Interview: William Shatner Talks Death Of Kirk, Returning To Star Trek, Chris Pine, And Bucket List

This week, the ever-busy William Shatner released his latest memoir, Live Long and… What I Might Have Learned Along The Way. TrekMovie had time to chat with Mr. Shatner about the new book, his active social media presence, and about Star Trek past, present and future.

Kirk’s unfortunate comedy and unavoidable death

One of the surprises in your book was your revelation that you once did a stand-up comedy routine as Captain Kirk. You didn’t give any details on the act, can you remember any of the jokes? What worked and what didn’t?

Nothing worked, that much I remember. I was trying for Henny Youngman jokes. All the standard stuff, it was all the old-time humor. “Take my wife, please” kind of humor. My concept was, Captain Kirk wants to be a stand-up comic and tells the worst jokes possible.

Well, in that way, it sounds like you succeeded.

Yes. Much better, or worse, than I expected. [laughs]. It seemed to me to be an amusing concept, but it failed utterly.

In the book, you talk about regret, although mostly framed as how you regret the things you haven’t done. I’m curious about something you did do that may have cut off future opportunities. Do you regret agreeing to do Star Trek: Generations, and allow them to kill off Kirk?

Well, I didn’t think I had any choice in the matter. Paramount had decided that the ceiling that they could reach in our box office had been reached and they thought that by putting in the Next Generation cast, that they would reach a higher box office. That decision had been made. It was either I was going to appear and die, or they were going to say he died. So, I chose the more practical of the two.

So, they were killing you no matter what?

That was their theory. It didn’t work out that way, but that is the way it was.

Would return as Kirk

Recently you gave an interview where you said you were happy for Patrick Stewart and his new Star Trek series, but doing something like that wasn’t for you. Some in the media took that to mean you were done with Star Trek entirely. Last year you told me you were open to returning to the character. You may not want to do a new TV series, but if they can find a way to make it work, you would still return to the role, right?

That is exactly right. If they can find a way of writing a 50 years older captain and it was meaningful and had something to do with the plot, I would jump at the chance.

William Shatner last appeared as Kirk for a gag at the 2013 Academy Awards

Stands with Chris Pine

I’m not sure if you have been keeping up with the trades, but the man who followed in your footsteps, Chris Pine, has been having his own issues with Paramount, possibly walking away from the next Star Trek movie over a salary dispute. Did you ever have any kind of difficult negotiations for your films with Paramount? Did you ever walk away from the table?

Well, we negotiated. I don’t recall, although there is something vaguely reminiscent about saying, “I can’t do that.” But, Chris is in a wonderful position in that he is so good and such a leading man, that he has many opportunities to explore without being Captain Kirk. So he is in a really good negotiating position. I think he’s doing the right thing in terms of getting more money, as the movies seem to be making a lot of money.   

Well, that is part of the problem. The last movie didn’t make as much as they wanted and so they want him to take less money than they previously agreed for the next one. Any advice for Chris, should he hold out?

I know nothing. I am a negotiator, but that is for travel. [laughs] I can get you a ticket you wouldn’t believe!

William Shatner with Chris Pine in a publicity shot for the 2011 documentary The Captains

Living the celebrity life on social media

It is clear from the book you live a passionate life, but you also say you don’t currently have a lot of close friendships like you used to have with Leonard Nimoy. Is that just part of life as an actor? Does that make it more difficult?

It basically is. The celebrity aspect to all of this, it colors a lot. So many people want to use you for one thing or another. And when the result is you are being used, it tends to make you withdrawn. So yes, being in the limelight definitely affects relationships.

It’s true you are very famous, one might even say you are even a cultural icon, which means people talk about you and joke about you all the time. What are they getting wrong? What is the most misunderstood thing about William Shatner?

Quite frankly, I don’t know. I try not to be a party to all of that stuff. I am active on social media because it serves a purpose of getting to know my fans and allowing the fans to get to know me and to publicize things that I am doing. Also, there are charitable things that can be done.

So I am actively talking, but I can’t really answer that question with any intelligence.

You are very active on social media, engaging with your fans and other celebrities. Periodically you appear to get into feuds, like the one with Jason Isaacs. But that’s all just a goof, or is it real?

No, he is a really cool guy. It’s all done tongue-in-cheek.

So you have no enemies?

Well, I don’t know about that. But I don’t dislike anybody.

What’s left on Bill’s bucket list

The book is a mixture of life experience and advice, including the advice for people to not take your advice. So, what did you learn about yourself as you wrote this new memoir?

I think probably it more reinforced things I already knew, like how little one knows about anything. How invalid advice to other people can be. How ineffectual so many things are and how you attempt for yourself to do something that has some validity.

Returning to the idea of regrets of things you haven’t done in your life, what are the things you still want to do? What is on your bucket list?

