William Shatner Open To AI Version Of His James T. Kirk In New Star Trek, Under A Specific Condition

Next month, Star Trek star William Shatner will turn 93, and the iconic actor is thinking about his legacy, including how it can carry on after he is gone.

AI Kirk?

In a new interview with comicbook.com, William Shatner was asked how he would feel about a Star Trek production using an AI version of his James T. Kirk. The actor was open to the idea, under a specific condition:

“It’s an interesting question,” Shatner explained. “The strike was all about getting permission to do that. And so if I’m alive, I don’t want AI to do that, but if I’m dead and they ask my family and they’re going to pay my family very well to sound like me, I would advise them to say yes.”

Shatner’s referring to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, where one of the major issues was getting actors control over the use of their likenesses in AI.

Shatner last played Kirk (officially) in the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations. A decade later, there were discussions about him appearing on Star Trek: Enterprise but that fell through, and he made it clear he wanted to appear in the 2009 Star Trek movie as well. Perhaps someday in the future, his Kirk could appear again, generated by AI.

William Shatner as Kirk in Generations (Paramount)

“My time is limited”

Now in his tenth decade of life, Shatner appears to be thinking about his legacy. The new documentary William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill will be released in theaters on his 93rd birthday, March 22nd. Announcing the doc at San Diego Comic-Con 2022, Shatner made a joke about why the timing was right: “I’m 91 years old and this wonderful gentleman [director Alexandre O. Philippe] came along in the nick of time because all these autographs I’m doing are going to be worth a lot more money when I die.” But he is serious about the issue of timing, telling comicbook.com in the new interview “Whether I keel over as I’m speaking to you or 10 years from now, my time is limited, so that’s very much a factor.”

William Shatner in You Can Call Me Bill (Legion M)


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My hat is off to the man. He’s given us SO MUCH with Kirk and all his other television and movie characters, here’s hoping ALL THE BEST for him. My earliest recollection of how deep “Kirk” [Shatner] impacted my life and mind is from “The Corbomite Maneuver” when Spock called down from the bridge to report a 94% battle-drill exercise rating, and Kirk simply asked “Let’s try for 100.” That’s what my own dad always taught me, to try for ALL you can reach, as close to 100% as you are able. That powerful advice will live in me for as long as I am on this Earth. So, from one actor to another, Bill: THANK YOU for everything you’ve given and ARE STILL GIVING. The TV and film medium will preserve your legacy as long as humanity survives….. and beyond.

That advice didn’t come from Shatner, though. He didn’t write the line. :)

He delivered the line and that’s what stayed with Rhett. As an actor himself he gets it more than most and likely appreciates it more.

The WAY he plays the important lines is so special. When he went very low, early in the run, it carried SUCH weight. I always cite CHARLIE X, when he tells the kid, “Go to your quarters or I’ll pick you up and carry you there.” It isn’t ‘i – have had enough – of you!’ histrionics, it just feels so damned real.

Or when he tells Styles to leave his bigotry in his quarters as well as a number of other scenes.

I always felt that one of his most effective performances was in Star Trek V when he speaks of his pain and refuses Sybok:

“You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand! They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away, I need my pain!”
THAT stuck with me for years.

:

That is exactly what I meant; lines spoken by actors in many films and TV shows often stay with us; Shatner has that spark that just nails it. And the hammer is quite well-experience, in his case!

Not unlike the regret one might have for things unsaid–and said–after the sudden death of a close friend, or a family member.

You do realize that Shatner is an actor who reads lines written by a writing team to portray Captain Kirk, who is a fictional, make believe character, right?

You do realize that people know that, and that this thread is how a scene from an episode affected them as a viewer, thus inspiring them to be a better version of themselves, right? And besides, no amount of written lines matter, if you don’t a person capable of conveying them “live”. Ultimately, it’s about collaboration, my friend.

Yeah I think it’s great that this person was influenced by Kirk and the TOS. I was as well. But I don’t think the person considered that it’s not really Shatner where that great messaging that influenced his formative years came from, that’s all.

