(This interview was conducted by my excellent colleague Clayton Neuman — henceforth “CN” — for this week’s 10 Questions feature in Time. I threatened him with my orbital railgun until he agreed to hand over the outtakes. They’re posted below in minimally-edited form — seriously, these are raw transcripts of a phone interview, so don’t expect high grammatical fidelity here. Otherwise Shatner’s in fine form. Enjoy.)
CN: I was disappointed to see Show Me the Money didn’t last very long.
WS: Yeah, too bad.
CN: What do you think the problem was? You showed them the money, they didn’t want to see it?
WS: Well, that is the ultimate reason. I don’t know. You don’t want to think that people turned it off because of me, so I’ll blame the game. I think there was a problem with the game, that there was something inherently not exciting about a game that people couldn’t get off — couldn’t stop. I think the fun of the game is the shock and awe of seeing somebody get so greedy that they’ll stay far beyond what you and the audience would reasonably think is a safe gamble. And ours wasn’t a gamble — ours required the person to stay through the whole thing, whether they won or lost, and I think maybe that was one reason. I don’t know.
CN: Did you take these thoughts to the producers?
WS: We were in the process of changing the game — making it faster, getting the explanations a little more simple — when they canceled it. No, it’s too late for thoughts. I had a good experience, I had fun, I became aware of the complexity of a game show — what the host has to do in a game show. It’s far more complex than the public at large might think.
CN: How so?
WS: Well you’re responsible for the ebb and flow of the game, and you set up the drama: if somebody’s feeling very comfortable, you try and make them feel uncomfortable in the game, and if they’re uncomfortable you try and make them comfortable. So you try and heighten the tension, then because the people are invariably personable, you get to know them and you’re rooting for them and I became involved with the people in the game. I began to enjoy the process. It was arduous because I was doing a series as well, so the number of hours, but if we could have gotten by that as we became more adept at making it, the hours would have become more feasible.
CN: How’s the show [Boston Legal] going?
WS: Well I like the character, I think he’s a fun, somewhat unique character. I think that the writing this year does not enhance him as much as it could and it might. There are a lot of characters that are in the series now that need to be serviced. We always want more to do, and deeper and funnier. So that’s my feeling, and I’m sure that at some point in time they’ll come around to it.
CN: The exchange between you and James Spader reminds me of the exchange between you and Leonard Nimoy.
WS: No, I understand what you’re saying. We’re polar opposites in both cases — that’s the writing, it’s invented that way, and so the characters say the things that reflect what they represent. And they’re friends because they are opposites and enjoy that difference. I understand the nature of your question, but as an actor, no. There’s no real connection there.
CN: Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic said you’d sign on to take one of the first flights.
WS: Well I really hadn’t. That wasn’t the case. They were trying to get as much publicity for their venture as possible, so they made this statement that I’d signed on, but in fact nobody had ever contacted me until much later. And I said no, I wouldn’t pay that amount of money to go into space. Then they began to make signs of, well, if you won’t pay maybe there’s something else we can do.
CN: Would you want to do it?
WS: I’ve been approached to do some things with astronauts and the preparation that astronauts go through. And as you probably know as a result of writing that article, they have a Boeing plane that does an outside loop so you’re weightless for about 30 seconds —
CN: The vomit comet
WS: It’s called the vomit comet. The vomit comet is not something I’d like to pay for. Throwing up is a lonely sickness. I wouldn’t want to pay for it.
CN: What if they offered it?
WS: That would certainly be a good negotiating position. They would have blinked first. It’s not something that I’m going to run to do, but if it’s thrust upon me maybe it might be a good adventure.
CN: This Space Camp gala?
WS: It’s interesting, I’m not quite sure the nature of what I’ll say there, but those are interesting appearances — get to know a group of people. The whole idea of space of course, my image with Star Trek lends itself for me to go there, so it’s interesting.
CN: One interesting thing I read about is this video game I did.
WS: Star Trek Legacy, yes.
CN: I read that you were begged to do it
WS: I’ve never said that I was begged to do it. I mean, that’s awful. I did it because it was a Star Trek thing, they asked me to do it, and all the people who played Captains on the series did it, so…
CN: How was that experience?
