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Bryan Cain-Jackson

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The Six Degrees of William Shatner

Posted: 02/20/2013 12:00 pm

How is it that you are familiar with William Shatner? That question is asked because no matter what generation you are from, in some way you are aware of him and have been graced by his contributions to all things entertainment among others.

Whether it was via his frequent guest star roles in prime time television of the 1960s -- The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and other classic programming that can still be seen today.

Perhaps it was the series in which he played the iconic role of James T. Kirk, captain of the starship that would take us on a journey bolding going where no man has gone before -- Star Trek.

Or maybe it was TJ Hooker, Rescue 911, Denny Crane on Boston Legal, or the Priceline Negotiator.

Via the world of entertainment, literature, philanthropy, parenthood and just by his continued iconic presence -- we are all connected to Mr. Shatner in some way.

With all of this legendary tenure, it's hard not to ask about the past. As Mr. Shatner himself says, "The future beckons."

Today, he is as busy as ever. A new album with Billy Sherwood from the Yes, his new web series Brown Bag Wine Tasting that debuted Feb 14, a potential new series in prime time, a new book and a new documentary in the works -- wait, that's not all -- his philanthropic efforts continue with The Priceline.com Hollywood Charity Horse Show Sponsored by Wells Fargo for which he will also being using proceeds from this to help veterans.

The icon and I conversed and laughed.

How are you today?

Overwhelmed. It's all good though.

I'm glad to hear it. You are all over the map these days.

The map of which country?

The world.

So, I'm all over the globe.

You're doing so many exciting things. Is it safe to say that you're busier now than you've ever been?

Well, yes. Probably. But, it all sort of fits into this pattern of not knowing what I'm doing, of the insufficiency -- there you go.

The insufficiency? Are you saying that it's still not enough?

No, being insufficient is doing too much and I don't know what I'm doing.

You don't know until about 15 minutes before you're doing it?

That's it and then I wonder why I'm doing it. (Laughs) This also applies to this interview.

(Laughs) It's amazing to be able to say that we've grown up watching you. Depending on what we're watching at the moment, we can see you at various points throughout your career -- having you watched you at so many different points; it's really difficult to accept the number of years that you've been around. Not only is it a reminder to yourself, it's also a reminder of our own increase in the passage of time. It's hard to believe that you are your age!

That's interesting; I'm a point where you've realized time has passed. I'm an icon of the passage of time, I got it. Like an old weathered tree that loses its leaves, the branches have all fallen off; lightning strikes it but it's still standing. I got it.

That's an interesting way of looking at it. (Laughing very hard) I tend to think of you as a very comfortable space, a reminder of the ways in which you've inspired me and a great subject of curiosity to me.

Thank you. You know, it's funny I just read a fascinating book on trees recently. I've been sort of sensitized to their function and philosophically as well. It's rooted to the ground, it points to the sky and they gain energy not only in sunlight but also in moonlight which is reflected sunlight. The roots change the earth, it grows in and the air around the tree has moisture around it. A benefit that we are missing by not living near trees; by saying tree, there is a whole life form here that relates to human beings that hasn't been discussed much.

Indeed, it's a very fascinating philosophy.

The jumping off the place is that you and I are engaged in a conversation about the conditions of the world.

And what an honor it is. You've established yourself as many things these days, one in particular that comes to mind right now is that of a conversationalist -- I love Shatner's Raw Nerve. We don't have enough shows with just pure conversation.

I love doing that. I just recently did one with a Canadian astronaut. I talked to him for about 10 minutes as he was passing over head. He was in the International Space Station and they had set up a call between us. The challenge I had, which I'm sure you'll appreciate, is that with ten minutes I didn't want to do the whole "Hi, how do you shave? How do you go to the toilet? Goodbye and good luck." I wanted to get some depth. I spent a few moments before doing some research on him and he had many engineering degrees, he had been a test pilot in Canada. So, I talked to him in the few moments that I had about engineering and what he sees when he looks down at earth and into the skies, the engineering that he sees. I asked if he feel the engineer behind the various engineering precepts or does he feel a part of the whole engine that he sees beyond his window. I was able to in effect talk religion with him about that and then knowing that he had been a test pilot -- talking to him about going up and coming down from the space station and the fear. What fear is and how he overcomes it. Being Canada's best pilot and aeronautical engineer and having the brilliant mind that he has -- he was able to relate trying a rocket or airplane that hadn't been tried to the fear of being on a stage. We had the best time for 10 minutes and I was able to get into his soul beyond just the cursory thing that one would've thought one would've done.

