William Shatner: What I Learned Along the Way
William Shatner, the man, the myth… the machine. At 87 years old, Star Trek’s first and forever Kirk remains a guy in perpetual motion. He’s riding horses, raising money for charity, starring in films, recording albums, spending time with his family, and traversing the world for convention appearances and his one-man show. He’s also been making the publicity rounds for Live Long And… What I Learned Along the Way, his latest book. Written with David Fisher and available now from Thomas Dunne Books, Live Long And… is part memoir and part primer on how to live your best life. StarTrek.com caught up with the ever-energetic Shatner earlier this week, covering a wide variety of topics during our chat. Here’s what he had to say:
What made now the time for another memoir?
Oh, I'm running out of time to write memoirs.
I know you’re joking, but that's part of the book's theme, keeping yourself too booked with commitments to die, a la George Burns. How acutely are you feeling the sand sifting through the hourglass?
Well, given the age I am, I'm seeing more fervency of people asking for autographs, as though they're anticipating my immediate death. I, on the other hand, have no concept of time, and I feel perfectly healthy. In fact, next week, I'm in competition, riding these extreme horses. So, I don't intend to die very soon, but certainly the odds keep getting better… or worse, depending on your point of view.
Of all the wisdom you offer in Live Long And…, what's the one pearl that you wish you would've told yourself 40 or 50 years ago?
That there's not much you can do about the flow of history, so just go with the flow.
You exhort people with the question, "Why not?" So, what have you still not done yet?
I haven't spoken to you in a while. By speaking to you, we’re sharing an experience over my writing a new book, a new book with some thought behind it. Everything is a fresh “Why not?” And so, my anticipation is that I'll write another book and ride another horse and I'll do another acting job.
Is there anything that James Kirk did that you simply could not or would not have done?
Kirk? He kissed an awful lot of ladies. I'm not sure, in the #MeToo generation, that would be allowed.
That's a very good point, actually.
And it's true.
You write, "The absence of love has been the major force of my life." Did you go to a therapist for many years to figure that out, or was that something you discovered on your own? And how do you feel about sharing something so deeply personal with so many people?
No, I've never been to a therapist. You know, writing these books has a certain therapeutic value. By sharing personal information… We all share personal information, advertently or inadvertently. By the slightest nod of the head, the tick of an eye, or a verbal vomiting, we give ourselves away all the time. There's a universality about all of us. Lack of love is universal, and the search for love is everybody's mission. So, I really have joined you and the rest of humanity in that.
Taking what you just said into account, what's it been like for you, for so long, to play and be associated with a character such as Kirk, who doesn't seem to want or need love? The Enterprise is his greatest love...
That is love. It’s a kind of love. I'm speaking on my feet, I guess, but love isn’t always something that need be romantic or physical, or a partner that's human. So many people find love in various ways… the love of their job, the love of what they're doing, the love of a pet, the love of an animal, the love of nature. How about celibate priests who love their God with fervor? So, love takes many forms, and part of the book refers to the fact that we're all different vessels. We interpret things completely differently, and if I say the word love to you, it can have, and probably does have, an entirely different meaning to you than it does to me. So, we need to define what we're talking about over a period of a conversation like this one.
You, in your book, Leonard, detailed the situation that occurred with Leonard Nimoy, with him not speaking to you at the end of his life. Now, in Live Long And…, you touch on it, note that you didn’t feel welcome at his funeral and say that as long as you live, you'll never understand what you did wrong that led to his silence toward you. If there is a heaven, when you get there and see Nimoy, will your first questions be, "What the hell happened? What did I do?" -- or do you think it'll be something else?
Well, those sound like good questions. Maybe I should say, "Oh, you're here too."
Funny. But will you ever get that answer?
I'll never get the answer.
That must be a very strange position, after all those years of friendship, right?
Isn't it, though? I've heard from a lot of people who've said that same thing has happened to them. (Friends) disappear.
You don’t go into a ton of detail about Star Trek V in Live Long And…, but you make a point of saying that you regret making compromises on the film. If you had it to do again, what would you have done differently? Would you have not made the film? Would you have fought harder for your initial idea?
That's a really good question. It's something I hadn't thought of. Now that I realize I compromised, and then I write a great deal about the art of compromise, I don't know. I think that, given my nature, I would have compromised, but at least I would have known that I had done it consciously and maybe been able to rescue elements of the story that I lost, as a result of the original compromise.
There’s at least one positive from Star Trek V that I’d like to point out. If you ask fans for their favorite lines from the Trek features, people will, high on the list, reply, “What does God need with a starship?”
Right, which is the beginnings of the element of doubt. I'll incorporate that into my comments, into things to answer about Star Trek V.
How is Shatner Claus, your Christmas album, coming along?
The Christmas album is really wonderful. People who've heard it, love it, and so is the country music album I’m working on, Why Not Me? The book is doing well and getting great reviews. I'm on tour with the film, Wrath of Khan, so please tell people to go to my website, WilliamShatner.com. They'll find out the dates of when I'm near them for a fun evening of the film, and then me coming out afterwards and expounding on whatever.
I’m fascinated by the Christmas album. What songs did you get a kick out of doing?
I did many of the regular songs, but with a little bit of a bent in them. I’ve anchored the whole album on two major pieces, one being a poem by a (war) veteran who's traumatized. He's a wonderful guy who can't write anything else but about battle, and the hardship. I got him to write a Christmas song, which has the same elements in it, and then I did "The Christmas Story" to music, and that's great fun. So, there are two large pieces in the album, and then they’re surrounded with the flowers of these standard Christmas songs, done with a little bent, as I say. I'm being asked to do a blues album, and I'm doing research on that.
Where's the Hanukkah album from the nice Jewish boy from Canada?
That's very funny. I was intending to put "Dreidel, Dreidel" in the Christmas album. Maybe my next album.
When we saw you in Germany a few months ago, you joked on stage about using VR to return to Star Trek. Elsewhere, you’ve said you’re open to playing Kirk again if someone could develop a good story. And we just saw an article where you wished Patrick Stewart well on his imminent return, but noted you are done. So, let me put it to you directly: If somebody came along with a good role for you as Kirk, how open or not would you be to doing it?
Right. If you ask me my favorite line, one that I invented, it’s, as I said to Leonard about his appearance in one of those films, "You know you're old when you go back in time and you're still old." So, his appearance was not central to the story. If I were to be asked to be back on Star Trek, the key of whether I would be on it or not is whether or not it’d be central to the story.
So, to clarify, you wouldn't rule it out, but you're not chasing it, is what it boils down to?
What's happening with Senior Moment, the movie you shot with Christopher Lloyd?
It's in editing. I'm told it's really good and they're getting ready to release it.
You mentioned upcoming albums. Any other shows or documentaries on the way?
I'm in the process of selling many, many shows, things that I've invented or that this team of people that I've assembled, called Shatner's Universe, that we're in the process of selling documentaries and animated shows and live shows. There are many, many things on the horizon. The anticipation of my dying soon is misrepresented.
One of the single-best sentences in Live Long And… is this: "I've seen the toys of Star Trek become the tools of life.” What's that been like to have starred in this decades-spanning science-fiction franchise that's spawned actual science fact?
The mystery of what's out there is so profound that anything you say in science fiction might very well be true, and we're not going disprove anything you say. We're certainly not going disprove it in the near future. What’s it been like for me? I don't know, but there is awe and wonder mixed with everything.
Live Long And… What I Learned Along the Way is out now. Go to www.amazon.com to purchase it as a hardcover, Kindle or Audio CD.