William Shatner on comics, fame and missing the ‘Star Trek’ movie

Sept. 15, 2008 | 10:29 p.m.

Shatnersuit_3Communications were down and the captain looked confused. “These computer guys are working in my office,” William Shatner muttered, “so I don’t know where we should go to talk.”

The 77-year-old was standing in the lobby of his Studio City office, which is lined with more photographs from his beloved equestrian pursuits than his interstellar acting career. He looked at the ceiling and then the door. “I know: Let’s go to Starbucks. I don’t have my wallet, though. Will you buy me coffee?”

Wow, Mr. Priceline paycheck can’t pay for a cup of joe?

I’m joking, of course; I was genuinely thrilled to spring for a triple-shot decaf for the man who gave us all James T. Kirk, the bane of the Klingon empire and the master of the strained staccato delivery. I wasn’t the only one a little geeked to see the venerable old space cowboy; the barista got the “Star Trek” icon’s autograph on an empty cup and then customers kept coming by our table to shake his hand. One gushed about “Boston Legal,” and another, oddly, expressed a passion for those Priceline.com ads. “Maybe coming here,” Shatner whispered, “wasn’t a good idea.”

Shatner is shorter than you think and bow-legged after all those years in the saddle, but the main impression he makes is as a man of fairly intense focus. He brought a stack of notes to the café and scanned them, then looked up like a professor about to start his lecture. “Let’s begin, we have plenty to talk about.” I sat up a little straighter and looked at my tape recorder to make the sure the red light was on.

And there was a lot to talk about. There is a new “Star Trek” film coming, and Shatner is peeved that he won’t be in it (more on that later), but it’s just about the only thing he isn’t in. This past weekend he popped in on “Saturday Night Live” and Sunday night he may well be picking up his third Emmy for his sublimely kooky role as lawyer Denny Crane, the scene stealer on “Boston Legal” (and previously on “The Practice”). “Boston” returns for its final season on Sept. 22.

Kirk_2 There’s also Shatner’s sometime-career in music, his recent autobiography and the deep shelf of sci-fi novels with his name on them, as well as his pitchman work. There’s also a brand new venture: The actor is getting into the comic-book business by partnering with Bluewater Productions Inc on adaptations of his novels about heroic deep-space struggles. Two books, "Man o’ War" and "Quest for Tomorrow," will each be given a mini-series treatment, while his far more famous "TekWar" will be an up-ended series. (Darren G. Davis, president of Bluewater, tells me this "TekWar" will also be more faithful to the original novel than the 1990s television series of the same title, which itself yielded a Marvel Comics adaptation.) There will be a fourth title, also, based on a new Shatner concept that is still under wraps.   

“With all of these comics, I have final approval," Shatner told me. "This is not a licensing arrangement, this will be me involved very directly throughout the process. They are going to do adaptations of my ideas and also sequels; they will be in the stores in March of 2009. I loved comics as a kid. I used to sit under the sheets with a flashlight and read Superman when I was 6 in Montreal and now, with the comics as they are today, it’s thrilling, really.”

ShatnerShatner kept tabs on comics through the years, and he has a soft spot for the old Gold Key comics based on the original "Star Trek" television series. "Oh, they were great. They always made me look so skinny." He also watches the current rage for super-hero movies with a bit of longing. "I would have loved to have been in a super-hero movie. Any of them. To be Superman? Or Captain Marvel? Who wouldn’t love that?"

Shatner will have his name emblazoned in the title of the new comics, and it would have been a nice tie-in if the early issues were coming out amid the hoopla of his appearance in the next “Star Trek” film, the J.J. Abrams reboot set for May, but that’s a party he is not invited to. Only Leonard Nimoy, sharing the role of Spock, will be returning to the cast, which will otherwise feature young actors portraying Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew fresh from Starfleet Academy.

“There is no need for me to know anything because I’m not a part of it. They will have an extraordinary campaign when it comes about, and my dear friend Leonard will be part of that and I would have loved to have been there with him. I am very happy for Leonard, my good friend, though.”