What an amazing conversation to have. It is a challenge to talk to people for really anything less than a half an hour because of our natural inclination for breaking the ice with small talk, we need to get a feel for people first before opening up.

It was incredible. It was a monumental moment in my life. In fact, I was so moved because I had his ear. In a conversation, like with ours right now, and just as you can in theatre when the audience first grasps what you're saying and the attention is there and it's palpable -- at that point the flow of communication begins. I could feel the moment where he went from "I'm floating around in my orange workout suit," to when he finally discovered my intent and it turned out to a moving moment. He actually invited me to his cottage in Northern Ontario to continue this conversation. Isn't that wild?

That's incredible and it's the ultimate compliment that a journalist can receive.

It is. That's my way of saying how much I enjoy Raw Nerve. It gives me that time to go into depth. I was able to get in their skin by not rushing and get some place meaningful, just like us right now.

You career spans more than 60 years and you started off in the Royal Shakespeare Company in Canada. In looking at all that you do now which is much broader than the scope of acting in television, film and theatre -- you're an activist, a novelist, in many respects you're a comedian, and with Shatner's Raw Nerve a great conversationalist. In doing all that you do right now versus what you did in the earlier days, what is the reflection process like for you?

Well, I don't really know how to approach that. I'm eating a piece of toast while I talk to you. Just so you don't think my teeth are coming out or something.

(Laughs) The thought had never occurred.

(Laughing) You probably would've thought the old fool is taking his teeth out. It's a piece of toast with peanut butter so it kind of sucks if you know what I mean. (Laughing) I don't know how to reflect on that. All I can tell you I've been on tour for the last year, I'm doing a one man show. It started in Australia last year, I toured there and Canada. A Broadway producer approached me about bringing it to New York, so I rewrote it and fashioned it somewhat differently. I opened in New York and everything went well, then they asked me to tour. I did 20 cities during the earlier part of the year and another 20 cities later in the year. I came home in January from that last tour. It's a one man show, not just the life experiences that I was able to talk about, but the ability to project them and to sustain an entertaining couple of hours is by osmosis I guess. The continual doing has allowed me to have the confidence to be in front of thirty-five hundred people and entertain them. I saw a show at a big theatre out here, there was about fifteen hundred people on the stage and probably about two thousand people in the audience. Two weeks later, I was at that same theatre -- I was the only one on the stage sustaining an audience of at least 3500 people, probably more because they didn't have to remove the front rows like before. Same theatre, same length of time, but it was only me -- that was intimidating. Only by experience, arrogance and by prayer you can do something like that; that maybe a comment from where I am in the past to where I am now.

You're career really started to hit its apex in the 1960s. We could see on everything and everywhere, obviously not with today's visibility. The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, you were even offered the role to Dr. Kildare. Then that regular role came; what was the absolute determining factor in your acceptance of the role that would change your life? The role of James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek.

I accepted the role because it was a fun script; it had a lot of colors to it. It was the lead. I was doing a play by Norman Corwin that he had written for me. We had opened up at the University of Utah, which ironically I just did the one man show at recently -- talk about reflection. We were on our way to New York to do this play, then I get word that the pilot I had done a year earlier had sold. So, I reluctantly left Norman's play to do Star Trek.

I'm sure we don't have to ask if you regret that.

Obviously not.

I've always been fascinated by your philosophies on mortality. You've had a number of events that have occurred throughout your life that have probably served as a reminder of the value and the importance of things as simple and yet as elaborate as a tree, a flower, or the saddle bred horses that you like to breed in your spare time. How are you impacted by each day you get out of bed and do what you're about to do?

The essential lesson that has been spoken about through the ages and to the point of cliché is because it's true -- living in the moment is the only way and you and try do that, talk to yourself, other people talk to you, you hear things and you're reminded you can't do anything about the past and you don't know what the future it and you can just affect what is happening right at this very moment. That's a basic true. The fact that death is right around the corner for all of us; the difference of between when death comes to me and when it comes to you if we were to relate it to age is miniscule in the fact that 10 years goes by before you know it. Live your life and be well.

 

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