In 1986, at the age of twelve, Wil Wheaton had already been acting for five years when he rose to fame and critical acclaim in Rob Reiner’s film Stand By Me. A year later he boarded the USS Enterprise as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In the decades since his time with the Trek franchise, Wheaton has kept busy with dozens of appearances in film and television, including playing a sort of Mirror version of himself on the hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. Wheaton also worked extensively as a voice actor and was recently hired to narrate the highly anticipated audiobook Ready Player Two. He is also the author of a number of books, including the forthcoming novel All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.
Wheaton’s latest film project is Rent-A-Pal, a dark horror comedy set in 1990 in which he plays the creepy yet charismatic Andy, who appears only via a VHS tape called “Rent-A-Pal,” offering company and advice to a lonely bachelor named David (Brian Landis Folkins). TrekMovie had a moment to talk to Wheaton about the film and about his time on Star Trek past—and possibly future.
According to Rent-A-Pal director Jon Stevenson, he approached you originally because he was looking for a household name from the ’80s and ’90s. Was this call to nostalgia part of what attracted you to the project?
Not really. I was really moved by the story. I started reading the script and I did not want to stop. Very quickly in the script, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really great.’ I really enjoyed this project. By the time I was done reading it, I just thought, ‘I just cannot wait to be in this.’ I was really attracted to the uniqueness of the project. I thought it was really cool that I would be working in one place all by myself in isolation. I thought the way that [co-star] Brian [Landis Folkins] and I were going to work together was going to be really interesting. We’re never going to be in the same place. And I absolutely loved the story. And I’m real grateful that I had the opportunity.
Do you see the character of Andy as dark? You played a kind of a darker version of yourself on Big Bang Theory? are you liking playing darker characters?
Yeah, it’s fun to play villains. For every actor, we end up with some type that we play. We end up with some dramatic archetypical function in shows we end up playing. It seems that I end up playing the villain you didn’t expect. The guy that you trusted but you shouldn’t have. The guy with an agenda. I tend to play a lot of those characters.
What I really loved about Andy was how incredibly complex and multi-layered he was. I was very drawn to how different from me he is. He’s really insecure. He’s really lonely. And he’s really manipulative. And I’m none of those things. So having the opportunity to explore what it meant to be like that and what it meant to make a person like that was really interesting and really rewarding.
Switching to Star Trek but staying in the early ’90s, as someone who was part of the franchise back then, and also now as host of The Ready Room, do you feel with all the new shows that it is returning to that level it was back then? And do you ever worry about what people sometimes call franchise fatigue?
I don’t care about franchise fatigue. I mean, either you like it or you don’t. Either you come and participate in the storytelling or you don’t. And it’s a giant world with lots of people in it. And if you don’t like it, God bless you. Go do something else. That’s fine. That’s just the way it is. You’re never going to be all things to all people. And if you try you end up being beige, which is boring and uninteresting.
I think Star Trek is as exciting now as it maybe has ever been. There’s just so much wonderful storytelling happening. And there are such great casts bringing such great stories to life right now. It is a wonderful moment to be a Star Trek fan.
As a fan, of all the new and upcoming shows, which one has you most interested?
I absolutely love Lower Decks. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. And I love the acknowledgment that there are not only other crewmen and women on a starship that are not our bridge crew, but there are also other starships that are not the flagship. So who ends up on the B-team, and what does that look like? And what does that sound like?
I interviewed the showrunner and the director, and I’ve interviewed some of the actors. And we have talked about how if you inverted the A and B stories of Next Generation, then Lower Decks is what you get. And I absolutely love that. In the entirety of Star Trek, the thing that I am crazy about at the moment… I mean Star Trek: Picard is my favorite thing since Next Generation. Nothing comes close.
But I am actually watching Deep Space Nine for the very first time. When Deep Space Nine aired I was very much trapped in a young immature sibling rivalry with the show that no one else was participating in but was very important. And I was like, ‘Next Generation, ride or die. Fuck you Deep Space Nine!’ and I like just never watched it. And that was a huge mistake. And I’m really sad that I didn’t experience it at the time because I have been absolutely loving it. I love the stories they tell. I love those characters. It is a freaking great show. And I’m just crazy about it and I’m really really grateful to be discovering it and experiencing it for the first time right now when I’m not lugging around the emotional immature baggage of youth.
