Interview: William Shatner On Why ‘Star Trek II’ Worked, If He Would Appear In ‘Discovery,’ And More

On September 10th and 13th Fathom Events is holding 35th anniversary screenings of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Director’s Cut in theaters across the USA. TrekMovie took the opportunity to chat with the star of the film, William Shatner, who will be seen in a new introduction interview at these screenings. We talk about the first two Star Trek films, his thoughts on Discovery, the opportunities available with VR and more.

From Star Trek: The Motion Picture To Wrath of Khan

Let’s start with Star Trek II, which is returning to the big screen this weekend with a new intro interview with you.

Yes. I am coming to a town near you. I am going to play 600 theaters for Fathom on September 10th and 13th.

Many feel this second film you all made was the best of the series, do you agree with that assessment?

I do. It is either the best or the second best. I thought Star Trek V was the best of them all.

I should have said with the exception of your Star Trek V, of course.

I learned a lot on Star Trek V! But, yes [Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan] is a wonderful film and it is a perfect example of what a good story can do. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture didn’t hit as brilliantly as they thought it might and they were not going to make any other movies, the head of Paramount [Barry Diller] said “Let’s make them for a cheaper price.” And he hired a television producer – Harve Bennett – to do it on essentially a television budget, which meant more emphasis on the story and less on expensive effects. And if the opinion is this is amongst the best of the Star Treks, I wholly concur.

What was your expectation for that first Star Trek film, what was your mood going into it?

Excited. Here was an opportunity that was really unique. A television show was going to make first run movies. I don’t think it had been done before. And getting Robert Wise – the great editor and director of these large films – was a huge coup. So, everybody thought it was going to be terrific. And when it wasn’t everyone thought that is the end of that.

So how was the mood different going into the second one, such as how did you feel about Gene Roddenberry no longer being in charge?

I don’t remember the sequence of my feelings, but Gene Roddenberry had very strongly held opinions about what to do and how to do it. And the fact in the first season of Star Trek he was no longer the line producer, but became the executive producer and other producers were brought in by the studio. What it meant was they were going for efficiency, both in the storytelling and in the filming. And that was the way it went for three years. Gene had essentially left Star Trek by the second year, certainly the third.

So this script that was hammered out for the first Star Trek movie was written by good people and had all kinds of credits belonging to it. There was a disappointment in that it took so long and there were so many delays in getting it made. They used to talk about the film being “wet,” it literally was. It was taken out of the lab and flown to Washington in a can and Robert Wise never had a chance to properly edit his film and especially the special effects, which had no editing at all.

William Shatner with director Robert Wise, producer Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Working with Nicholas Meyer

Wrath of Khan brought in a young and less experienced director – Nicholas Meyer. I just spoke to him last week including talking about directing you. Specifically, he talks about technique that he was always trying to get a – in his words – “smaller” performance so he would do many takes with you until he got the performance that he wanted. At the time, did you catch on to trick of his?

I think that has crept in, in the intervening years. [laughs] It has become a lovely story. Why wouldn’t he say, “Play it smaller?” or “Do less,” or whatever language the director needs for the actor.

What was your opinion of Meyer – this young director at the time – coming in for the second film?

Very good. I thought he was a fine writer and a director with a flair. He was neat. I don’t recall having a “large” performance and him doing take after take. That is not my recollection, but if he thinks so, so be it. I am glad he fashioned my performance to his liking.

William Shatner with Nicholas Meyer on the set of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Returning to Star Trek in Discovery or VR?

Switching to more current news, have you been keeping up with information and previews of the new show, Star Trek: Discovery?

No, not at all. I am so bereft of information. I have no idea of what is going on. Anybody who has any knowledge I find informative, because I know nothing.

All I know is that it is streaming. I have been playing in front of some large audiences recently and asking them what they thought and will they pay money for it and about half the audience doesn’t want to pay each month to get it. It looks like what they are doing is making it a beacon for joining [CBS All Access]. So, in the same way Paramount used [Star Trek:] The Next Generation to promote their syndication organization, they are doing the same thing with the streaming of Star Trek, which is an interesting ploy.

Didn’t Paramount also want to try that with the show that was in development before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. You were working on that Phase II show for about a year for what was going to be a Paramount TV Network but then they scrapped the network idea.

They were making all kinds of sounds about TV movies, TV series, it was everything but a movie.   

Obviously whenever there is a new Star Trek project the same question arises, specifically about you. It happened with Enterprise and of course with the J.J. Abrams movies. If they reached out, would you be interested in any participation with Discovery?

Well it would depend on what the participation was. I wouldn’t want to do something that was a throwaway sort of gratuitous place in the plotline. They would really have to exercise their imaginations to have a fifty years older captain in there – if it was the character. They would have to do something remarkable.

Since this takes place ten years before your 1960s Star Trek show, your character is actually younger.

So, then I got to play my father.

In Las Vegas last month you said something that got our notice, which was there was going to be an announcement about a VR project and this was maybe the answer to how you could be in Star Trek again. Can you elaborate on that?

I am part of a company called Ziva, a virtual reality company. We have all kinds of ambitious plans using virtual reality. In talking to the engineers and experts, they say “We can do anything. We can make you older or younger.” So that is the answer to the question “What happened in the intervening fifty years?”

Shatner says it would take some “remarkable” imagining to get him into Discovery

The next documentary

You have directed and hosted a number of Star Trek-related documentaries in recent years, with the latest being The Truth is in the Stars now on Netflix. Do you have any more of these documentaries planned?

I have found directing documentaries really entertaining and informative for me, so I follow a question and try and make points of it. My entré seems to be science fiction or space, so I am actively attempting to sell documentaries pertaining to that. I have three projects that I am actively pursuing. None are Star Trek per se, but science-fiction and science. Such as the guy who began JPL is a fascinating character and I want to do a documentary on his life. There are a lot of young, talented people at NASA, and I want to do a documentary on them. And the list goes on.

William Shatner with Professor Stephen Hawking in The Truth is in the Stars

Wrath of Khan back in theaters September 10th & 13th

The 35th anniversary screenings of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Director’s Cut with an exclusive introduction by William Shatner will be held at theaters across the country on September 10th and 13th. Get your tickets now before they sell out by visiting fathomevents.com.

Here is the official trailer for the event:


 

 

We were asked by Carusele to promote The Wrath of Khan 35th Anniversary screenings, sponsored by Fathom Events. Although we have been compensated, all opinions are our own.

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