Very few performers have lived as rich a life as
William Shatner. From Shakespeare to "Star Trek" to space-inspired spoken-word, from "The Twilight Zone" to "TJ Hooker" to "3rd Rock from the Sun," from Priceline ads to "Rescue 911" to "Boston Legal" and "Private Practice," from sci-fi novels to prog-rock albums to video blogs, the 82-year-old Montreal native has literally done it all over the last 60 years. No matter what role he takes — Captain Kirk, Denny Crane or, in most of his recent work, a parody of himself — Shatner brings a booming voice, a gallows humor-laced gravitas and a zest for stage presence unmatched by his contemporaries. We chatted with him about combining music and words, saying yes to life and embracing his Trekker fan base.
Folio Weekly: What can we expect inhabiting "Shatner's World" for one night next week?
William Shatner: You can expect to laugh, you can expect to cry. … Saying yes to life is the thrust of what I do. The journey of our lives is over far more quickly than one would expect, and the time that we have should be enjoyed with humor, love and joy.
F.W.: Fairly or unfairly, you've been criticized for decades for taking any role that comes your way. Is that "saying yes to life" in action?
W.S.: Well, that isn't quite true. But it's along the lines of saying yes more often than you say no.
F.W.: As a classically trained Shakespearean actor, what in science fiction appealed to you?
W.S.: Science fiction is an attempt to dramatize things that are possible but not yet available: technology, alien life. Science fiction pushes the boundaries of our imagination. That's what attracted me to it originally.
F.W.: How about the Captain Kirk character from "Star Trek"? Did you see yourself in him?
W.S.: An actor comes to a role with his entire being. So in order to make the performance my own, I had to invest myself in the different aspects of his personality. I love the idea that he was an adventurer who could take command of a situation with humor and authority. It was a well-written role that was a challenge to perform.
F.W.: "Star Trek" was canceled after three seasons but quickly became a cult hit. However, in 1986, you famously told that fan base to "get a life!" on "Saturday Night Live." Why skewer the people who turned you into a star?
W.S.: The phrase "Get a life!" was meant as a joke — most people took it as humor. [In 1999,] I did a book called "Get a Life!" on the fans and why they came to conventions, which was to see each other. And I recently did a documentary called "Get a Life!" where I made the observation that it's far deeper than that. It's the result of ritual mythology: People have a mythological basis for going to conventions, wearing uniforms and getting pictures and autographs.
F.W.: Recently, you've focused on hilarious readings and recitations — of Sarah Palin speeches, of "Shit My Dad Says" tweets. What excites you about that format?
W.S.: On my latest album, "Ponder the Mystery," I've written the words and Billy Sherwood from Yes has written the music, and we've created a progressive-rock album that pushes the boundaries of music in much the same way science fiction pushes the boundaries of imagination. There's music in the words, and there's rhythm in the words and when that rhythm and music is performed, it becomes a happening. I urge you to listen to "Ponder the Mystery" and perhaps then understand the joy
I get putting words and music together.
F.W.: You're always willing to spoof yourself publicly. Is a sense of humor necessary to achieve such longevity in the acting business?
W.S.: [Laughs.] I wish I knew what was necessary. You can't be anything but you. You can emphasize different aspects of you, but I can't be you because I don't know you — I don't inhabit you. And you can't be me. That's my point about what the actor does when he brings himself to a role. I suppose maybe some of the outlines of myself are more emphatic.
F.W.: Is there anything you still hope to achieve? Will you ever be content enough to retire?
W.S.: I'd love to be doing really good material with really good people, no matter what the medium is. And I wrote a song about [retiring] called "It Hasn't Happened Yet." When it happens, perhaps I'll know.