You mentioned talking to Mike McMahan, the showrunner from Lower Decks. I don’t know if you saw, but a couple of weeks ago on a Metaverse panel, he said he’d love to bring Wesley into the show. But he felt he couldn’t because Wesley’s off with The Traveler. Do you agree with that canon interpretation of where Wesley is in 2380? And would you do the show?
I would do the show in a heartbeat! I’m a massive fan. Who says “no” to Star Trek.? Who says, “No thank you. I don’t want to do Star Trek?” Who says that? A dumb person. Yeah, of course, I would do it in a heartbeat. And honestly, I feel like animation is probably where Wesley could actually exist in his most faithful canonical form right now.
In my headcanon Wesley Crusher is a Time Lord. In my headcanon, Wesley is off with The Traveler. He experienced some kind of multidimensional, higher-dimensional experience and it changed him and changed who he is and what he does. And he’s a very different kind of character now than he was the last time we saw him. I don’t know if that interpretation is the correct interpretation. There is also an interpretation which says none of that stuff ever happened. He went and lived on that planet with all of the people that we’re trying to be run off by Starfleet and that’s where he stayed. And he would be coming out of that if we saw him again.
Ultimately, I am not the person who makes that decision. I don’t particularly care about whatever backstory would be used if one were to be used. I just think it would be fun to put on his spacesuit again and see where he is right now.
Well, you wouldn’t have to put on the spacesuit for Lower Decks. But so many other actors have appeared or are going to appear on Picard. I believe LeVar [Burton] and Gates [McFadden] have indicated they will be appearing on the show. So it sounds like if the call came, you would be up for that as well.
Oh, yeah. If they were interested in me, I would do absolutely everything I could to get to “yes.” If I got to work with Patrick again and if I had the privilege of performing in a scene with him again, it would be such a gift and such a blessing. That would be an amazing, amazing experience that I would absolutely love to happen.
For our last question, what do you think the legacy of Wesley Crusher is now that you have had decades to look back on it?
Wesley is an incredibly inspiring character. Wesley showed a generation of young, smart, awkward people who were told to shut up by the adults in their lives that their experience was valid and that their ideas were valid. That they were smart. That they had things to contribute to the world. That the idea that they would be invited into a space by adults because they were smart and then told to just be quiet and sit still was insulting to us. And it was frustrating to us.
Wesley’s experience really mirrored that experience. I was a weird, smart kid and I was in that situation all the time. Wesley was the only kid around a bunch of adults who expected him to behave like an adult. Guess what? So was I. And I know other kids who are in that situation as well. So this character who was unjustly and unfairly maligned by a really, really small but extremely oversampled minority of viewers way back in the ’80s was actually landing in a really meaningful and important way on an entire generation of young people.
I have had the extraordinary privilege of speaking at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of hosting the MATHCOUNTS finals two different times. And at all of these events, people who are around my age have come to me to tell me, “By the way, I’m a doctor because of you. I’m a teacher. I’m an engineer. I’m a scientist because of Wesley Crusher. Because that’s who I wanted to be because that’s who I identified with.”
I love that legacy. I am so proud of that legacy. I will defend that legacy forever. And I wish that I could go back and tell young me—who is having such a hard time because fans were so cruel to me back in the ’80s and ’90s—that these people don’t actually represent the audience at all. And they are not worth your time. They are objectively wrong. But in 25 to 30 years, you’re going to meet tens of thousands of people, maybe 100,000 people over the course of your life, who are going to tell you, “This character really inspired me. It was really important to me. The way that like Scotty was inspiring to you. The way Han Solo inspired you. The way you thought those were really great characters. Well, that’s how I feel about Wesley Crusher.” And I wish I could go back and tell myself that so I would embrace it and not feel like I was allowing loud, unhappy, unrepresentative people to tell me how I should feel about the work I was doing.
Before we go, and besides Ready Player Two and The Ready Room, are there any other projects you are working on you can talk about?
There is nothing that I can talk about. I have a ton of work on my plate, but unfortunately, nothing that I can talk about right now.
