he had friends. Thousands of them. He has never looked back.