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William Shatner on His New Album, New Documentary, Civil Rights, and The Avengers

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William Shatner, appearing at this weekend's Dragon*Con in Atlanta, is quite the busy (renaissance) man. Sure, you may know him from his Priceline commercials, his huge Twitter following, or some tv shows and movies you might be familiar with.

Shatner is back, with a new album of music (his fourth studio album, if you're counting) called Ponder the Mystery set to be released October 8 and followed up by a tour. But he's also just released a follow-up to 2011's successful documentary The Captains, in which Shatner interviews all of the other Star Trek captains, including Chris Pine, the "other" Captain Kirk. Back with The Captains: Close Up, this set focuses on each of the individual captains for their own half-hour episode, and is available now on DVD.

I spoke with the man himself, and he was as engaging and lively as ever.

On Ponder the Mystery,

Ponder the Mystery may be amongst the best things that I've ever done. It's going to be a great album. I've done it with a great musician named Billy Sherwood (he was in the band Yes) . . . and I'm inordinately proud of it.

We also spoke about The Captains: Close-Up, a follow-up to his 2011 documentary The Captains. In this new set of five episodes, we're able to get extended interviews with Avery Brooks, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and a final episode about Chris Pine and Shatner, during which we see Shatner working on his one-man Broadway show and also the genesis of Ponder the Mystery. So what else do we get in these new five episodes that wasn't covered in the first documentary?

They talk about things they've never talked about before, I think because I was interviewing them and I was their peer, and they knew I was not going to hurt them. They were able to reveal parts of themselves in public that they had not done before. It's a really interesting, moving, informative piece.

For those who loved The Captains, this is like getting that album of b-sides and remixes to a favorite album. And for those who want to experience The Captains more methodically, each one by themselves without being intercut with other interviews, this is for you. It is out now on DVD and available on Netflix Instant Watch.

We also talked about several other issues.

Speaking about Dragon*Con and next week's Salt Lake Comic-Con:

"You have to have a child's heart and a child's mind to really. enjoy. So your readers need to know you come with open hand, open heart, and even an open pocketbook."

Shatner also responded to the news of his former Boston Legal co-star James Spader being cast as Ultron in the Avengers sequel with a decent amount of irony:

"He's going to have trouble. He's so full of life and love that acting as an automaton will be very difficult for him."

And my favorite piece, I asked Mr. Shatner to reflect back on his work in Star Trek, in Boston Legal, and if he felt the weight or responsibility as a civil rights leader. We also spoke about this in the context of his interview with Avery Brooks, who had some amazing things to say about race relations in Captains: Close-Up and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. His answer was surprisingly humble and measured, offering, "I've come to the conclusion that it is almost -- almost -- impossible for people who are not of color to understand implicitly what being African-American means in the United States and the extra burden it imposes. We, white people, can't really walk in their shoes." In talking about internalizing those ideas into his preparation for a role as an actor, feeling that you are doing something important and momentous, he spoke about how as an actor, it is your job to see the world through another person's eyes. "That attempt to understand a fictional character needs to be carried out in reality as well."

I also finally prevented him with a question of if he were given a choice to be in the next Star Wars or Star Trek film, which would he pick and why. His answer was beautiful, non-responsive, and fun all at once.

You can hear the full interview, including Shatner's views on being a civil rights leader, his horses, and a personal note to a fan who is in need of some consolation, by downloading it from Big Shiny Robot's podcast feed.
Note: podcast was edited slightly for time and content, but not by much.