Rent-A-Pal out Friday
The IFC Midnight film Rent-A-Pal is out in theaters and available via video-on-demand on September 11. More information at ifcfilms.com.
See more TrekMovie.com exclusive interviews.
Shut up, Wesley.
(Look, someone had to say it first.)
Not funny for Wil. He had a lot of trauma with bully and abusive fans.
I meant to reply to Eric
No, nobody HAD to say it here. Will Wheaton was subjected to cruel, ignorant, emotionally disturbed abuse. Put yourself in his shoes when he was a teenager and TRY some empathy.
It is funny and even Wil will see the humor in it some day, if he doesn’t already.
Many of the people here some of the most virtue signaling, humorless, drones on Earth.
The mentality that bullying is funny or inconsequential needs to be more closely examined. The feeling that when you don’t dismiss bullying there is something terribly wrong or lacking within you is dangerous.
Morality is not a new or elitist idea; most people know right from wrong. It’s something easily understood and teachable to children. Attacking those who can’t fight back is simply morally wrong.
Examples of ruined lives and suicides were profiled on a long series of specials by Anderson Cooper on CNN years ago. They can be looked up. Anderson’s understanding of the problem is not “signaling or drone-like” as you accuse some posters here. Bullying is very real and all too common.
Surely you have seen the eye-rolling and lack of respect towards some Star Trek fans. I have even seen that kind of prejudice used to ridicule employees in corporate jobs & prevent promotions.
Full disclosure, I have been victimized by brutal bullying as a young gay man far beyond what would be appropriate to describe here. As a teenage runaway life was very hard. I don’t want to get into a long back and forth discussing bullying on this bulletin board. It’s for Star Trek. Star Trek gave me hope that things would get better. I have clung to that, and my faith, to survive.
I hope you enjoy Star Trek’s aspirations, adventures and curiosity as much as I do brother.
Wil has gone on record dozens of time saying he finds this hurtful and offensive. So, no, I don’t think he’ll see the humor in it. And neither do I.
Thank you Bob
No Daniel, it’s just mean.
And you’re compounding the abuse with the stereotypical “Can’t take a joke,” putdown.
Totally. Cannot minimize hurting someone, from time to time, over and over. Will has been great to his colleagues and all Star Trek Fans.
Seeing him now every month, brings me a lot of joy, to see him healthy and doing well. He loves his Star Trek family, always open to learn and promote the new shows.
no one had to say it. Maybe read the interview first. CLOSED
he’s so much fun to watch and i love his enthusiasm… and jesus he’s me when it comes to liking trek… he thinks it’s a great time to be a trek fan (check) he loved picard (check) he’s totally enjoying lower decks (check) and now he’s realizing how great ds9 is (check)… perfect!
He comes off as fanboyish at times, but his zeal can rub off on you. Besides, if you’re a Trek fan, it would be hard not to embrace it when you literally grew up being allowed to play in that box of toys like he did, then come back years later and rummage through the box again with all these new iterations of Trek.
Whether interviewer or interviewee, I enjoy most interviews with those who truly are fans themselves as well as being actors, writers or producers.
Laurie and Tony mentioned the new “All the Asians in Star Trek” podcast during their own “All Access Star Trek” podcast round up this week. So, I gave it a try last night and listened to the interview with Grace Lynn Kung, who had a small part as the prisoner “Psycho” in Discovery S1.
It was great to hear her very genuine perspective as an Asian woman from Canada who have grown up as a TNG fan. In fact, I frankly enjoy it much more than some of the current All Access show leads who are awkwardly spinning media lines that they don’t seem to be able to convincingly own.
Wil Wheaton brings an genuineness that really grounds these pieces. He plays an important role in bridging the us vs them (fans vs people making the show), that comes across in some of the higher profile interviews and panels where the messaging is clearly managed by CBS comms specialists.
I agree Tom Riker. Those so called “fans” give fandom a bad name.
The ‘First Duty’ episode is Wesley’s finest hour.
Spot on,I always thought the first duty was one of the strongest TNG episodes,it is a seriously underrated episode. That little model of the TOS enterprise that is in the lower screen during one of the scenes was a touch of genius. Great episode
“The First Duty” and the one with Ensign Robin Leffler [Ashley Judd]. Both terrific.