But wait, didn’t Shatner’s Kirk die on screen in “Star Trek Generations” in 1994? He rolled his eyes. “It’s science fiction! If we’re trying to put together the DNA of a dinosaur dead for a 160 million years, why can’t scientists take a molecule that’s floating around and bring back Kirk?” Shatner shook his head and watched the traffic on Ventura Boulevard. “It was weird for me to hand over the movie reins to Patrick Stewart in the last movie. It’s strange to say goodbye. But it isn’t any more strange than saying goodbye to ‘Boston Legal,’ which has been part of my life these past few years in an extraordinary way.”

It was on “The Practice” that Shatner first appeared as Crane, an aging attorney with a slippery grasp of ethics and, at times, reality.

“For me, it has been the greatest fun I’ve ever had as an actor. I’m already in a nostalgic frame of mind. We have about two months left of shooting ‘Boston Legal.’ I will mourn and grieve the loss of this show. I won’t miss getting up and driving to Manhattan Beach at 5 a.m., but i will miss the people. And David Kelley: I looked with relish each week when the script came in to see what new madness David had come up with for me. I have worked with very few geniuses, but David Kelley is a true genius. The efficiency of his ideas is perhaps the best in television. ‘Boston Legal’ always had dual currents as the main flow of its history. On the one hand it was a comedy — outrageous, farcical, almost demented — and the other one was as a dedicated political treatise in which a very erudite man.”

On “SNL” this past weekend, Shatner spoofed his pitchman work for Priceline by pretending to coach Olympic hero Michael Phelps about maintaining "integrity" when it comes to accepting endorsements. The crux of the gag is that Shatner would do anything for a buck and, well, he was the guy who in 2006 sold a kidney stone to Goldenpalace.com for $75,000. The money went to charity, though, so the real knock on Shatner isn’t that he’s money-hungry, it’s that he’s starving for the spotlight. (The kidney stunt got Shatner on “The View,” by the way.) When the aging actor talks about his latest Emmy nomination, it’s clear that for him the platform is more important than the paycheck.

“Look at Lance Armstrong and Brett Favre, these guys that keep coming back. It’s the roar of the crowd and being told how great you are. It’s like that with the nominations. It makes you part of the happening. When you’re not nominated, when you’re not on the scene, then you’re not happening. No matter what you or anyone else says, when that light is not on, you’re in the dark. You don’t know who you are until someone cheers your name. And spells it right.”

– Geoff Boucher

RELATED A look at the new faces of "Star Trek" side-by-side with the original cast

2007 photograph of William Shatner by David Sprague for the Los Angeles Times.

Promotional art for William Shatner’s partnership with Bluewater Productions, courtesy of Bluewater.

Undated photo of Shatner as Captain Kirk from the archives of The Times.

More in: Uncategorized, Star Trek, William Shatner

Comments


39 Responses to William Shatner on comics, fame and missing the ‘Star Trek’ movie

  1. PNW Trojan says:

    Geoff…THANKS! Enjoyed 'Kirk' in early Star Treks, then, some demented goof got him princessed-up like a drag queen in the more recent movies – shudder! REALLY LOVE DANNY CRANE – insanely funny, absurd…Shatner HAS BEEN EXTRAORDINARY, but should bow down and give eternal kudos to David Kelly and his crew!!! Kelly is such a talented man…have enjoyed everything he has done, but NOTHING as much as Boston Legal! We will grieve for BL like we did for Frazier, Cheers and Mash…but something extraordinary WILL come along. We'd cut the TV cable years ago, since so little is worth watching, let alone PAYING to be abused by Gollywierd! Netflix and our Library system are the source of great amusements in the dark hours.

  2. peter blair says:

    shanter deserves better than this.
    being overlooked by the studio making the
    next ST marks a new low in talent
    selection.

