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.
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