Exclusive Interview: William Shatner on ‘Get a Life’
William Shatner is going to be at Comic-Con this Saturday, on a panel with Roger Corman moderated by Kevin Smith. Corman directed Shatner in the 1962 movie The Intruder and both have movies appearing on Epix this summer. Corman produced Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader and Shatner directed William Shatner’s Get a Life, his documentary follow-up to The Captains, this time covering fans of Star Trek. (If you’ve never seen the “SNL” skit to which the title refers, watch it on Netflix right now!)
Let me tell you, answering a morning phone call to hear, “Hi, it’s Bill Shatner” is something. He had a rough connection in Kentucky but was so professional he called back several times to finish the interview. See Shatner at Comic-Con this weekend, watch Get a Life starting July 28 on Epix at 8 p.m. and below, we went there about Star Trek Generations and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
William Shatner: Hi, it’s Bill Shatner.
Crave Online: Thank you for calling.
Well, we have an interview.
Yes, we do. I’m glad we can do this to preview your Comic-Con panel. When is the last time you’ve seen Roger Corman?
William Shatner: It’s been a couple years maybe. They keep doing specials on him and they keep asking me to come up and talk about him, so I find myself talking more about Roger Corman than anybody. I’m looking forward to being on the panel with him and getting the questions.
Normally when you do a Star Trek convention, Star Trek is the biggest thing. Is Comic-Con the one place where it’s not, where you coexist with other fandoms?
Right. It is actually. I never thought of it quite that way because I’ve been to Comic-Con a number of times. We’re always debuting something there so I’ve paid strict attention to what it was that I was doing. I’m totally focused on Get a Life. The moment I come in Saturday morning, I’m running from one interview to the other to promote the film. I’ll see very little of anyone else’s extravagant efforts. We’re all vying for the same [attention] so I won’t see much of Comic-Con.
When you ask other Trek stars to appear, like Terry Farrell and Rene Auberjonois in this and The Captains in your last film, do you immediately feel a certain connection with them?
Well, The Captains was a look at actors who had all performed as captains of their various iterations. I don’t think it’s necessarily Star Trek but a bond of people who understand both the joys of being in Star Trek and being pursued by the fans to the degree they do because of being in Star Trek. Rene Auberjonois is somebody I worked with on “Boston Legal” and he’s a real friend. Farrell was a beautiful, wonderful lady. So there is a bond between all of for various reasons.
How did you find the main fan stories that became the crux of Get a Life?
Well, I interviewed a lot of people over a series of I think four or five days and made the documentary as it came up. One thing led me to the other, very much like writing a story, getting an idea for a story and following it, not knowing the story but knowing that the idea for the story is good, not knowing where it’s going to lead you. I’m in the position right now with The Next Generation. I’m following a story, I don’t know whether there’s a story there but I suspect there is and I’m going to try and find it, but I don’t know what I’m going to find. It’s that jump from one observation to another that’s so exciting. I wake up on about the third day of a documentary thinking, “What am I doing? Where am I going? What is the story?” By the end of the third day, I think, “This! I got it.” I know what the documentary is about but I’ve lost three days in not being able to go back with foreknowledge and go back over to the people that I had been working with for three days and re-interview them. I can’t do it, so there’s that as well. There’s a lot of frustration in making a documentary as the story begins to emerge after days of talking.
When you meet someone like Captain Dave, the boy in the wheelchair, how do you even process something like that and the impact you’re able to have on him?
How do you process something like that? I don’t know. I looked into his bright blue eyes and the desire for life, the intensity of his will to live, it was overwhelming. I broke down several times. I made a lot of shots of him whizzing in his wheelchair from one exciting venue to the other so I used it as a leitmotif almost as his wheelchair carrying this slumped over body, but his excitement for the event became so apparent. It just made you cry every time. Tears welled every time.
By the time you did that famous “SNL” skit “Get a Life,” you knew that Star Trek was a phenomenon. Did you ever imagine that skit would become just as legendary?
[Laughs] No, I never did. You know, you do these things and you think, “Well, I hope that works.” Then the audience tells you. It’s the same way, I opened on Broadway in a one man show. I hadn’t done that particular version of the one man show in front of an audience. I’d been to Australia and across Canada but I had to rewrite it for Broadway. I opened on Broadway in front of a Broadway audience and critics, and I didn’t know whether I had anything or not. When people stood up and cheered on opening night, I almost blubbered, it was so moving, because the answer was there. Again, the similarity of turning in a story and thinking, “Well, I did the best I could. I hope the editor likes it.” The editor goes, “My God, man, this is the best story I’ve read.” You don’t know.
