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The Man, The Legend, The Interview: William Shatner, Part 1
William Shatner is a blur. On a crazy-busy day for the Star Trek legend, we caught up with him for a fast, furious and informative phoner squeezed in between a meeting and a photo shoot. Call it the interview equivalent of a speed date, but we covered a lot of ground, including the upcoming Shatnerpalooza event on EPIX, his eagerly anticipated Captains documentary, the possibility of him appearing in the next Star Trek feature, his regrets about letting the beloved James T. Kirk perish in Star Trek: Generations, and much more. Below is part one of our exclusive interview, and be sure to check back tomorrow for part two.
Let’s start with The Captains, which you produced and directed, and which will premiere on July 22. Heading into it, what were you expecting? And what were you surprised to discover as a result of doing it?
Shatner: Well, the fascinating part of doing documentaries is that you don’t know quite what it is that you’re going to get. In fact, there is a tremulous fear that you’re not going to get anything. So it’s really a process of discovery, and it’s a creative discovery because you have to respond to the thing that’s happening in front of you as it’s happening, right in front of the camera. Your intuition and instincts have to get sensitized so that you can pick up a story and a possible thread that could go through the documentary. You do all that, but you don’t know what that thread is yet because you haven’t gone there. You can do research and you can think about the possibilities of what you may find, but the exultant effect of a good documentary is that you happen on upon the thing. If it’s nature shooting and you’re filming animals, you’ve got something if suddenly a wonderful event takes place in front of your camera, something that you could not have scripted. And that’s what you hope for in front of a documentary camera.
So what along those lines happened on The Captains? What revealed itself as the thread that will give viewers that exultant effect you just described?
Shatner: The first thing is that I got to talk to the other five (Star Trek) captains, to Patrick (Stewart) and Avery (Brooks) and Kate (Mulgrew) and to Scott (Bakula) and Chris (Pine), and I discovered traits and tendencies and similarities between all of us that I was able to expand on and explore. And, most critically, I discovered an evolution of my own feelings that came as a result of talking to the people in the documentary. So I found myself within the discovery while I was discovering.
Give us one sentence each about your experiences meeting and interacting with Stewart, Brooks, Mulgrew, Bakula and Pine…
Shatner: Patrick spoke to me as deeply and in as affecting a tone as he ever has anywhere, in my experience. Avery was a delight, and he spoke to me in musical terms. Kate was magnificent and dignified and revealed herself more emphatically than I could have hoped for. Scott Bakula was as jovial and as warm as one would have expected, and then just specks of heartache emerged. And Chris Pine was a young prince among us all, elegant and youthful and hopeful and blessed with all his obvious talent.
Now that it’s finished and done, what do you hope people will take away from investing their time in watching The Captains?
Shatner: (I hope they’ll take away a) deeper insight into six people than they’ve ever had before and the realization of the humanity of everybody. I think it’s an exciting discovery process, a voyage of discovery that I think the audience will enjoy coming on with me.
The Captains is part of the Shatnerpalooza extravaganza that EPIX is presenting. What other elements of Shatnerpalooza are you pleased that audiences will get a chance to see?
Shatner: EPIX pay-per-view is premiering themselves and have chosen to use me as their opening act, and I’m delighted to do so. I’m introducing two documentaries. One of them is The Captains and the other one is William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet, which is an award-winning documentary I made about the staging of a ballet to six songs that I wrote (for his album, Has Been). So, those two elements, along with other things and older films that I’ve appeared in or directed or had something to do with, make a sort of heralding of EPIX. To have 48 hours of me is too much even for me, but maybe if you come at it one day at a time it won’t be too much for you.
You stated at a convention pretty recently that you will not be in the next Star Trek feature. But if J.J. Abrams called you tomorrow and asked you to participate, how willing would you be to at least meet and hear the man out?
Shatner: I would probably trip on my way out the door to fall at his feet.