WS: Well I’ve done other games. It’s rather an arduous experience. As you may know, making a game, there’s a lot of branching, they call it, where if you turn left it’s one thing, if you turn right it’s another. Having turned right then you’ve got a whole other plot to deal with, which finally has to evolve back to the main spine of the story, where you make a whole other turn. So there’s a lot of saying yeses, and a lot of saying nos. So the actor is playing many parts. It’s not like a story or script, it’s rather deductive, it’s mechanical.
WS: Yes, it’s interesting. It’s an interesting challenge
CN: The new Star Trek movie.
WS: Well I’m talking about it, but I don’t know what I’m saying because I really know nothing. I did have a talk with JJ and he outlined what he wanted to do. And then the problem of getting a character who is dead to talk to his younger version is a storytelling problem. That is, it’s a challenge, and I don’t know how he’s going to solve it. How is he going to get me, the older actor who played the part of Captain Kirk to talk to the younger actor who is playing the part of the younger Captain Kirk, how does he make that happen with any logic? And that’s a tough one.
CN: And you would obviously only do it if he solves that problem to your satisfaction? You wouldn’t just be there for the sake of being there?
WS: That wouldn’t be good for anybody.
CN: How does it feel on a personal level? You are defined as Captain Kirk, how do you pass on the torch?
WS: Well, you light a match…I don’t see the transfer of — I love watching football, and to see the younger quarterback take over from the older quarterback, and the older quarterback keeping his game face on and offering advice to the younger guy and teaching him the nuances it took many a sack for him to learn, it’s inspiring. But I don’t see how that transfers from actor to actor.
CN: I suppose the metaphor could extend through different Star Trek series, but you’re literally giving away a character you’ve shaped over the past 40 years.
WS: Well, no, I’m not — JJ Abrams is. I have very little to do with it, or none really. I’ve been writing Star Trek books about the Kirk character, and what I would have done if the character hadn’t died and if they had still been making movies. My books all reflect the Captain Kirk character along with some of the other Star Trek characters. I’ve started a new series of books — I’ve got a contract for two of them from Pocketbook — to do the young Captain Kirk, so I’ve got young Kirk and young Spock just beginning their naval career. That’s my take on Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. What JJ is going to do, I really don’t know. And I really have nothing to offer — I can’t say to some young actor, play it this way, because he’s going to play it his way.
CN: Who would you want to play Kirk? There are rumors JJ is looking at Matt Damon.
WS: Well Matt Damon is young enough, and athletic enough, and good-looking enough. You’ve gotta be young and good-looking and rich. And charming. No, they’ll probably go with an unknown, and I’m not conversant with the young talent that’s out there.
CN: Would you prefer an unknown?
WS: Probably an unknown would be best, because a known face brings a pre-determined attitude on the audience. This way you get a fresh face and you might make a star, and I think that’s what they’re after.
CN: Then there’s the ultimate danger of being typecast. You’re really almost alone in that you’ve managed to move your career beyond Star Trek.
WS: I think if you take a poll of young actors who are out of work, whether they would sacrifice being known as Captain Kirk, and being employed for several years as against not wanting to be typecast, you’d get a real plethora of votes for the typecast.
CN: How is it you’ve managed to avoid that?
WS: Well, I don’t know. Hanging in there long enough, playing other things, maybe I’ve got some talent. A lot of things come to bear, most of which are in the area of lucky.
CN: Jeff Daniels is starting a music career, his single is called, “If William Shatner Can, I Can.”
WS: N,o I haven’t, nor have I heard the sentiment. Can what? Sing? William Shatner knows he can’t sing.
CN: Any more albums?
WS: Both Ben and I want to. But nobody has jumped down our throats to tell us to get to work.
CN: How did the last album do?
WS: It got great notices. It was perhaps more positively reviewed than anything else I’ve done.
WS: You find that funny, do you? But it didn’t sell as many as we’d hoped, and I think that’s probably the reason nobody is jumping at us to make more.
CN: Last year you were nominated for an Emmy for Boston Legal. What will you do this year to make sure you win?
WS: There’s nothing you can do. The only thing you can do is hope that the writers write the material that would be worthy of a vote, and that I have no control over. The actor is in the hands of a lot of other people, over which he has no control.
CN: But you must have, after all this time, developed a sense of control over your characters.
WS: No, that’s a public perception. The actual perception is that actor has little if any control.
