Half a century, almost to the day, since the last episode of the original Star Trek series aired, the show reigns unchallenged, in its continuing pop-culture reach, as the single most influential TV series ever. (Sure, you loved The Sopranos, but there haven’t been 13 Sopranos movies, have there?) Its lead, William Shatner—the creator of the iconic character James T. Kirk (T for Tiberius, as I know you know)—will present “Welcome to William Shatner's Universe” at McCaw Hall next Monday night at 7:30 p.m. as part of the “Unique Lives” speaker series, discussing his career from Shakespeare to Saturday Night Live. We recently arranged a few minutes of phone chat with the star; here’s a condensed transcript:
So what do you have planned for Monday night? Reminiscences, a memoir…?
That’s a good word, memoir. I really know very little about anything except myself… I would have preferred a Q&A, and there’ll be time for that, in addition to me talking.
Have you done a lot of presentations like this recently?
What I have been doing is going around with a film, The Wrath of Khan, showing it and talking about it, and it’s been very successful. But this will be just me entertaining the audience. Filled with laughter, it’ll be a lovely evening.
OK, I have one major question. It seemed to me that Star Trek so often focused on the importance of tolerance in interacting with alien cultures—the “Prime Directive,” et cetera. On the show you were always encountering people and ideas that were very different. Do you have any thoughts on the legacy of the series—what you would like viewers to take away, especially in a time like this that’s so politically polarized?
I do, but not along those lines. I think that relevance is up to the individual. For me [Star Trek] was always a form of entertainment, though the stories might have been on multi-levels, on the humanity as well as the plot. But entertainment reaches deep into the soul—for example, the episode with the half-black/half-white characters [“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” season 3 episode 15, in which two antagonists are unable to let go of their skin-color-based hostility]. You can see the futility in it, in the racism, as well as the humor. But our focus was always on the entertainment quality, and to let the message take care of itself.
What else are you up to these days?
I’m working on a large variety of things—a new show, The UnXplained, on the History Channel [a documentary series exploring mysterious phenomena around the world, inspired by former Shatner colleague Leonard Nimoy’s ’70s series In Search Of… ] What I want your reading audience to know is that [at Monday’s show] they will have a wonderful time in the theater.