  3. TrekFan says:

    I love what Bluewater does. They did a sequel to Clash of the Titans and a bunch of other Ray Harryhausen books. They rock and I cant wait to see the comics with Shatner. I love Shatner!!!

  4. Aule says:

    If Shatner is 77 and read Superman when he was 6 then he must have had an advance copy for he was 6 in 1937. Oh well, your memory gets a little flacky with age. Great interview though.

    • tiberius james says:

      What age were you when you first read Superman? Or are you immune to 'Aule man time'?
      Get off that horse, dear – it's dangerous…

  5. Barnacle Bob says:

    Mr Shatner dominates your attention when he is on-screen. Remember Shatner's Kirk opposite the Next Generation's Jean Luc Picard. Shatner stole the show and practically body-slammed the Shakespearean-trained actor named…blah (See I can't even remember the other actors name now! Memory loss is a known side-effect after one's exposure to Shatner's dominance)
    Frankly, I think Shatner would just bull-doze the new 20ish crew while on-screen in this new Trek film. Then he'd rewrite the script so that the new Starfleet cadets did nothing but shine his shoes, pick up his dry cleaned uniforms and try to find the number for those identical triplet babes on Rigel 7. That'd be a good flick.

  6. George Takei says:

    Does the term "media hog" mean anything to Bill Shatner? What about "egotist" or
    "glutton", he has no humility this fat little man, no redeeming qualities, he has had his 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol said, but he still want's more! Enough already, give someone else a chance, give it up Bill, go ride your horse!

    • Doc says:

      George: Be careful, your jealousy is showing. While Shatner continues to produce good drama, comedy, and has no fear of making fun of himself, you on the other hand are a one trick pony whose only possible endorsement might be for a hemmoroid pillow. Or is that the reason you have trouble sitting down after you find someone willing to date?_

  7. Correction says:

    Aule – While you correctly point out that Superman wasn't published in 1937, the first publication was in 1938, and the Superman comic was started in 1939… so Shatner read Superman under the sheets with a flashlight when he was 8. Though I'm sure you remember every difference between what you did when you were 6 and 8, that was really great way to point out random flaws in someone's childhood memories. Sure makes a difference.

  8. David Roderick says:

    Love Denny Crane. My wife and I, in our 70's and exploring the USA for two years in our motorhome, pop a DVD three times a week of "Boston Legal" into our TV. OMG, we love it. A rare instance of art, excellent acting, terrific writing, humor, and great insights into our world today. We are going to miss it dearly. If I had the power…I'd say…another five years. Hats off to William Shattner, David Kelley and the staff of Boston Legal!!! Davidsan

  9. blad roster says:

    DELUSIONS. they've been trying to get away from the fat old Shatner image. deal with it.

  10. Jack Meoph says:

    SHATNER!!!!!

  11. William Shatner and David Hasselhoff (circa) are making a run for the white house. Read the latest news at http://www.shatnerhasselhoff.com.

  12. Margaret says:

    Yes, Shatner should have a role in the movie. Perhaps it could be a memory of him. I gravitate to anything that he is involved with.

  13. DNA says:

    Who are these people making disparaging remarks? Exactly.
    I LOVE YOU BILL SHATNER!!!!

  14. commander data says:

    poor shat, i don't think so, his life has been an open book or tell all ,i've met him briefly 10 yrs ago
    and to say tv did more for him as a person than his personality in real life is a understatement i guess the saying is true your nobody unless your in the limelight and being talked about

  15. Miles says:

    It never ceases to amaze me when celebrities get judged based on their behavior during fleeting encounters with complete strangers. If people had been calling you Captain Kirk and asking for your autograph in the middle of dinner and yelling "Beam me up, Scotty!" at you for 40 years straight as they passed you on the street, you might not react perfectly every time.
    As for Shatner being self-absorbed, spotlight-hungry and insecure…hello…he's an ACTOR! Doesn't it penetrate certain skulls that the vast majority of negative comments about Shatner come from OTHER actors, who are also self-absorbed, spotlight-hungry and insecure? Consider the source, guys…the words of a failed actor like Wil Wheaton must be taken with a shaker of salt. Anyway, the guy who brought us James T. Kirk and Denny Crane can well survive the censure of Wesley F***ing Crusher.