I mean, I personally would thank Gene L Coon, DC Fontana, Gene Roddenberry, and some of the regular writers for giving me that Kirk. Shatner just acted the part given to him — The messaging and the characters views, morals and integrity were largely defined by others

I’m the last person to want to shortchange the contribution of off-screen creatives, but if you consider how inconsistent the first stretch of season TOS was (which is due to ‘sealegs’ coupled with GR rewriting everything), then it means the actors have to do even more to be both credible and consistent. All we need to see to reflect this is the smiling Spock (and I don’t mean CAGE, I mean at the end of THE ENEMY WITHIN, where hs is practically smirking, to cite just one example.) There’s something off-key about the dialog about Jose ‘getting his peppers’ from Kirk in THE MANTRAP, but Shatner makes it play effortlessly even though it seems wrong on some level.

There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can’t have … and I’m pretty sure another Shatner-level Kirk is one of the latter.

Fair point, OK, he contributed to getting the messages out very effectively, so yeah, that’s a big part of this as well.

I’m not sure they do…

Agreed 100%!

For me, it’s “Court Martial”, when Kirk, at great risk to himself, demanded to be court martialed. Sometimes, principles matter over matters of convenience.

What I liked about that “Let’s try for 100” is that he said it as much to needle McCoy as to inspire the crew. That’s one character dynamic they got right from the get-go.

Well said, Sir. Well said.

Absolutely his delivery of that line is superb

This thread is SO MUCH FUN….! Thanks, all, for the honest opinions. It shows how varied our personal responses are to actors’ performances in the ‘Trek saga, and that’s another terrific strength a show like Star Trek will carry forward for as long as it’s filmed and as long as those who create and act it do what they do out of love. So far, that’s what I believe we’ve witnessed, and followed, for more than half a century, and that says a lot.

Kudos to you, Mr Shatner. Allowing permission for the use of your likeness and voice for many more decades to come, is truly a gift to your fans.
LLAP

Saw some folks getting mad at this, but why? The whole issue was about getting consent from the performer before using technology like that; no raiding their virtual tomb after they’re gone before they can have a say in it. He’s given it as long as his family gets paid. Sounds reasonable to me.

Exactly. A production company is currently being sued for using AI to generate a new George Carlin special without the consent of his family or estate. If the artist gives consent there really isn’t an issue.The lack of consent is the issue.

I don’t see any problem with it. It’s completely reasonable and proper that studios should get permission from and compensate the families to use the likenesses of performers in their media.

As an example, apparently that was done for the children of Christopher Reeves in the recent Flash movie. According to them, they weren’t informed at all that Warner Bros was going to use their father’s likeness in the film (fyi George Reeves Superman and Adam West’s Batman also had cameos).

Sorry, my mistake. I meant “wasnt done for the children of Christopher Reeves” in the recent Flash movie.

I believe they were ok with it, thought they hadn’t seen it, but I found it strange and kind of insensitive that no effort at all was made, especially from the director, to ask for their permission.

Perfectly reasonable!

Would any of us feel differently if it was our likeness and our family’s future welfare involved?

Why use AI when they can just recast?

Watch SNW and see the problem when it comes to recasting Kirk.

There’s a balance to the character that Chris Pine seemed to capture that Paul Wesley hasn’t. At least not yet. That they chose to introduce him in a alternate timeline take on “Balance of Terror” shows the contrast to how the character was approached and written, especially with Shatner giving one of his best performances as Kirk in one of the series best episodes. That was the episode that really gave us the fullest sense of who Kirk is.

If you want the 60’s Shat Kirk to be your Kirk still, then I would agree with you. Me, I wanted an updated, more nuanced, with less hubris and “hamminess”, and Weslely 100% meets that criteria for me.

That’s not it at all. It’s not about a 60s Kirk or even an 80s or 90s Kirk. Something just isn’t clicking yes. There isn’t enough material to get a real sense of his performance as this character yet.

For me, it’s clicking.

“Yes” should have read as “yet” since he hasn’t had a lot to work with and hasn’t had much interaction action with other recast legacy actors.

Because you clearly never understood the character

LOL, I bet I’ve forgotten more Star Trek than you ever learned.

I seriously doubt that

Wesley’s performance fails to capture any of the familiar traits of the character!
His Kirk is a totally one dimensional portrayal with none of the charm, humour, or strategic brilliance of Kirk shown by Shatner and indeed Pine.
I actually like Paul Wesley as an actor but the moment he was cast I knew he was wrong for the part he’s a very internal performer which is totally wrong for this character.
The fact the creators of SNW got the casting so wrong (a trait you seem to share) shows their complete lack of understanding of the character

I not only disagree with this, on every point you make, I have the complete opposite opinion. The SNW casting is awesome, and I really like the performance of Wesley, and find plenty of charm, humor, and strategic brilliance (MORE of that actually) — he plays the part perfectly, and does not provide the more bombastic, hammy nature that worked back in the 60’s for Shatner/Kirk, but which would come across as silly today. He’s the perfect Kirk for Trek today — and much, much better than Pine, who tries to channel Shatner too much.

