INTERVIEW

'Tombstone? Well, I’m not going to have a tombstone. I'm going to be tossed in the air. Ashes, tossed like a salad.'

WILLIAM SHATNER TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT BECOMING SHATNER, RAPACIOUS WOMEN, LEONARD NIMOY, ALCOHOLISM—AND TURNING 77

May 19 2008
INTERVIEW

'Tombstone? Well, I’m not going to have a tombstone. I'm going to be tossed in the air. Ashes, tossed like a salad.'

WILLIAM SHATNER TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT BECOMING SHATNER, RAPACIOUS WOMEN, LEONARD NIMOY, ALCOHOLISM—AND TURNING 77

May 19 2008

'Tombstone? Well, I’m not going to have a tombstone. I'm going to be tossed in the air. Ashes, tossed like a salad.'

INTERVIEW

WILLIAM SHATNER TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT BECOMING SHATNER, RAPACIOUS WOMEN, LEONARD NIMOY, ALCOHOLISM—AND TURNING 77

Up Till Now, your new autobiography, is very funny.

A: I’m sure it’s my cowriter, he’s very funny. I’m somewhat dour.

Q: Well, you did have that reputation, but you’ve remade it, through self-deprecation and even self-parody. Did you change, or was it just your public image that changed?

A: We all evolve. I think what’s happened the last several years is that I’ve become “Shatner,” a sort of synthesis of these various characters I’ve played.

Q: Did you actively set out to rebrand yourself?

A: No, the audience synthesized it themselves. I’m not doing things with the thought, “This will change people’s minds.” When an actor says, “And then I showed them this side of me,” I don’t understand that, nor do I behave in that manner. I see an interesting project and put myself into it and don’t think of the consequences. Since I don’t know what you like, I can’t please you, I can only please myself and hope that you will like what I’ve done and go with me.

Q: You started acting classes in Montreal when you were really young. Did you learn anything useful?

A: To avoid rapacious women. I learned that at the age of 6.

Q: Did you always feel you were going to be famous some day?

A: I was already famous in my family. I was

the only son, and that gave me a great taste for fame. But no, I never felt destined for anything.

Q: You did a lot of light comedies when you first starting acting full-time, in Ottawa and Toronto, before going on to serious dramatic roles. Is it harder to make people laugh or cry?

A: If you know what you’re doing, and the writing is good, neither is hard at all. But laughter is not only good for the person laughing, it’s good for the person who’s making you laugh.

Q: You say the first time you really felt like an actor was the night you stood in for Christopher Plummer as Henry the Fifth, at Stratford. Did—

A: Wait a minute. That’s the first time I felt like an actor?

Q: Chapter one. “That was the night I knew I was an actor.”

A: I think I’ve got to rewrite that chapter.

Q: Did you ever feel anything was beneath you as an actor?

A: Only the earth.

Q: But you poke fun at some of the projects you’ve done, like making a film entirely in Esperanto. Did you ever feel you were condescending while you were doing something?

A: No, I was just grateful for the job.

Q: You had a reputation among some of your Star Trek co-stars for being a stage hog. Do you think it was true?

A: No, it’s not true, and in its perspective of 40 years ago, even bringing it up is amazing.

Q: But you bring it up in your book.

A: I know I do. I refer to it. But it’s astonishing to me that the whole thing is still being talked about.

Q: How did you overcome your envy, when Spock became such a popular character though your character, Captain Kirk, was initially supposed to be the lead?

A: You grow out of it and see the logic.

Q: The logic of why people liked Spock?

A: That, and the illogic of fate. As you become more knowledgeable about the way things work, you can lose the negative emotions.

Q: You and Leonard Nimoy weren’t close while you were doing Star Trek, but you are now. How did that happen?

A: I weaseled up to him and tried to be an amusing fellow. And he kept rebuffing me. I kept buying him meals. Then he relented and took me into his embrace.

Q: You’ve worked with a lot of famous actors, from Montgomery Clift and George C. Scott to Heather Locklear and Sandra Bullock. Who was the most fun to work with?

A: Leonard Nimoy and James Spader.

Q: Who was the biggest pain in the ass?

A: Leonard Nimoy. He’s so intelligent, he corrects everything I say. But then, his ass has slipped, and it’s not as big a pain now.

Q: At what point did you embrace the fact that you’ll always be identified as Captain Kirk, rather than fighting it?

A: I don’t know that that’s true.

Q: So many actors identified with a particular role complain about not wanting to be remembered that way on their tombstones, but you—

A: Well, I’m not going to have a tombstone. I’m going to be tossed in the air. Ashes, tossed like a salad.

Q: At the moment, you’re going full tilt though. You have a CD and a documentary about to come out.

A The CD is already out. It’s a recording of an edited version of Exodus. The magnificence of it is 350 voices in a chorale group and a 72-piece orchestra and new symphonic music and myself as narrator, and all told it’s a glorious production. The documentary, Gonzo Ballet, is about the making of a ballet based on six songs from Has Been.