Well standing up is good, breathing is another.

This year you have done a Star Trek II tour, did a country album, wrote this book, and have a Christmas album still to come. So, you aren’t slowing down. What can we expect from William Shatner in 2019?

Possibly another book and more touring. I hope to sell some animated films. I have got a company called Shatner Universe in which there are many properties which would lend themselves to animated films and I have connected with an animated film company – Titmouse – and I am hopeful that we will announce the sale of some stuff that is part of Shatner Universe.

I don’t know. The adventure is in front of me. The albums are doing really well. I am pleased with the content. I am hoping people will buy them. The book is doing well. I am not sure what the future holds for me, but it seems quite bright.

Shatner’s new memoir is out now

William Shatner’s Live Long and… What I Might Have Learned Along The Way was released on Tuesday, September 4th. It is available in hardcover and ebook. There is also an audiobook version narrated by Shatner available on Audio CD and via Audible.
William Shatner: Live Long and ... What I Learned Along the Way

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He looks 45 on the book cover

He looks great for his age, but as a 41 year old this comment is a bit…well..offensive. You’re saying he looks the same age as the likes of Matt Damon, Jim Parsons and Jude Law, among others.

They’re not REAL 40 year olds, lol. They’re MOVIE 40 year olds ( i.e. they have personal trainers, dieticians, etc. etc. ).

In other words, they have MONEY. Although I would vouch that anyone can hold back the years no matter what financial demographic you fall into.

In Britain we had rationing in the 40s and 50s and apparently people were fitter and healthier then they have have ever been since, particularly kids.

Photoshop is a hell of a program.

I work in Photoshop for a living. And I met Bill in person 5 years ago. He looks 95% like that photo. He’s redder/ruddy in person is all. So they tweaked the color and little else.

i#d say he looks 20 years younger more than half his age

Interesting interview. I would like to see him play Kirk again if they respect the character.

I’d like it happen but I doubt it will.

The most logical solution is as an older version of Pine in the Kelvin Timeline, yes he looks older (see the Oscars sketch) but he’s still Shatner, a very recognisable figure in US pop culture. For an 86 year old he is very healthy and still active. i don’t see how he’d fit into the TV shows, unless he plays an ancestor in Discovery or his mirror counterpart

The question now is how to write him in and will Shatner accept the fee/size of his role – he’s said before a cameo won’t be enough

@Danny — I don’t think his death in GENERATIONS impacts anything about having Shatner back to play Kirk Prime. The vast majority of new audiences won’t know much about his death in GEN, and most fans won’t care. They just resurrect Kirk, pay some brief lip-service to how it happened, and off we go. The most logical thing to do is to say he was able to be revived after his body was retrieved off Veridian III, not really having died, but Picard thought he had. Or it can become even more convoluted: they can go find Scotty who kept Kirk’s last transporter pattern from the Enterprise B, and beam him back into himself. Or they can delve into the Nexus, in which literally anything can happen it’s so poorly defined. If they really want to bring Kirk back, there is away. TSFS proved that.

@Kev-1 — what does respecting the character have to do with Shatner playing Kirk again?

They threw him off a bridge and gave him a death that means zero to the plot. Then they just dumped a few rocks on him and made a bigger deal over Data’s cat. Generations was really bad

I love this man so much. My hero since childhood regardless of all of the negative press throughout the years. I dread the day, which is all too soon, when he is gone.


Same here, 100%.

Forced to admit that Shatner has grown on me over the years. I can totally respect how busy he is keeping himself in these late years of his life. He reminds me of my dad a little, to be honest.

Good for him. We all should wish to be as prosperous at that age as he is. He IS Trek, and I hope he gets one more shot at the legacy he’s such a huge part of.

I think the solution is obvious. If Chris Pine won’t come back, cast William Shatner as a thirty-something Kirk in Star Trek 4.

(that was a joke)

Clearly a joke, but that could be the basis for a pretty funny comedy sketch if they could get the rest of the Kevlinverse actors!

I’m chuckling thinking about that already!

@Jess — there’s the entire premise for Shatner to host Saturday Night Live again this season!

Can they please get him in a story soon. He is right that if it is meaningful it would be worth it. Enough talk do it already

If Kelvin Kirk meets his father in the next movie, which implies some form of time travel, why couldn’t he meet his later self, aka Shatner, as well?

Which would pretty much be the way a time-travel plot could work… if a narrative reason could exist for characters retaining their memories before and after change.

Shatner-Kirk in old age being a vision of the future resulting from the combined fixes of the Kevin never being destroyed, and growing up knowing his father. And Vulcan still being around would positively effect Spock.

This was the original Trek XI before Orci’s script was rejected and Beyond got made

I don’t think there’s ever been a place for Shatner in the Kelvin films. Nimoy was not only cool enough to make the cut, his participation was considered essential. Shatner is just Shatner.