  16. Walter Koenig says:

    Hey Bill – what about the supporting actors???

  17. Miles says:

    I love the way people judge celebrities based on momentary encounters with them. If people had been shouting "Beam me up, Scotty!" at you on the street, interrupting your dinner for autographs or asking you the secret of "Star Trek's" enduring popularity for 40 straight years, you might not react perfectly to it every time either. People object to Shatner being self-absorbed, spotlight-hungry and insecure off camera? He's an ACTOR! If he didn't have these qualities he would never have become an actor in the first place.
    As for Will F***ing Wheaton…Bill can well survive the censure of a failed actor whose only claim to fame is that his character on NextGen was so annoying he was written off the show.

  18. MAC says:

    "You don’t know who you are until someone cheers your name. "
    Sorry, but that's just pathetic. No wonder he has such a need for the spotlight; the man has no idea who he is. Without adulation, he is, quite literally, nothing.
    I hope I'm not still trying to find myself at 77. I won't say I'm quite there yet, but at least I've become good at finding parts of myself.

  19. scott st. james says:

    Geoff,
    The Shatner/Spader pairing is the best television pairing I've ever seen. And yes, when "Denny" is being silly, weird, whatever, no one does it better.
    Mr. Shatner says HE'LL miss Boston Legal?!? He's gonna have a lot company!
    Scott St. James

  20. The Shatner/Spader duo is the best duo I've ever seen on television.
    And when Shatner is being silly, weird, whatever, NOBODY does it BETTER!
    Mr. Shatner says HE'll miss Boston Legal? He will have LOTS of company!!!
    Great column, Geoff
    Scott St. James

  21. Brian McNally says:

    Why does no one talk about the genius, pathos and ethos of TJ HOOKER in the mythology around Shatner. I think that it easily surpasses the work on Star Trek. I four one think that this is what he will be remembered for in the final evaluation of his genius.
    TJ HOOKER is the man.

  22. dee hinkleman says:

    shatner is one of the most intelligent human beings of these times. when combined with kelly and spader on boston legal. an unparalled series happens. sadly, one spent a great deal of time trying to find out when it would be on tv. about the time you settled in to the time you found them on, they changed the night or the time. even trying to track on the computer was frustrating. however, being the quality show made it worth the effort. please,please keep it on the air with a consistent day & time and you will keep a good, strong following for years to come. luvya dh

  23. Cory says:

    William Shatner is made of pure awesome. Even awesome thinks Bill is awesome.
    Cheers to you for years of entertainment, laughs and all-round awesomeness.

  24. Stacy Brian Bartley says:

    I got to meet Shatner back in the mid 70's when he was doing a production of Arsenic and Old Lace playing the role of Mortimer in Columbus Ohio. He was just a nice as could be. Although he was rushed he gave me every ounce of warmth he could in a short period of time and gave me an autograph (Something Jimmiy Doohan was astonished about when I met him years later and told the tale). I have no doubt that he's to some degree ego driven-most actors are. But that summer he was a starving actor doing theater along with Sylvia Sydney and Peter Lupus and he was just as nice as you could please (Peter Lupus dodged the fans. And where is HE today?). My experience of William Shatner was a genuinely nice and yes even a bit shy guy. These days I think he makes a lot of money playing the stereotype of himself, and I hope he's laughing all the way to the bank!

  25. Fanner says:

    No More Shatner..Please!!
    While his legacy will live, he's no longer fit enough to make any kind of an impact to the movie.
    Lets face it, the older Indy is just not appealing to the indy of Last Crusade!!!
    Same moot here…
    Besides, I've always believed shatner to be a substandard actor. He should feel gratified that his role as the iconic role of Captain James T Kirk will be remembered fondly..and not as a whiny, complaining actor who messed up the franchise to included screen time just because no one else wants him in any other project(blame it on typecast if you will.)
    I trust Abrams. I know he has an intuition about how this movie will work…ROCK !!! Mr Shatner – please trust this director and let the Trek take its course!!!