Q: Your very successful 2004 album. It must have been odd to see your words set not only to music but dance.

A: It was really wild, and that’s why I made the film. I used eight cameras and shot one performance and a rehearsal and then did interviews, and it’s unique and good.

Q: Anything else you re working on?

A: Well, in the next few days I’ll find out whether I have financing for a screenplay I wrote. And I’m going to do a half-hour talk show called Raw Nerve for the Biography Channel. Céline Dion, Jon Voigt and Judge Judy are three of the people I’ll be talking to.

Q: Do you think you’ll get something different from someone like Céline Dion, who’s been interviewed thousands of times, because you’re also a star?

A: I would like to think that someone like Céline Dion may not have encountered someone who is as interested in her as I am.

Q: What about her interests you?

A: I’m not quite sure. I’m going to find out.

Q: You’re an equestrian, a bestselling author, a singer, a director, star of yet another hit TV series and apparently you’re still adding to the list. Is there one skill that’s particularly hardwon, and therefore you value it more?

A: To do anything well is very difficult. I can’t think of anything that you jump into and are good at. I love the way some people say, “Oh, I think I’ll try acting.” Athletes, models, people like that. It takes a lot of time and attention to do anything well. So anything that I’m doing well, I take great pride in.

Q: Do you look back at some of your early work, like in Judgment at Nuremburg, and say, “Wow, I was really good in that”?

A: No. I don’t look back at my work, I see

as little as possible. It’s torture to me for a variety of reasons: I’m not crazy about what I’m doing, I don’t like the way I look. I can’t look at myself objectively. I just keep trying to do better today, not based on something else that was happening a long time ago.

Q: Are there any directors you’d really like to work with?

A: Many. Name a really good movie director, and I’ve not worked with him. I would relish the chance.

Q: Do you ever see yourself retiring?

A: Yes, as I slowly draw the last deep breath— not the shallow ones, where you’re panting and unconscious, but the deep one, where you say, “My God, I’m dying”—I’ll retire.

Q: Are you still riding?

A: Yes, a lot. I’ll be riding several days a week now that I’m not working [on Boston Legal] every day, and I ride long, three or four hours at a time. I compete almost every weekend on one of the two breeds that we have, which are saddlebreds and quarter horses.

Q: I was surprised by something in your book. You said that initially you weren’t aware that your third wife, Nerine, was an alcoholic. But living in Hollywood, weren’t you so exposed to substance abusers that you were on the lookout?

A: Hollywood is no different, in terms of wildness or drug use or lasciviousness or hedonism than any other city in the world. Most of Hollywood, 90 per cent, is made up of hard-working, trying-to-make-ends-meet, solid citizens. I’ve never been to a drug party. I’ve seen some people drink to oblivion, but in all these years, only a handful. Nobody turns up on the set incapacitated. It just isn’t done. If once in 10 years, somebody comes in and is unable to deliver, that’s an occasion, and it’s so horrendous that the person has probably ruined their reputation and won’t get work again. Almost all the time, addiction leads to absolute failure here, no more or less than for writers at Maclean’s or for executives in the car industry.

Q: After Nerine drowned in your pool in 1999, the tabloid press initially tried to imply that you were responsible, although her death was accidental and you weren’t home at the time. What was that like?

A: Horrendous, both from a personal safety point of view, and also the injustice. It was harrowing. The tragedy of addiction, I never understood it until Nerine died. The pain of her death made me understand the depth of the pain addicts feel all day long, and why they need surcease. Had I been in the mode, either genetically or socially, I would’ve done something similar myself to alleviate the pain.

Q: In your book, you mention working with your three daughters and taking trips with

them and their husbands. What kind of a dad do you think you are?

A: I’m probably a good dad, and inadequate. Both go hand in hand. You never feel you’ve done well enough, yet you’ve done the best you can. They’re good people, they’re all functioning, intelligent, humorous people, I’m proud of that. I always had time for them, that was my main thrust.

Q: It was your 77th birthday a few weeks ago. How did you celebrate?

A: I took one jump in the air and realized I could still do it.

Q: What’s the best thing about getting older?

A: Marvelling that the passion’s still there. And the worst is discovering that on occasion, it’s not.

Q: Do you worry about what’s happening to your looks?

I have never been to a drug party. Almost all the time addiction leads to absolute failure in Hollywood.1

A: Well, I do. I’m constantly and vainly trying to fight the aging process. I suppose it’s an inbred vanity on my part if not my profession’s part.

Q: It would be hard to go from being known as a handsome actor—

A: To such an ugly old man?

Q: No, you look great, actually. I was going to ask what you do, to get some tips.

A: Tips? When you’re talking on the telephone, assume an upside-down position. And wash with soap and water. Scrub vigorously! That’s my revenge for this interview. Nl