The one and only William Shatner.
The one and only William Shatner.
Courtesy of Mills Entertainent/Lucky Man

William Shatner on Star Trek II and How Anthony Bourdain Was a Kindred Spirit

There are good Star Trek movies and there are bad Star Trek movies. And then there's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the finest film of the long-running science fiction series.

Fight us.

Released in 1982, the film helped reinvent and revive the then-ailing Star Trek franchise with its epic tale of Admiral James T. Kirk (played by the legendary William Shatner) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise battling their deadliest foe, Khan Noonien Singh (played by the late Ricardo Montalbán).

One of the reasons why Wrath of Khan ranks as the best Trek film ever, other than the artistic vision of writer-director Nicholas Meyer, is a tremendous turn by Shatner as a very human Kirk.

Say what you will about his oft-referenced proclivities for scenery-chewing bombast. In Star Trek II, Shatner plays an aging version of his most famous character with complexity and even subtlety (that intergalactic primal scream aside) as he grapples with regret, loss, and his own mortality.

Both Star Trek II and its leading man will take center stage for a screening of the film on Saturday, June 23, at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix followed by a Q&A with Shatner. According to the actor, it's the chance for Trekkers to ask him anything and everything about the film.

Phoenix New Times got a chance to speak with Shatner via telephone recently about the screening, as well as his feelings about Star Trek II and a few other subjects. We even asked him about his feelings on the recent passing of Anthony Bourdain and learned how Shatner considered the late chef and television personality to be a kindred spirit.

Phoenix New Times: This is your second visit to Phoenix in less than a month.
William Shatner:
I know. I like the dry air. (Laughs) And the heat.

Good, because we've obviously got a lot of it.
Yeah, you do have a lot of it. (Laughs)

Since you keep coming back to Arizona, would you ever consider running for governor? It's up for election this year and you could probably win.
(Laughs) Are you tired of the one you have?

Yeah, actually.
(Laughs) Right. Well, I'm not going to get involved in this discussion. [Laughs] I'm going to appeal to everyone's sense of humor and desire to be entertained [and] come out that evening and have a good time.

It's a pretty unique experience. It's not every day you get to see arguably the best Star Trek movie with arguably the best Star Trek captain of them all.
With arguably, you, the best interviewer. (Laughs) But that's exactly right. What is arguably the best TV Star Trek movie and discuss the movie, discuss the people, and discuss whatever anybody wants to talk about for an hour or more after the film. So it turns out to be wonderful entertainment for everybody.

The movie still looms quite large over the Star Trek franchise. Some 36 years later, it's still the yardstick upon which all other Star Trek movies are measured.
That's exactly right. And it is also the instigator for the movies that followed it. Otherwise, the whole franchise would've been canceled.

Do you view Star Trek II through Star Trek IV as a trilogy of sorts?
Uh, do you?

Yeah, just because of the interconnected story and themes, like Kirk's character arc ...
Well, we can talk about that. That's the first time I've heard of that.

Really?
That's got an overview that I don't have.

It deals with story threads between the three films, like friendship or Kirk wanting the Enterprise back ...
Well, yes, of course, from that point of view, it is. Yes, absolutely. You could make that point and the fact we will be looking at the first of the movies of the possible trilogy is of some interest to people, and I'll study that up and see what I can make of it. Because it reminds me that I've heard it mentioned somewhere before.

Of all your experiences with the Star Trek franchise, where does Star Trek II rank?
Well, I think of it as the chrysalis of what followed. It looked like Star Trek was going to be a series that lasted only three years...then all this started with the movies and the syndicating of the series and it became alive again. It was like a plant that had been burrowed underground and suddenly it flowered. And Star Trek II was the means by which it came alive.

Do you consider it to be your best acting out of all your appearances in Star Trek?
I've never sort of valued each performance that way. I sort of just do what I can do and hope for the best. But I don't evaluate it like, "Oh, that was a better performance than that." It all depends on the material. If you've got the material to tell the story, then it definitely becomes a great story. But if you're not given the material to do that, it's lesser.

And writer/director Nicholas Meyer gave you a lot of great material to work with inStar Trek II.
Yes, he did. He did. I gave him my daughter [laughs] and he gave me a well-written Captain Kirk. He took one of my daughters out for a while.

So it was a fair trade then?
Well, I don't know about that. I value my daughter very highly. [Laughs]

Do you think they're going to make another Star Trek film anytime soon?
I think what J.J. Abrams is doing is spectacular and I don't see why they wouldn't be. Each one of the movies he has made has resulted in a lot of money to the studio. So I would think the actors would want to play it and the studios would want to make it and J.J. could farm it out if he wishes, you know. I don't know why they wouldn't make another film.

William Shatner during his appearance at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.EXPAND
William Shatner during his appearance at Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.
Benjamin Leatherman

How long will the Q&A last and what sort of questions can people ask?
Well, they'll play the film and then I'll come out and do an hour or more, if the audience wishes. That's sometimes not a decision we can make, it has to do with the [schedule] and the venue and getting the stagehands out so they don't have to pay them overtime. All these little esoteric rules and resolutions that you or I don't know anything about, and I only hear when I ask, "Why can't we go another half-hour?" And there are all these reasons.

So can fans ask you anything they want?
Anything they want, yeah, absolutely. I learned a long time ago that you don't necessarily have to answer the question. If you ask me, "Is that a teapot in front of you?" and I get to answer, "Well, the sky is blue," then I'm giving you an answer. You're a little bit frustrated but we're on to the next question.

This might seem like an unusual question, but do you have any reaction to the recent passing of Anthony Bourdain?
I'm so bummed. I never met him. I was on tour for two, three years with a one-man show that I had done on Broadway. And the guy booking my tour booked his tour, and he would tell me all kinds of wonderful stories about Bourdain that I was looking forward to being in the same city as he because I would've loved to have met him.

I'm from Montreal and he did a couple of shows from Montreal showing me restaurants that I never knew about. I'd admired him, along with so many other people, because I'm watching CNN quite a bit and so many people feel the same way I do. I have had a sense of personal loss the past few days, as though someone I had known and loved had died. Every so often, I remember the grief, the feeling of sadness, that I've had. And now that you and I are talking about the same feeling, as though I knew him as I had a friend, and he died.

And what is ... unknown, what is such a mystery as to why he did so. What was the cause, no matter how black his mood might have been, he has a child, he had a beautiful girlfriend, he had a great job, he had friends around him, and he was surrounded by beauty where he died. It's hard to imagine why he would've done that.

 Just like Anthony Bourdain, you have this zest for life and for adventures. You almost felt like kindred spirits.

I felt that, too, you know. And I loved the way he ate and I loved the way he would trip. But there were some clues [and] every so often, he would go on about, "I got drunk, all I do is travel." The job itself is similar to something I've done, because I've been on a show called Better Late Than Never, which took us out last time for six weeks.

So I was out with a group of people for six weeks and I was missing my home, and my mattress, and routine. And the anxiety of trying to perform and do well sometimes gets to be too much. So being on the road has its ills and I understood that.

William Shatner is scheduled to appear on Saturday, June 23, at the Orpheum Theatre. Doors open at 6 p.m., the screening starts at 7 p.m. and the Q&A session will follow. Tickets are $60 to $155.

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