After all these years are you satisfied with the way Captain Kirk’s story ended in Star Trek Generations?
No, no, I would have done something else. It was all against me. The studio wanted to try The Next Generation to see if they could break through this $100 million [ceiling.] It seemed that an audience was coming, they could count on an audience and a box office of $100 million but they thought that the “Next Generation” cast would bring in more, and it didn’t. They were stuck with the same $100 million or thereabouts. I wish that there had been more trumpets for the death of the character.
But you were still willing to shoot the scenes for the movie?
Well, I had no choice. This was the way it was going to be: either do it or we’ll say you died.
Would you have really wanted to be revived in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek?
How much fun it would’ve been to be in a J.J. Abrams movie playing with a whole new imagination about what this character would have done. I wrote several novels about the way I thought Captain Kirk would’ve lived in a series of books that I did. So I wrote several autobiographical novels about it.
Is there any chance you can be in the next or a future Star Trek?
Well, I would love to. I don’t know how he would deal with the aging face and body. That’s a conundrum for science fiction, how to deal with the aging me out there in space. How did I age? I think it’s insoluble.
One thing I do love about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is your performance. It seems like Captain Kirk at his boldest. Did you let yourself do things as the director that other directors never would?
That’s an interesting question to ask. I probably felt more freedom. I always had freedom because in the movies the directors probably thought that I knew what I was doing, which I never know whether I’m doing it right or not. I’m just guessing all the time, but because I played it before, they assumed that I would know what to do. So I always had freedom, but there was an energy about Star Trek V. Although it’s not a satisfactory movie for a variety of reasons, there are many things about it that I like. I’m interested to hear that you think I played Kirk with more freedom. That’s an interesting observation.
When you step away from Star Trek and have success as Denny Crane or T.J. Hooker, are those like completely separate lives?
Yes, what I try to do as an actor is to find the spine of the character, the one line logline: what is this guy? What is his driving force? In T.J. Hooker for example it was anger. With Denny Crane it was confusion. So from that spine, the twigs if you will, the tree branches out into other aspects of course, but always approaching the spine of the character, holding true to the essence of the character.
Do they all touch their fans as intensely as Captain Kirk and Star Trek?
Well, I don’t know. You’d have to be the one to answer that. There are a lot of people that come up to me about both of those shows.
So your next documentary is about “The Next Generation?”
I am attempting to do that. I am attempting to find the story of “The Next Generation.” I think I’ve found it but I’m exploring that right now.
Where are you shooting that?
I’m doing a sort of exploration. I’ve been given the money to explore, to see if there’s a story there and that’s what I’m in the midst of, the exploration.
Obviously you met Patrick Stewart and you’ve probably met many of the cast of “TNG.”
I know them all. I feel that they are friends of mine.
Are you able to get more in depth into the seven years of that series now?
I’m attempting to do it without the actors. I’m attempting to tell the story of “The Next Generation” from the production people.
What interesting things have you learned so far?
Well, that I can’t tell you right now.
Would you try another TV series after “$#*! My Dad Says?”
You know, “$#*! My Dad Says” had 10 million people watching it. It was always in the top 25 and frequently the top 20. I thought they made a mistake in canceling us because we could have made it better in the second year. I had a great time doing that show, a four camera show in front of an audience. I had a good time doing it and I would love to try something like that again.
“Star Trek” stayed on for three years with some fan campaigns, and now you see a network pull a show after one year, or sometimes only two episodes, is it getting worse for TV?
It is, isn’t it? They’ve pulled them on one show and they’ve even pulled them before they showed them. I think it has to do with fear. The executives’ jobs are on the line. It’s a crazy world that you write about and that I live in.
You’ve had this wonderful career making documentaries and movies for television. Have you ever tried to mount a theatrical film since Star Trek V?
Yes, I think there was one small movie that I directed. There’s a joy and a pain about directing where the dreams you have are becoming concrete but the attention to detail, the need for time is such that it’s overwhelming at times, and the stream of responsibility. As an actor you can say, “Oh gosh, it’s raining and I guess we’re delayed a day.” As a director you’re going nuts because you lost a day of production time.