At this point, you couldn’t blame William Shatner if he were to just tune everyone out and phone it in during what must seem like an endless stream of nerd-fests. You know, sign hundreds of autographs, take a bunch of pictures, collect his appearance fee, and move on. And maybe there’s an element of that for him.
But the actor and pitchman, best known for playing one Capt. James Tiberius Kirk on Star Trek, is really a remarkable guy, and funny. Not to mention a little nuts.
That was our conclusion after listening to Shatner entertain the crowd at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle over the weekend. He answered questions from the audience on a whole range of topics, including his past and present musical projects, Kirk’s less-than-satisfying death at the hands of some unimaginative Hollywood types, and Shatner’s own philosophy of life.
Continue reading for some of our favorite excerpts.
On his one-sided ‘feud’ with George Takei, a.k.a. Sulu
I can’t figure George out. … I don’t know what his beef is with me, really. Whenever I sort of try and find out, it has something to do with my not being on the airfield when the shuttle of the Enterprise was wheeled out — it’s bizarre. I don’t know what his problem is with me except it seems to be getting worse, and I haven’t seen him in 40 years. I don’t get it.
The ultimate moment of his perturbation with me was they did a roast. The difference between comedy and drama that we were talking about. Everybody gets on, and it’s funny. The roast is supposed to be funny. So they say, “You stink, Shatner!!” and everybody knows that’s funny because I don’t stink. So George is invited to do the roast, and roast me. But George is deadly serious. I rode in on a horse. So the line, “screw you” — to put it politely — “and the horse your rode in on,” obviously is there. So the writers are looking around, “Who will we give this great line to?”
So they give it to George. So George gets up on stage, and he says some other things. And he finally ends with, “Screw you and the horse you rode in on,” like he really meant it. His eyes were glittering with hatred. I took three steps back!
On his plans for a rock opera based on David Bowie’s ‘Major Tom’
I was on Late Night with Craig Ferguson. [Audience cheers.] why are you cheering Craig Ferguson? I’m on the show with Craig Ferguson, and he says, what are you doing? I said I’m making this record, and I’m in the middle of making the record, and he says, what’s the record? And I said, you know the David Bowie song, Major Tom … Space Odyssey? Space Oddity. (Space oddity — that’s me.) … He keeps calling for Major Tom — “Are you there, Major Tom,” “Are you there, Major Tom?” What happened to Major Tom? He steps out of the capsule, and then they lost him, they don’t know where he is. There are a half-dozen songs that have the name Major Tom in them, science fiction songs.
And I sort of saw them, all spread out before me. The idea of Major Tom being lost in space and seeing space out there, outside the capsule for the first time, and then beginning to die, and beginning to remember what his life was. … And the whole arc of cover songs, which delineate what happened to Major Tom. I’m saying this to Craig Ferguson, who says, “Bill, that might be ill-advised.” I said, hey, everything is ill-advised until you do it, and I hope it’s not. So yes, I am in the middle of making this rock opera, if you will, of Major Tom, which in the fall I’ll have for you, and you’ll tell me whether it is ill-advised or not!!!
I’m having so much fun, you cannot believe it. I don’t know whether this is the audience for heavy metal. [Whoops, cheers.] Zakk Wylde? Black Sabbath? Iron Maiden? I’M DOING IT!! And so he is he! Laying down the tracks! I spent the day with Zakk Wylde, this guitar genius, going widdlewiddlewiddlewiddlewiddle-woooooo! And while he’s doing it HE’S LOOKING AT A BASKETBALL GAME!! It’s the God-damndest thing you’ve ever seen! This guy is laying down tracks and watching the Lakers play. It’s bizarre!
Anyway, this is happening. Great musicians are coming in to play. Brad Paisley is doing a guitar solo. Bizarre. Next question.
On his musical “legacy”
Shatner: I did an album called the (Transformed) Man. One of the songs that seems to have remained in the public consciousness are songs like, Mr. Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. All of which have been mocked and laughed at. But in some places, the more knowledgeable places, it wasn’t mocked, and indeed, some musicians liked it. So years later, my friend — who wrote the song with me?
