William Shatner is distinctly one of a kind. As an actor, he is best known for having played James T. Kirk in the Star Trek series and for his dual episodes of The Twilight Zone. As a musician, he has made critics question the very definition of art with renditions of “Rocket Man” and has released albums with esteemed musicians such as Ben Folds. Shatner will bring his own brand of humor and storytelling to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on June 24 following a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
VCReporter: Tell me about the significance of Wrath of Khan to
the Star Trek franchise.
William Shatner: Well, the Wrath of Khan was not going to be made. Everything was based on the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which they spent many millions of dollars on, and when it wasn’t as successful as they expected, the decision of Paramount was to not make any more films. Due to a number of circumstances, some of which I will go into on stage, they decided to make one more and give it to the television arm. The TV arm made this film for one-third the cost of Star Trek the movie. It was a critical success and also a box office success. Star Trek II, if you will, was the engine behind which the rest of Star Trek was fueled. If it hadn’t happened, I think we would have seen the last of Star Trek.
How important was that film to sci-fi in general? It sounds as though
it was make or break.
I think it was very important for the sci-fi Star Trek captured. The phenomena of Star Wars had already happened, so that was going to take place, but Star Wars, the existence of Star Wars, was because it was inspired by Star Trek. Given the success ofStar Wars, the people of Paramount decided to make another Star Trek. As far as sci-fi in general, it lifted it from a production point of view where J.J. Abrams got a hold of it and produced these multiple films with special effects, which is what a great deal of Star Wars is, a phenomena of computer graphics that make the film. The epic films of today are all science fiction, and instead of having 10,000 extras like Cecil B. DeMille had, you have five and can make them 10,000.
My intro to you was via Twilight Zone, in particular the episode “Nick of Time,” which was one of my favs. How was it, working with Rod Serling?
Doing those Twilight Zones (I did two as you know), doing those was innocuous enough. It was just another job, and a wonderful thing to do as an actor, but nobody thought of them as being classic or having another life. I didn’t see much of Rod Serling. I had worked with him in live television years prior, so they knew me. He brought with him from New York a whole coterie of talent, production and directing and writing talent; he had a whole group of writers behind him that called themselves the green thumb; and I got to know them. . . . Of the 13 [Twilight Zone episodes] they always seem to play, they play the two that I’m in for reasons both you and I can guess.
Have you met fans who have given you credit for their interest in space exploration?
NASA and I are great friends. So many astronauts have said that Star Trek was an inspiration, including engineers. I’m over at the [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] quite a bit. The young people now, who we call the young bloods of JPL and NASA, all credit science fiction and Star Trek in particular as giving them their interest in the work that they are doing.
You have your name going to the sun on a satellite, too — how did you
get involved with that?
Oh, they asked me. I named a young horse Here Comes the Sun.
Speaking of references to music, your musical career is something that is very interesting because it spans genres and you’ve covered quite a few pop hits. What inspires you?
I love music and I love the ability to sing, which I can’t do, but I have a
feeling for poetry. Recently I was asked to do a country music album and they wrote several songs. I think they are terrific songs. I finished the album and it’s out in the middle of summer. The same company asked me to do a Christmas album, doing many traditional Christmas songs, and they invited other artists to join me. There’ll be a Christmas album in October. And I’ve got a book, while I’m mentioning things I’m doing, called Live Long and . . . that will be out in the summer as well.
Is there an album of yours that you feel needs to be revisited?
Probably the Ben Folds album [Has Been, 2004]. A couple of songs will hold up.
That was the first time I heard you musically and it made me reconsider your musical career.
Good! I’m glad. It’s a way of doing it and I think I’m getting better at it. These two albums are really wonderful and I hope you will give them a listen.
William Shatner will take part in a Q&A following the screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on Sunday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets and more information, call
805-449-2787 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com.