Dinner with Captain Kirk

Interview with William Shatner

This featured "Dinner with…" series builds on the classic thought experiment: "Which 5 people would you invite to dinner, and how would you seat them?" While the field of astrobiology historically rests on many "shoulders of giants" –too many for one dinner party, the Astrobiology Magazine has selected some initial candidates for our dinner party, and then asks them to introduce their area of expertise in a brief question and answer format. Previous dinner conversations excerpted in their own words have included Darwin, Orville Wright, Da Vinci, Simon Newcombe–all giants in science. This dinner departs from historical characters to the genre of speculative science and giants of the screen, to include one of the most memorable characters to pioneer what today continues to fuel interest in space exploration: Captain James T. Kirk.

Shatner reflecting as Captain of his own ship
Credit: NBC/Paramount

Contrary to what many suppose from the short three year run on NBC for the original Star Trek series, Shatner’s forty-five years of filmography now encompasses more than 107 productions, nine of which he has writing credits on. Shatner visited NASA in 2002, to research the book, entitled "I’m Working on That: A Trek from Science Fiction to Science Fact", and explore how many of the technologies envisioned in Star Trek’s television series and movies are now becoming realties.

Tonight’s dinner introduces William Shatner–science fiction author, actor, director–as he seeks to go with Astrobiology Magazine where no man has gone before.

Q: If NASA called and offered you a spot on the Shuttle when it flies again, would you take it?

William Shatner: No, thank you! I’ve developed claustrophobia and I have sleep apnea.

Q: What do you believe is the most important message to be derived from Star Trek?

William Shatner: Don’t interfere in other people’s lives or think that yours is the shining example of the way things are supposed to be.

Q: Do you know of anybody that has changed his or her life because of you or Captain Kirk?

William Shatner: I’ve met maybe thousands of people who claim their lives were changed because of watching "Star Trek". It’s a bit overwhelming.

Q: From the moment you learned you got the part in "Star Trek", the original series, to the final scene you filmed in "Star Trek: Generations," what was the o­ne emotion that you think best describes your experience playing Captain James T. Kirk?

William Shatner: Gratitude.

Q: What do you think Gene Rodenberry would think about his creation now and what, if anything, could the producers do to improve the current product?

William Shatner: Unfortunately, the current product seems to have come to an end, which would be of no end of grief to Gene. I think perhaps the producers missed the essentials of Star Trek – that is, the colorful characters in conflict with each other and the outer world.

Q: What life lessons did you learn from creating and acting the persona of Captain James T. Kirk?

William Shatner: How to memorize ten pages in a day; how to stay alert for eighteen hours at a time; how to focus my forces when I needed them.

V-ger, Spock investigates ancient probe. V-ger, as it called itself (pronounced vee-jer) was an ancient mechanical space probe that was on a mission to explore and discover and report back its findings–based on the NASA mission, Voyager.
Credit: Paramount

Q: Has your opinion of Star Trek:The Motion Picture changed with the director’s version?

William Shatner: No, it didn’t change too much. I thought it a little long and it got longer.

Q: During your long career, which character, from a book or movie, would you have liked to play?

William Shatner: I don’t really think that way; I try not to live in regret or play the game of what might be. I try to stay focused on what is and what is possible. …I’d like to be a mutant from X-Men 2.

Q: What is your favorite book of all the books you have written and why?

William Shatner: Probably "Star Trek Memories" was one I enjoyed tremendously. It brought back a lot of memories and I had to interview a lot of people I cared for very much. It was a good experience all the way around.

Q: Why is science fiction still being treated like a mediocre genre in Hollywood?

William Shatner: I really don’t think it is being treated like a mediocre genre. More money is being spent on science fiction extravaganzas than on anything else. Computer graphics is the darling of Hollywood and most of it is being utilized for science fiction projects.

Q: If you could play any character in a Star Wars movie, who would it be and why?

William Shatner: Yoda, because it’s all a voice-over. No make-up and good hours.

Q: If you were to meet any of the cast of the original Star Wars saga for dinner or coffee, what would you discuss and what would you ask them?

William Shatner: I’m fascinated by Lucas himself; I’ve never met him, but I admire the way he has used money to make better films technically, which is something the major studios don’t do. So even though he’s not a cast member, I’d want to meet him since he’s creative and smart to do R&D in film and sound.

Q: In real life, have you ever had any type of ET or Close Encounter experiences?

William Shatner: No, I haven’t, although a tabloid once printed one about me. Mind you, I was going to join the group that were waiting for the space ship on the other side of the comet, but I was too busy and they left without me.

Q: What would be your ideas about the ideal conditions in regards to you having personal contact with aliens?

William Shatner: Perhaps drunk.

Q: It is curious that you have not written to my knowledge any more books in this "Mars Universe" [of "Man 0’War" and "Law O’War"]. Are you planning to continue to write more books or had you planned to keep these two books as a duology?

William Shatner: I think the Mars series are some of the best work I’ve done. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough demand for more of them. I’m sorry the publisher decided not to ask for more.

Empire extent of Alexander the Great, from 332 B.C. By the age of 29, he had rule over the civilized ancient world, and died before thirty childless. To mend antagonisms between his soldiers and the Persians, he performed weddings between opposing cultures in groups of thousands at a time. In his classic confrontation, a million soldiers would assemble on both sides of the battlefield, either on horse or foot with swords in hand.
Credit: Penguin Atlas of Ancient History

Q: If you could have a conversation with anyone from the past who would it be and what would you talk about?

William Shatner: One of the characters of history that interests me is Alexander the Great. We could talk about military tactics, why he didn’t accept the invention of the saddle and odd things like that.

Q: Do you see mass communications eventually going to end up with the "few" controlling what the majority sees and hears?

William Shatner: I think the very word "mass communication" means not only a mass that receives information, but a mass that will send it as well. It would seem likely that the future would open up for broadcasting.

Q: Do you prefer working in front of or behind the camera?

William Shatner: When I’m behind the camera, I yearn to be in front and when I’m In front, I yearn to say, "action!"

Q: When there’s nothing on the plate for you to do, what does William Shatner do to pass the time?

William Shatner: Eat the plate.

Q: Have you gone to the Star Trek Experience [in Las Vegas] and done the motion simulator ride?

William Shatner: Actually, I’ve already had the Star Trek experience. It was a great ride.

Q: What career do you think you would have chosen if you had not become an actor and author?

William Shatner: A petty thief. And I hate pettiness.

Q: If things were ever to go ahead, in terms of context and story, where would you hope to see Jim Kirk upon his return?

William Shatner: I would like to see Jim Kirk in heaven with little angels tucked under his arm. Old Jim trying to make out with an angel. Now that’s a story.

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