What’s Hot New Zealand catches up with living legend, former captain of USS Enterprise and all-round counter culture icon William Shatner, who’s beaming down to Aotearoa for the first time in October, on getting standing Os at 87, his foray into country music, why Shatner Claus is going to be the best Christmas album ever and wrangling drunk Aussies.
Shatner’s World. The Return Down Under! boasts ‘more stories, more songs, more musing and more Shat’, what else can we expect? You can expect wonderful entertainment, to laugh a lot, cry some and think about some other things. Of all the things I’ve done on stage, this has received more kudos, enthusiasm and standing ovations – it’s really a wonderful evening in the theatre and I’m hopeful that the people of Christchurch will agree and have a great time with me.
Why do you think it’s receiving all these rave reviews? It’s a wonderful theatrical evening, the stories are amusing, it brings great laughter, some of the stories are insightful – I’m using adjectives that I’ve read somewhere – it’s somewhat heart-breaking, there’s music and pictures. The experience that I sometimes refer to is playing to a full house at this big theatre here in Los Angeles after seeing an oratorio with huge cast perform there several weeks earlier. I’m alone on stage with 3,500 people in the audience and trying to do the same entertaining job as all those people I had seen weeks before. It was awesome, and they stood and applauded at the end – so something good is happening.
What’s the first rule of law in Shatner’s World? Talk fast and move faster.
You’re one of the hardest working celebrities ever with more than 60 years in showbiz – what’s your secret? I’ve been lucky that my health has always been good. I’ve broken an occasional limb here and there, mostly from horses, but in general nothing ill has befallen me. A good deal of it is luck, some of it is what I do – exercise and watch the diet and all – but mostly good health has to do with luck and your genetic structure, I’ve lost none of my energy and none of my passion for life. And even at this age I still want to do well and for people to love me. I want to make them laugh and amuse them – so all that is there.
What’s feeding this energy? Well I’m just busy, busy writing books and doing albums, on tour with a show like this. I’m just inordinately busy; today, for example, I’ve done an uncountable number of interviews for a country music album I’ve got out there called Why Not Me, and I’m doing a lot of publicity for this show and performing on stage at various places.
What was the idea behind the country album? I wanted to perform country numbers, so part of the process was having composers in Nashville send me material and my okaying it, and working with it alongside Jeff Cook, who is one of the prime members of the group Alabama, and getting acquainted with the whole country world which I have admired and listened to, but never been a part of.
How have audiences changed since you started out? You know people laugh and cry at universal things. The things that make human beings laugh and touch their hearts have always been the same – mostly it has to do with love – and so my show will make you laugh, and quite possibly make you cry in places – and it has remained the same. I have seen no change in the many audiences that I’ve been in front of – the stuff that got laughs still gets laughs, it’s a matter of me performing it well.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out? Well I’ll tell you, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised I’m beginning to think ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ What’s worthwhile about being upset, angry and anxious? The thing about getting old is realising how quickly life is over. It’s beyond belief how quickly time goes by, so things that you think are important generally are not.
When you snagged the role as Captain Kirk on Star Trek, did you have any idea it would go on to become such an endearing show and iconic cultural reference point? No, of course not. Star Trek was moderately received, went on for three years and was cancelled. Everyone thought that was the end of a nice show, but that it was the end of it. It took about six or seven years before it began to pick up energy and steam. We made a movie, then there was another movie and then finally it took off and became the extraordinary thing, the showbiz phenomena it is today. It took a while.
What sort of impact did the show have on you? I wrote a book called Leonard delineating my friendship with Leonard Nimoy. I’ve written several books about my experiences backstage on Star Trek and I’ve written several more books of fiction on what Captain Kirk would have done if he was still alive, and how I think he would have reacted – a lot of it being autobiographical. A lot of things I’ve done, both before, which has involved science fiction, and after, which is a lot of writing and performing on stage is from Star Trek. So I’ve taken a lot from Star Trek and made it my life for a period of time.
You have a seriously impressive resume spanning actor, director, producer, author, singer, horse breeder and many more – what’s next on your career bucket list? You know I’ve got a great new television show called Better Late Than Never which I’m having a lot of fun doing, I’ve got two albums: Why Not Me is the name of the country album, Shatner Claus is the name of the Christmas album, and Live Long And… is the name of the book that’s out in between – all of that is like a bucket list. I’m fulfilling my bucket list, bucket overfloweth.
Tell us about Shatner Claus, is it a covers album or are they new songs? I’m doing a mixture. I’m doing traditional songs, but differently. I’m putting a little twist on the traditional songs and I’ve got a beautiful song written by a veteran about Christmas in Afghanistan compared to home, which we set to music. I do ’Twas the Night Before Christmas to music and a couple of other songs that are just different interpretations but definitely Christmas-like. So it will be a great Christmas album, people will enjoy it but it will be a little bit different.
Tell us about your craziest fan encounter? I was in Australia some years ago and a fan started talking (somewhat drunken), walked up the aisle and got up on stage. He was a big guy and there was no security around, so I made him sit down and answer some questions – I got him talking until security arrived and towed him off stage.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch? You know I have had a passing reference to Christchurch; I was shooting in Wellington and flew to Queenstown. Christchurch looked so beautiful from the air, so I asked a few people about it. Then when I was working in Australia the earthquakes came and several people had homes there, they showed me pictures and we talked about it. So I’m looking forward to coming to Christchurch, finally getting on the ground and seeing it for myself.
Shatner’s World: The Return Down Under!
The Civic, Auckland, Oct 13
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, Oct 14
Opera House, Wellington, Oct 15
Image: Manfred Baumann