William Shatner: ‘You’re lucky if you get just one friend in a lifetime’

Star Trek’s Captain Kirk remembers his late friend and colleague Leonard Nimoy, and reflects on the roots of his creativity and his relish for new challenges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 4:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 4:00am

He’s like a professor, the revered and feared kind, the scholarly voice-of-God type. He speaks with a purpose but sprinkles in humour and questions. The man who played Captain James T. Kirk is also the author of several books, including the recent Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, a biography of his late friend and Star Trek castmate Leonard Nimoy. This autumn will bring Shatner’s novel Zero G, a story about the FBI in space a half-century from now. He’s developed comic books, games and documentaries, including one based on his Chicago-to-Los Angeles ride on a motorcycle he helped design. Currently the Canadian-born actor is involved with “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage”, a symphony concert that blends live music with video from the movies and television show, and is touring with his one-man show, “Shatner’s World”.

SEE ALSO: To oldly go – Star Trek to return to TV screens with new series, half century after original

While writing your book about Leonard Nimoy, what did you learn about your friend?

How enormously creative he was. He was doing things I didn’t know about, and the things he was doing, he had so much to do with that I didn’t know about. Doing my due diligence into his life, it was incredible, and I wish I would have known that. But the book is about friendship. It’s about why men have more difficulty making friends than women – at least that’s my opinion. And how important a deep friendship is and how few and far they are between. You’re lucky if you get just one friend in a lifetime. Many people don’t have it ever, and I had it for a brief while.

Is your creativity a point of pride?

I don’t consciously say, “Aren’t I wonderful?” and “I’m creative,” but things occur to me that don’t occur to anybody else around me. Then I have the ability, because of this so-called celebrity, to sometimes do something about it. I just recently was asked to make a Christmas album, for example. Suddenly, the concept was in front of me. Of course, I’m not going to tell you the concept. It’s simple enough, but nobody’s done it yet, to my knowledge. I spoke the concept to the guy who was going to put money into it and he said, “I love it. Let’s do it.” So I will do a Christmas album for next Christmas based on this concept.

So what is the nature of that creativity? How does it work? Where does it lie in your brain?

I don’t know. It comes out like spittle. It just emerges.

One of the basic tenets of creativity is keeping an open mind and looking at how things could work versus how they can’t.

Great observation. That’s exactly right. To not have any boundaries. To not say, “Well, I better do a song,” but instead say, “Wait a minute.” Then, boom, this iconoclastic idea occurs to you. You put your finger on exactly the opening salvo, which is have an open mind. A closed mind can’t be creative.

Have you always been an open-minded guy?

You have to define what that means. I don’t think you should rape and pillage.

As you go through life, if an idea occurs to you, do you think about how you could do it, versus why you shouldn’t or couldn’t do it?

So often, I’ve got this great idea. “God, what a great idea that is.” Either I’m half asleep or I’m doing something else, and then I say, “What was that idea?” I’ve forgotten half my great creative ideas.

Do you carry a notebook?

No. I keep thinking I’ve got the memory, and then I can’t remember what the joke was.

What’s special about the Star Trek concert tour?

It’s taking the music of Star Trek and playing it live onstage. If that were all it were, a concert tour playing the music of Star Trek, that would be enough. But that isn’t all it is. On a 40-foot screen is projected the scenes from which the music came. And in addition to that, there may be if it’s thematic – say, it’s man against machine – there may be two or three iterations of Star Trek that use that theme. The audience becomes aware of how the music is enhancing the scene, they become aware of how critically important music is to movies. So a lot is going on while the audience is looking slack-jawed at the stage.

Meanwhile, you’re touring with your one-man show. I want to ask you what it’s like to be alone up there. But then, when I consider there’s an audience in front of you, I wonder if you’re really alone.

Your first premise is correct. You’re out there alone. I went to the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles to hear an oratorium which had 250 musicians and 1,500 people singing. So there were almost 2,000 people on the stage entertaining 3,500. Several weeks later I was on that stage by myself doing the same thing that those people were doing, trying to entertain a whole audience by myself. So yes, you’re there by yourself. It’s called a one-man show.

You’ve haven’t capped out what you can achieve – you keep doing more. At this point, what challenges you?

Well, what’s more important is you don’t feel that I’ve tapped out. What challenges me? Everything challenges me. Talking to you is a challenge, let me tell you … I’m not joking. But what I mean by that is I’m doing publicity for the 50th anniversary concert tour. That’s a challenge to speak to a lot of people and get that information across, get you to write the right thing. It’s a challenge.

In your projects, at what point in the process do you know whether you’re pleased?

You never know. You can’t know until the audience tells you. You can think you’ve got the greatest thing in the world and the audience says, “That’s awful,” and it comes as a shock. The same shock applies if it’s a success. How many times have you heard people say, “I can’t believe it’s successful”? That’s because you really don’t know until you’re in front of the audience who tells you, “That is terrific,” or “That’s not terrific.” Until that moment, you’re living on the edge.

Tribune News Service