Someone in the crowd: Ben Folds
Shatner: Ben Folds! That’s what happens when you get past 40. So Ben Folds calls me and wants me to do something on his album, and I do something on his album, and we become friends. Now, I’m in my office, there’s two guys in front of me, and they’re saying we’d like you to make another record. This is now years and years. This is four or five years ago, years and years after the Transformer Man and after the attention paid to songs like Mr. Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. And they’re saying we want you to make another record, and these are the same guys that had pulled Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds out of that record and put it into one of their records, which Leonard Nimoy sang on, as well, and it was Rhino Records, some mocking record of actors who think they can sing.
They’re sitting in my office and saying, we want you to make another record — and I know they want to continue the mockery — when the phone rings and its Ben Folds. And he’s calling to be friendly. And I say to those guys, will you accept Ben Folds as the producer of this record you want to make, and they go, “Yes!” And I say to Ben, will you produce a record for me? And he says, “Yes!” And the deal was set, and when I was able to talk to Ben a little more thoroughly, I said what are we going to do? What kind of a record can we make? And he said, let’s tell the truth. And so I sat down and wrote lyrics that were meaningful to me. He put them to music, and we put this record, Has Been, together. Got great critical success.
And now, Milwaukee ballet is saying, we want to choreograph dance numbers to some of these songs! I flipped out. So months later … my wife and I are in the theater in Milwaukee, and they danced to half a dozen numbers that I had written. I had it filmed. I didn’t know why I was having it filmed, it just seemed like a good idea. Then put together, edited together. And it’s finally a DVD called Gonzo Ballet, and it’s the making of a ballet from songs that I wrote, and it’s going to be on television in the fall!!
[Big cheer from crowd.]
So the concept of sort of stepping out and saying yes to things you might not say yes to, just on the adventure of it, became clear to me, and I’ve sort of tried to live that way, being adventuresome, and chancing making a total fool of yourself because of the adventure of it.
On the death of Capt. Kirk
Audience member: I wasn’t a big fan of the ‘Generations’ movie.
Shatner: Nor was I.
Audience member: That’s kind of where I was going with that. Did you feel cheated, in terms of not having that whole experience — Capt. Kirk biting it — on your own movie vs. having it happen in a cast-off fashion.
Shatner: The death of Capt. Kirk.
Shatner: That’s called denial. … Here’s what happened. We made six films, and they made approximately $100 million each. They spent approximately $35 million on making them. So the multiple in movies is three times — that’s about what it reached. So everybody made a little bit of money on the Star Trek movies, the franchise that I was in. But by that time, the Next Generation was doing very well on television. So the people in management at Paramount figured, well, if Next Generation is doing well, it should do well in movies. Let’s make movies with that cast, and it will make more money.
So they came to me and said, we’re going to kill Capt. Kirk, and put the Next Generation cast into making films, and if you’d like to, we’d love for you to play the death of Capt. Kirk, but if you don’t, we’ll figure another way and just get on with the fact that the Next Generation is more popular now than your series was. So I realized that I had to do something and I thought, I’ll do it. By the way, they asked Leonard to do it, and they turned Leonard down for that very reason. I decided I’d do it. And they wrote an end in which Capt. Kirk gets shot in the back.
[Five-minute digression to tell a story about his horse-riding injury.]
Shatner: Now why was I telling you this story, what was the question?
Audience member: You were leading in to why you decided to go with “Generations.”
Shatner: So what’s-his-face shoots me in the back, and I drop down. I stand up, I drop down. Patrick (Stewart) comes over, says “he’s dying,” and that’s the end. Alright, I’ve done the best I could. If they’re going to kill me anyway, good luck to the Next Generation. … Four or five weeks later, I get a phone call. “You know, the ending needs a little work. We gotta reshoot the ending and give Capt. Kirk more nobility.” OK. So we go back … and they build a big bridge, and the bridge falls down … one of the greatest lines occurred to me at that moment. I had always said, “Captain on the bridge.” When this scaffolding fell down on me, I wanted to say, “Bridge on the captain.” [Laughter.] So they wouldn’t let me say it. They said, are you crazy? And Patrick said, yes, he is. So that was the ending and the death of Capt. Kirk. Not exactly — I wanted trumpets and timpanis, and they gave me violins. But that was the death of Capt. Kirk, and I had to go along with it.
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