It’s an incredible performance and a great episode. I also loved him in ‘Final Mission.’ His performance is great but the episode is not quite as strong. We aren’t going to get episodes as strong as ‘First Duty’ very often.
I loved Wil’s book Memories of the Future, looking back on TNG eps. So sad though that he stopped with Volume 1. It was GOLD, Jerry! GOLD!
It’s good to see he’s in demand, and seemingly at peace with where his career has taken him. I’ve been guilty as well of thinking the TNG role ruined him forever, and I was wrong about that assessment. When one door closes, another opens. Good for him to embrace that.
I don’t think TNG “ruined” him by any means, but … I still want to punch Berman in the face for keeping him out of a Milos Forman film. I’ve seen that movie, and Wheaton would have been on fire in it.
What’s the movie?
Valmont. He’d have burned it up.
Wheaton mentions that he’s interviewed some of the Lower Decks actors. I wonder if that includes Jerry O’Connell, his co-star from Stand by Me.
“It seems that I end up playing the villain you didn’t expect. The guy that you trusted but you shouldn’t have.” Between this making him sound like everybody David Tennant has ever played — the unthreatening “cute” one who ain’t right upstairs — and the Time Lord quip, it sounds like he needs to be on Doctor Who, actually. I’d love that!
Me too!! He does like DW,so why not,lol!
Funny, I always thought TNG got better after he left.
They really didn’t seem to know what to do with Wesley Crusher. They put a talented young actor in a part and then squandered that talent as they attempted to figure out what to do with the character.
DS9 seemed to have a better understanding of the parent / child dynamic. TNG and DS9 both dealt with a child who had lost a parent but DS9 explored that relationship in a way that TNG never seemed to fully grasp. I’m not sure if “The Visitor” would have been as effective as a TNG episode.
And they handled Jake maturiting over time better and the idea of a child not following their parent into Starfleet.
It helped that Sisko was an actual character with an internal motivation, and not an armoire in a lab coat that sometimes does Shakespeare. And that he was portrayed by a serious professional actor and not a dance teacher who sometimes did TV on the side.
Beverly/gates wasn’t the problem, the writing was until Piller turned things around.
Agreed. The difference was that the writers knew how to write a father but not a “mommy.”
Anyone else think Wil is starting to look like Richard Karn?
Not all of us are American. Never heard of him.
Richard Karn plays Al on Home Improvement.
Yes, Wheaton does kind of resemble him in that photo.
I never understood the animosity against Wesley, and there is absolutely no reason to mistreat Wil.
I have been watching him in Ready Room and in the Star Trek Day videos. He is VERY excited about Star Trek, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. (‘Headcanon’, my new favorite word.(now I know what to call it)).
I would love to see him return as Wesley, more as (and more than) the time lord role he envisions, and I would love to see him continue talking to his friends and letting us watch.
In my headcanon, that whole interaction with the Traveler in Journey’s End was just an elaborate prank / “test of humanity” being played by Q. Wesley figured it out pretty soon after that episode ended, outsmarted Q somehow, returned to the Academy, got his commission, became a junior officer on the Titan, and married Robin Lefler
I am glad he has that attitude. He has put a lot of good out into the world. I hope that he will be a part of Star Trek – animated or live action in the future.
Since the other post is closed: yes, someone *had* to say “Shut up, Wesley!”, which is a *quote* from TNG and what Wil (who is a great actor and is *not* meant by that quote!) was talking about: that a lot of kids felt in the same situation as he did, because their parents or someone else frequently told them to shut up. Which they wouldn’t be able to relate to hadn’t Picard and the others frequently told Wesley to shut up. So it’s perfectly fitting for the interview, sorry. And funny, because it brings back funny moments from TNG, and Wesley ultimately overcame that.
“Shut up, Wil” would be insulting and totally out of line, but “Shut up, Wesley” is part of pop culture!
“And if you don’t like it, God bless you. Go do something else”
And lo and behold we took away our money, and we did go and do something else… funny how that works…
I enjoyed reading the interview and glad that Wesley Crusher has continuously inspiring people. The toxic fandom gives sci-fi and fantasy a bad name. I’m also glad that DS9 is receiving the recognition it rightfully deserves. I believe that the same will happen for Discovery eventually.