Here’s yet more proof that a famous person’s media image may bear little resemblance to the reality. Following what I took to be the conventional wisdom, and doing no independent investigation on my own, I always assumed that actor William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame (and now on “Boston Legal”) was the typical shallow Hollywoodian, just another pretty-enough face reading the lines someone wrote for him.
Now, late in the game, I come across a Shatner interview from Details magazine that shows another deeper, darker side to the man. He’s got a lot of ideas you won’t hear too often on “The View” or Oprah’s show. Here’s some of the interview with thanks to Details:
Q: Is it true that after Star Trek went off the air you lived out of a car?
A: A pickup truck, actually. It was the early 1970s and I was recently divorced. I had three kids and was totally broke. I managed to find work back east on the straw-hat circuit—summer stock—but couldn’t afford hotels, so I lived out of the back of my truck, under a hard shell. It had a little stove, a toilet, and I’d drive from theater to theater. The only comfort came from my dog, who sat in the passenger seat and gave me perspective on everything. Otherwise, it would have just been me counting my losses.
Q: Speaking of loss, there’s a spoken-word track on your 2004 album, Has Been, about discovering the body of your third wife, Nerine, after she’d drowned while mixing Valium with booze. Did you find recording it cathartic?
A: I don’t understand closure, if that’s what you mean. That word never resonated with me. The epiphany I had, making that, was that we grieve forever. It’s as much a part of our life as eating, sleeping, and love. We live in grief for having left the womb, for having left the teat, then school, then home. In my case, it was leaving marriages, and the death of my wife. Making that recording was simply my way to express very deep feelings. . . . Death is an absolute marvel. I once had a great horse rear up and fall back on me, and in that moment I thought I might gain some clarity about the mystery—you know, the meaning of the universe suddenly illuminated, like in an orgasm—but it never came.
Q: If that horse had killed you, what would you have regretted never achieving?
A: Everything. I’ve done nothing. What have I done? I’ve blundered my way through life. So I have my picture on the wall. The minute I die, that picture will start to yellow and fade and eventually be gone. Blown in the wind and become part of the molecular structure of something else. These things we see as “success,” they’re non-accomplishments.
Q: So is that how you think of your Emmy for Boston Legal? And the millions of lives you touched as Captain James Tiberius Kirk?
A: Careers are here and they’re gone. I enjoy performing, and I feel lately like I’ve reached the apex of what I can do as a performer. Even my memory for dialogue has never been sharper. But no matter how great we think we are, we’re nothing but the temples of Ozymandias*—we’re ruins in the making.
Q: And yet, at 76, you’re still acting and writing and trying new things. What is it that motivates you?
A: Life motivates me. Ideas motivate me. I want to do a talk show. I have ideas for three animated films. I’m nearly finished with my autobiography. I continue to write Star Trek—themed novels. My daughter and I have extremely successful websites and a video blog, even though my computer’s still in the box it arrived in. As long as my body holds up, my mind is as willing as it’s ever been.
Q: You’ve shown more depth in these ten minutes than I’ve ever seen you express on television.
A: People don’t care about depth on television. The lighter you can keep things the better. People don’t care about real issues unless those issues are entertaining.
Q: So did you want to take another crack at Star Trek in the new JJ Abrams film version?
A: He talked to me a few times this past year, but they shot in November and Leonard [Nimoy] is in it and I’m not. I’m disappointed. I’m not outraged, but I think it’s a stupid business decision, a stupid box-office decision. Here I am, still alive, still popular, on a hit show. It makes sense to put me in the thing. If they don’t, that’s fine. I just think it’s a silly oversight.
Q: Is there an art to spoofing yourself?
A: There’s a fine comedic line you need to walk. It’s about indicating that you’re aware of the exaggerated persona but you don’t subscribe to it. If you show that you’re too self-aware, you come off as callow. If you make it seem like you’re oblivious, the audience is mystified. They start to wonder if you’re the only one not in on the joke. I like to believe I hit that line just about right.
Q: Finally, once and for all, what is the trouble with Tribbles?
A: They multiply. But then, that’s the trouble with humanity.
*Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.