They easily could bring him back on the Picard show. All they have to do is blame some temporal incursion that prevented Kirk from being the one who saved the Enterprise-B and then somehow throw Picard in the past where Kirk is still living or throw Kirk in the future.

Please, no. The entire concept of “Kirk meets Picard” was way too fanfic-ish back in GENERATIONS, and it worked out extremely poorly. We don’t need a repeat.

(None of this is to take anything away from either Stewart or Shatner as an actor; indeed, Shatner kind of stole the show in GENERATIONS.)

@TRT — agreed. Been-there-done-that.

I agree with you on GEN Temarc. It was a messy, convoluted, and weak story, mostly due to Rick Berman and Paramount’s requirements on Moore and Braga’s script and Berman’s oversight (which alienated Leonard Nimoy who was absolutely right that the script needed to be heavily rewritten). But the chemistry between Shatner’s Kirk and Stewart’s Picard was just wonderful. It was such a shame, and Stewart said this, that it couldn’t have gone on longer. They both had a good time on that film and I think it shows.

Oh, and Malcolm McDowell was great fun too. He even said the script sucked before it was filmed, but he did it anyway to kill Kirk. He’s one of those guys who can play evil nasty bastard and have fun doing it.

I do agree. The scenes that worked best in Generations were the ones with Kirk in them. The rest of the film was, meh.

Captain, my Captain. Great interview. Many thanks.

Joshua Jackson is going to be cast as the new Kirk.

He was in the running for it when they were casting for the 09’ film. Jackson is a huge Trek fan. To make up for not casting him as Kirk, JJ gave him the starring role on Fringe.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Berman foreced Shatner to be in the movie under that implied threat. Rick Berman was always trying to diminish TOS. And I also think he wanted Unification to be as disappointing as it was so that he could contrast TNG at its peak against the tired storyline and deliberately poor use of Nimoy and Leonard…”see, Spock and Kirk aren’t all that great” is the message we are suppose to get from watching Generations and Unification.

Unification was disappointing?

Like, duh! The only TNG episode more disappointing was the Farpoint premiere. They had Nimoy and Leonard, but couldn’t give us Spock and Sarek on screen together — are you kidding me…WTF?

And if you don’t believe me:

– This site included it as one of the 20 most disappointing episodes in all of Sta/rTrek (Google “Trekmovie Shuttle Pod: Episode 20 Our Most Disappointing Star Trek Episodes”)…and ML31, who I usually disagree with, has a post in that thread where he fully backs this up.

– Unification made the IMDB list of Top 50 Worst Star Trek episodes (you can Google it), so there is a general consensus that the episode was not good

Agreed. What a disappointing use of Nimoy,
Such a shame. The possibilities were endless, and we got….that.

Unification was indeed a severely disappointing episode. They had the casting coup of the season and they totally TNG’d it. Spock doesn’t show up until the very end. Then the 2nd part was so amazingly weak I’m stunned Nimoy even agreed to do it. The only thing I can think of was it HAD to be for money. Or perhaps he was compelled to do it for the promotion for the upcoming TUC

Really but it had one of Spock’s best lines, cowboy diplomacy.

William Shatner is a brilliant man, and I agree Chris Pine should remain as Captain Kirk, or paramount just might loose all the way around. He’s the best man chosen to play Kirk. And I have watched William Shatner since twilight zone, He’s still handsome as ever. I would love to meet him.

Bummed I didn’t get to attend a Trek II tour screening with him! I hope to one day cross paths with him. My dad worked with him on a commercial at Fenway Park once, was trying to keep the fanboys away from him on the set cuz actors don’t like to always be bothered, but Shatner took the time to speak with one fan who just would not stop geeking out and I guess asked for an autograph or something. So like that was a cool move, warms my heart to think of him in that light.

Well I guess looking at the cover The Shat died back in the ’60’s along with McCartney and their avatars have taken over……

It would be easy to get him into Star Trek 4. Kirk (Chris Pine) gets zapped by some alien ray or contracts some disease or whatnot which makes him instantly age 50 years. Enter Shatner as Kirk for 90% of the movie as he works with the new (young) crew to find a cure which , of course, they do. They only need to pay Pine for a few days to shoot the bookends of the movie; Shatner’s ego would be thrilled with this and do it for a lot less than Pine would; and everyone would be happy. (Especially the studio as they wouldn’t have to pay Pine or Hemsworth big bucks). Whether this would be a good movie is another question, but it’s fun to speculate.

With CGI and a willing Paramount, anything is possible. Very frustrating Paramount won’t let him back in the franchise. Without Shatner, I don’t know if Star Trek becomes what it became. He may not have done it alone, but he was vital to the success.