  26. Adam says:

    I for one WILL NOT watch the new Star Trek movie unless Shatner is in it!!!

  27. giovanni says:

    estoy totalmente enamorado de danny creen solo le pido a dios y a la virgen poder estrechar la mano del hombre mas bello del mundo vivo en la isla de margarita soy serio tengo 40 años y daria mi vida por estar al lado de danny creen osea willian shatner por lo que mas quieran aganle llegar este mensaje gio.oliviero@hotmail.com estare esperando su mensaje

  28. giovanni says:

    estoy totalmente enamorado de danny creen solo le pido a dios y a la virgen poder estrechar la mano del hombre mas bello del mundo vivo en la isla de margarita soy serio tengo 40 años y daria mi vida por estar al lado de danny creen osea willian shatner por lo que mas quieran aganle llegar este mensaje gio.oliviero@hotmail.com estare esperando su mensaje

  29. mikhail says:

    I met Bill Shatner in 1977 (I was 14 years old) while on a charity bike ride. Security kept all riders away from him and his wife, however he invited my friend and I to ride with them. He told us about his early days as an actor and how sick he got of eating fruit cocktail everyday because he was so poor. He also told of his love of ridding motorcycles in the desert and how he broke his cycle once and had to walk out (He couldn't decide if he should keep his helmet on (to shade his head from the sun) or if he should take it off to keep from overheating..
    He and former wife were very gracious and made my day!

  30. Not Enamored says:

    The deification of our movie and television stars is such an interesting concept. In the end, they are all just other human beings, with all the foibles and shortcomings we all have. The only difference between you and them is that they, through talent or work or luck, or a little of each, ended up on the screen and are paid insane amounts of money to do so. But they all put their shorts on the same way.

  31. lodear says:

    I never watched any of Mr. Shatner's series after Star Trek, and I have a feeling I have missed out. However, have always loved Star Trek, and he will forever be James T. Kirk. I am looking forward immensely to the new movie (too bad Kirk did die and Shatner wasn't in it), especially since it's getting such great reviews. But the original series will always be near and dear to my heart. My dad and I, both sci-fi fans, watched it together from the first episode on. Even at the age of 9, I had a "thing" for Captain Kirk! :) My dad died in 1985, and I will always remember how we bonded over this show and classic sci-fi novels. Imagine this, you young ones out there – I am 52 years old and have loved ST for 43 years. The concept has always fascinated me, but William Shatner was a big part of why I loved the series originally, and I wish him the best of luck with the rest of his career.

  32. Tascha says:

    ahhh good ol' Bill. Strange thing is I can't actually remember the bit where he "died". But I suppose I haven't watched the original show for donkey's years!
    I MUST watch them again!
    Currently going through Boston Legal, he does such a fantastic job in it. Especially when he opens his phone and the sound of a Star Trek communicator comes out.. classic!

  33. gggg says:

    Wil Wheaton LOVES Shatner, you doofus.

  34. R. Pelech says:

    To William Shatner: Thanks. Thanks for a great show. Thanks for showing so many of us that there is hope and that hope is our future. Thanks for breaking down racial barriers and opening up the viewers minds to the unique, the beautiful, and many times the bizzare.

    Thanks for giving us Capt. James T. Kirk. And thanks for still being able to be William Shatner.

  35. R Miller says:

    Jim Kirk, a name that will live on forever. You and Gene have given inspiration to millions of fans. Thank you Star Trek, Mr. Shatner, and all the other actors involved for the decades of entertainment.
    Fan for life………

  36. Frances YOZAWITZ says:

    O Thing that Willim Shanter is a goodI

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