William Shatner Interviews Fellow 'Star Trek' Captains In New Documentary 'The Captains' (VIDEO)
For the past 45 years, William Shatner has gone boldly where few actors have gone before thanks to his iconic role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk on the original "Star Trek" series.
The role made him famous beyond anyone's wildest dreams and while Kirk helmed the Starship Enterprise, Shatner helmed both a successful TV series (at least in reruns) and six wildly successful films in one of the most successful movie franchises.
But it was only while making his new documentary, "The Captains," that Shatner, now 80, finally became OK with the fact that when he dies, he will be remembered mainly for his role as Kirk, despite his Emmy-winning work on "Boston Legal" and other roles in his career.
"Over the years, I've become barraged by comments from people, such as, 'Beam me up, Scotty!' and I became defensive," he told HuffPost Weird News. "I felt they were derisive and engendered an attitude. I am grateful for the success, but didn't want to be mocked."
In the documentary, which will be released on DVD Oct. 18, Shatner interviews Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, Chris Pine and Kate Mulgrew, the four actors and one actress who have played Starfleet captains, about how the role has affected their lives professionally and personally. He claims it was only after hearing their perspectives on the hallowed position that he was finally able to embrace the Kirk character as a blessing and not a millstone around his neck.
Interestingly enough, it was while researching information on Stewart that the enterprising epiphany came to Shatner.
He saw a quote by Stewart where he told the press that all the kings, emperors and romantic parts he had played elsewhere led up to playing Captain Picard, and that comment helped Shatner see the role of Captain Kirk in a better light.
"Patrick reminded me of that," he said.
In the movie, Stewart explains to Shatner why he felt that way.
"I said this very early in the first season when we were doing a lot of press," Stewart related to Shatner. "I found myself listening to comments that were ever so gently, ever so politely, suggesting that, given my past, wasn't I just slumming. I was so offended."
Over the years, Shatner says "millions" of people, including top scientists and inventors, have told him that the original series inspired them to go into science careers (a fact that inspired the documentary "How William Shatner Changed The World"). But he wasn't able to appreciate the reality of that statement until he interviewed the actors who followed in his footsteps.
Shatner says that he wishes he'd been able to fully embrace the positive impact "Star Trek" has had on his life and legacy earlier -- "It would have made life less irksome," he admitted -- but is his reaction a bit overblown?
It might seem so, since the actor is no stranger to hyperbole. In the film he greets former "Star Trek" female cast members Jeri Ryan and Sally Kellerman separately and tells each of them they were the most beautiful women ever on the series, and he once told this reporter that paintball "is more exciting than anyone can imagine."
However, David Zappone, who co-produced "The Captains" with Shatner and Kevin Layne, insists the actor's reaction is sincere.
"After interviewing all the actors, Bill was so struck at how he was embarrassed by the role and how he held it in disdain," Zappone told HuffPost Weird News. "He's had all these unspoken emotions, but he finally said -- and it was to Patrick -- that 'if people only remember me for Captain Kirk, that's OK.'"
WATCH: WILLIAM SHATNER JAM WITH AVERY BROOKS
But if Stewart made Shatner finally OK with his iconic character, he says interviewing Avery Brooks, who played Captain Benjamin Sisko on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," took him boldly where no interview had gone before.
Brooks, who is a consummate jazz pianist and tenured professor at Rutgers University, insisted the interview take place at his piano and he made Shatner actually improvise lyrics and melodies -- as opposed to the spoken word style he has employed in the past on his interpretations of songs like Elton John's "Rocket Man."
"I didn't realize that, in doing a documentary, there is this process of discovery," he said. "It's not like a film or a play with a set script. It sort of reveals itself."
Zappone said Shatner had only met Brooks in passing before the filming and that the interview is proof that the former Captain Sisko is truly a great character. Brooks' out-of-left-field, poetic, jazz-like commentary about how being a captain affected him doesn't sound anything like his comparatively straight-laced "Star Trek" character, Zappone said.
"Really, we had no idea what he was like except for 'Deep Space 9,' but he really brought genuine emotions out of Bill. Great moments," Zappone said. "Bill was so impressed -- especially by how Avery was able to improvise at the piano -- that he immediately asked him to do the music for the movie."
Brooks didn't write the soundtrack but he did contribute to it, and helped the filmmakers find a composer who could write themes representing each captain. In the process, he earned a credit as music supervisor.
Brooks' facility as a musician may surprise fans, as will the revelations by Mulgrew at how her seven-year stint as Captain Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager" still causes resentment from her kids. But Zappone said he was really amazed at how articulate the captains were about their unique place in the pop culture universe.
"There's a lot of intelligence and eloquence," he said. "None of these actors need a script, not even the newest one, Chris Pine, who plays Captain Kirk, in the 'Star Trek' reboot."
The whole process of making a film that allowed Shatner to reconcile his mixed emotions about his "Star Trek" celebrity has inspired the actor to continue on his mission of making documentaries.
His newest one, "Fan Addicts," is just about complete, and explores what makes people go to "Star Trek" conventions.
"I wasn't sure where the film was going, but by the third day I had this epiphany and I knew what I had to do and knew where it was going to go," Shatner said. "Can you imagine how evocative it is to go someplace where you capture a moment?"
At that moment, Shatner went off on a metaphorical tangent that truly expresses the freedom and excitement he feels with the documentary process.
"Have you seen this video that was taken near a river that shows a battle between a baby buffalo and a lion? The lion is manhandling the buffalo when the alligator grabs it as well. The two fight over the buffalo until the herd of adult buffalo come and flip them off the little one.
"Imagine being there at that moment. That's like witnessing a quasar hole."