So I 100% disagree with all of your opinions, and have the opposite opinion on each one of them.

That’s Because you don’t and probably never have understood the character! calling William Shatners performance hammy completely sums you up.
No understanding of how good Shatners performance was and how much Wesley’s performance misses the mark in every way.
My brother who is a Trek fan but won’t watch the new shows walked in halfway through Tomorrow Tomorrow and tomorrow and asked who Wesley was playing! When I said Kirk he laughed out loud and walked out the room saying absolutely nothing like him. I was forced to agree.

I happened to watch Balance of Terror last night, and then the SNW ‘version’ of it, and couldn’t agree with you more. Shatner absolutely sizzled in that episode. It’s a favorite I revisit often.

Yeah, I think that it was BoT in particular is part of what him so glaringly off.

And yet, I see the appeal … 20 years or so ago, I drafted up a pretty elaborate reboot of TOS using BoT as the base for a feature, but having it as the crew’s first mission (so they might actually have some justification for not trusting Spock when they pick up the RomVidFeed.) I padded it up by having more of the nz bases getting smashed and the Enterprise involved in substantial rescue operations on one of them between encounters with Lenard’s vessel (now that I think of it, structurally this was probably suggested by how TWOK breaks up the space battles with the side trip to the regulae station), and though I never took it to script (why bother, what was I going to do with it?), I thought it was a pretty good launch pad. But it was done with the idea of honoring what went forth originally and amplifying it, not nullifying it (though obviously opinions would have varied.)

That’s not an issue with the concept of recasting. Rather it’s about finding the right actor for the role.

True, but when the role has this much historic significance, it is a big deal (at least for me.) I honestly thought Dalton was a good idea for Rhett Butler, but then again, I thought he was an awesome Bond.

But how does recasting hurt the historic significance of a specific actor in a specific role? Shatner’s excellence as Kirk is forever locked in, just like Connery is with Bond. No subsequent actor can change that.

I’d much rather see other interpretations from humans, who can very much hold that historic significance in their unique human hearts just as we do.

Not making an argument in favor of AI by any means, just not feeling confident about the abilities of folks to make brilliant recastings. But it is kind of like bad sequels … whenever I think of THE MATRIX, my memory of how great the first one was is dampened a bit by the thought of the next two. It’s almost like the film can’t exist in a vacuum any longer, and therefore the possibility of contamination becomes real.

This is obviously an area that is supremely subjective … I wouldn’t care how many times Batman or Superman gets recast because I don’t find the character or any of the performances to be emblematic of a state of excellence or unapproachability with a new take on things. But Kirk … I mean, when I read the novels, I nearly always see and hear Shatner (and if I don’t, it is because the novelist didn’t write Kirk properly.) That’s true with De as well, though not so much with Spock, possibly because Spock doesn’t speak to me the way the other two do,except when it comes to his interaction with them in particular, which is what puts the shine on Nimoy’s take.

I did not see a problem. I enjoyed Paul Wesley’s version of Kirk.

Chris Pine is a superb Kirk.

Captain Kirk is now like James Bond or Batman. There are going to likely be multiple versions of the character. William Shatner will always be the definitive version by which all others are measured.

And like Bond, some have worked better than others in the role.

And yet, the guy actualy wins a Saturn award

DSC won awards for VFX but except for the tardigrade they’ve been unmitigated shit throughout.

I got no problem with him. Pine Kirk is better still.

SNW is proof that you don’t need an AI recreation, not the other way around.

Even with permission, I’m not really a fan of digitally recreating actors when you could just hire a new actor.

If you don’t like Wesley that’s fine. But the solution even for you shouldn’t be an AI recreation, but finding an actor you like better.

Where in my post did you get even the slightest impression I was in favor of the AI approach?

Not every circumstance will call for a recast, requiring the likeness of the original performer.

@wiley

For minor, non speaking cameos, digital recreations are probably ok.

Anything involving a speaking part, or more than a few seconds of screen time? Hire a new actor.

Exactly.

If decades ago the AI Never Never Land and fan pedantry were the unhealthy going concerns they are today, imagine all the actors who would have never received the career boosts from recasting. All the Bond actors and all the many many actors who have played Sherlock Holmes just for starters.