CN: So the Emmy should go to the writers then
WS: In fact it should. There’s interpretation of the person’s writing, but it’s the writer who makes the show. I mean, what you’re going to do, your writing is going to make the article. Not what I’m saying. You characterize me in any way you see fit, and that will shape the article. What I’m saying is of little importance.
CN: Who is the best writer you’ve worked for?
WS: Probably David Kelly. He’s a genius. The stories he tells, the humor he has, he’s won an Emmy for the best comedy and the best drama in the same year, and he wrote all 44 shows. It’s totally incredible what he’s able to do. And he’s writing most of the shows for Boston Legal, at the same time he’s got a pilot going on. He’s incredibly busy.
CN: Going back to Star Trek, there’s a sentiment that Star Trek has had it’s day, and maybe another movie isn’t the best idea, that it’s time to move on. How do you feel about that?
WS: Well, that’s a good question because we don’t know. There was something about Star Trek, nobody quite knows what, that sustained it all these years and made Paramount billions of dollars. It’s unique — what was that? Everybody’s got another answer. But with so many entities of Star Trek out there on the airwaves all at once, the audience began to leave it. Now, almost ten years later, will the audience pick up their love affair with Star Trek? Does Star Trek have this ineffable magic that it once had, and will this new cast have the curious gura of the previous cast? We don’t know. Will JJ Abrams be able to bring to Paramount what they always refer to as a cash cow? And so there’s this huge experiment going on. And as talented as JJ is — I’m driving at the same time. I’m trying to be informative and not have an accident.
CN: Please don’t have an accident.
WS: Then you’d have something else to write about. As good as he is, this is the real test for him. He’s got to take a known quantity, of which people have prior expectations, bring his own persona to it, give it the Abrams twist, and yet maintain the Star Trek game. It’s a very complex thing he’s about to begin, and a huge gamble — because they’re going to spend a lot of money on it — and what will be the result you and I can talk after his movie opens and see what the audience thinks of it. It doesn’t matter so much what the critics think of it because it never mattered. It was whether it had a magic touch that affected the audience and made them want to come see it again and again.
CN: Do you think it’s possible to find that magic again with something that’s so done?
WS: Well, he’s going for a younger cast, so will he start off where I began, at the age I was or appeared to be? Will he go younger? If he stays at the same age, will he try to put the characteristics that were written in, or that I brought to it? I don’t know. It’s going to be a series of interesting artistic choices that will be made by Abrams and Paramount about how to get this very precious franchise that they have had for all these years — and it’s still doing well in syndication. I know in LA they’re playing the Star Trek I was on.
CN: Right, the remastered versions. Have you been watching them?
WS: No, I don’t watch any of that. What will they do to enhance it? They must be quite apprehensive. And, in addition to that, if I were they and you wanted to guarantee that the audience will come in droves, one of the potential income-producing things they might do is to include some members of the old cast.
CN: Everybody wants to go see William Shatner play Kirk.
WS: Well how do you do that? And that’s the storytelling mystery.
CN: You have confidence in JJ?
WS: He’s a wonderful storyteller, his series show us that. He’s a director that’s adept with CGI — Mission Impossible 3 showed us that. We know he has an ear and an eye for humanistic plots. Those are all important for Star Trek — CGI and humanity.
CN: How did you enjoy your roast?
WS: Well there was a point when I was on the dais when I was thinking, what the hell have I done? It just seemed like a good idea at the time — they roast one person a year, they asked me and it just seemed like fun.
CN: You started to regret it though?
WS: For a couple of instances perhaps?
CN: I assume we didn’t see those?
WS: I don’t really remember the instances, I just remember the emotion.
CN: What should Time know about you?
WS: Oh I don’t know. I can’t answer that. It’s constantly changing and whatever is newsworthy, you’ll find out.
CN: I saw this weird thing about Claudia Christian, who worked with you on TJ Hooker. She’s accusing you of making some sort of advance on her.
WS: This is now early 80s, right? 27 years later, who is Claudia Christian?
CN: She’s an actress
WS: And she’s saying I made an advance on her? Well, who am I to tell a lady that she’s a liar. It might very well be, it was 27 years ago. I take it she’s getting publicity. I have no recollection of that — I’m sure it was memorable for her though.