Yeah, occasionally you’re going to get a Lazenby but thems the breaks. At least Lazenby is human (and a hoot in interviews).

James Earl Jones signed over the rights for use of his voice in future Star Wars projects. If the artist gives their consent there really isn’t an issue.

He makes it very clear when and why he would allow them to use his voice and likeness:

“If I’m alive, I don’t want AI to do that, but if I’m dead and they ask my family and they’re going to pay my family very well to sound like me, I would advise them to say yes.”

There’s no basic issue with an actor making money for himself and his family. But I have an issue with denying current and future actors, in this case voice actors, the chance to make money from their own talents. James Earl Jones isn’t the only guy gifted with a deep voice. Ask any “soundalike” voice actor or impressionist. I’m sure they like that particular employment, plus spinning off into original voice roles.

On the surface this seems okay, but I’m afraid it’s just opening the pandora’s box to further corporate exploitation and narrowing of the talent pool from new people.

So I should not by a Mozart symphony album since Mozart hasn’t put out anything new in years, and sales of his samo-samo music just drown out new composers trying to do something fresh?

Uh, does the symphony have human beings playing Mozart’s public domain music? Or was the album created by AI replacing those musicians? That’s the issue I have here.

A soundalike actor impersonating another presents a similar issue for actors who have given authorization to use their likeness (Crispin Glover sued Universal after BTTF II which resulted in industry changes).

What Shatner and others are giving permission is to utilize their likenesses under circumstances which call for it. There will be other Kirks but if you need Shatner’s Kirk he is authorizing the use of his likeness.

What’s actually creating anxiety is replacing actors with virtual ones. AI generated performances and actors which can capture any desired appearance or character trait as described in a script.

Right, that is the issue, and my fear is that giving permission is opening the door to not just using a likeness under certain circumstances, it’s replacing actors. But ultimately I guess it’s a matter of the fine print in contracts. I definitely see it being abused, though, in the future.

If a studio could produce a film without having to hire actors they would be all over that.

Yep.

Or crew.

The only problem is that AI Kirk will inevitably talk its self into suicide.

Oh, good one! My husband and I both laughed out loud at that.

Talking AI to death really IS one of Kirk’s specialties.

Oh, man. You’re right. They’ll generate him, he’ll become sentient and then question his OWN existence. The backdoor may be the ability to support his family after his death, however.

Hmmm….

I’d think his family would already be so set for the next few generations that would be only a piddling concern. Then again, rich people seem to never have enough money.

I tried to get Google Bard to blow itself up using Captain Kirk’s techniques, but it hasn’t worked yet…

Who knows how many servers you’ve killed already and never noticed because it just switched to a new one? ;-)

Bravo, you win the internet today! That was excellent.

Ya’ know, looking at the image above, AI could be used on TOS episodes to replace the original series sets with SNW sets. That would be a heck of a visual upgrade.

Blasphemy.

I agree but, still, it would be interesting to see if they could pull it off.

They could just as easily replace the SNW sets with TOS sets, to satisfy the complainers who think a show from 2022 should look like it was made in 1966.

The way they could really make this worth it financially is to make an all-AI TOS feature film. I have always wondered why they didn’t try this before, maybe quality was an issue. Now they can really do it.

That woudl run into issues with animators as well.

Cool he gives permission and all so they can use his image if they need it, but they’ve been doing just fine with recasts so unless it’s really some scenario where they need his exact appearance, it’s not really necessary anymore.

Their really not.

I would love to see this, but preferably while he is indeed alive. Basically de-aging technology so he can reap the benefits and the fans can get Captain Kirk back.

William Shatner is extraordinary!

Good answer.

IDK what it is but something about that photoshop in the article works really well. Really speaks to how the SNW bridge set really nails the aesthetic.

Some commenters are making too much of this. Shatner is leaving the door open for future creators to use his likeness if they so wish. He’s never been opposed to recasting Kirk, and IIRC he’s been quite friendly to both Pine and Wesley. Even if future creators choose to keep recasting, this is now a door that’s open, doesn’t mean it has to be walked through.

Indeed, it’s a very good idea!

God bless you Bill. Although I never got to meet you at any conventions or anything like that I am glad to say I did get to see you on stage for about an hour and a half about 5 years ago in Columbus Ohio being interviewed. And it was a really fun night I won’t ever forget!! Even from bout 30 something rows back in the crowd!