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William Shatner And Me: An Awkward Encounter Becomes Cool AF

There are some people who get to do what they genuinely love, and I’m lucky enough to count myself among them. Over the years I’ve saved the world with James Bond (interviewed Pierce Brosnan over a steaks and eggs breakfast on the set of GoldenEye), beamed over to the bridge of the starship Enterprise (visited the set of Star Trek: First Contact), engaged Paul McCartney in intimate conversation (with a couple of dozen other journalists at a press conference), talked to Superman about what it was like to be the Man of Steel (one-on-one interview with Superman Returns star Brandon Routh), and traveled to Hogwarts (a set visit to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Most recently, however, I was able to interact with Star Trek legend Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself — William Shatner — in so amusing a way that it caused others to ask if we were taking our show on the road.

(Edited audio of the author's encounter with William Shatner)

It needs to be pointed out that Star Trek has been a part of my life since the original series premiered in 1966. I was all of six, but instantly knew that there was something special there. What else would lead me and my friends, a year later, to go outside and “play” Star Trek? John Garry was Captain Kirk, Raymond Ciccolella was Spock and I was “Bones” McCoy, armed with a toy binocular case as a tricorder and tiger water gun as my phaser. Together, we secured Brooklyn, New York in general and Schenectady Avenue in particular for the Federation.

In 1972, I attended the first convention devoted to the show, held at the then Statler Hilton Hotel, caught reruns of the show nightly on WPIX Channel 11 at 6PM and became really obsessed, devouring every bit of info that came out on a possible revival (which finally did happen in 1979 in the form of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). And when I began my professional journalism career in the early 1980s, I realized I could tap into all of my pop culture obsessions and get paid for it, which led me to interview a wide variety of actors, writers and directors from the series for Starlog magazine. I remember sitting down with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) to discuss 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at the end of what had been an interview-packed day for him, beginning with whether or not he was ready for another up-close and personal conversation (and damn if I didn’t get that Vulcan to laugh!).

(Cover art for the animated feature Batman Vs Two-Face; Photo Credit: YouTube)

From there, the intertwining of my watching and interviewing continued with the various features (right through the recent JJ Abrams rebooted films), and TV spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the newest show, Discovery. As far as I’m concerned, Star Trek will be a part of my life...well, for the rest of my life, and (in what is a shameless self-plug) I was even able to co-write an ultimate love letter to the franchise in the form of last year’s two-volume oral history books, The Fifty-Year Mission, that I hope will remain my contribution to the world of Trek long after I’m gone.

When I think of Star Trek, the original show instantly comes to mind — particularly the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy and, even more so, Shatner as Kirk. Put the uniform on the man, and his coolness would put Henry Winkler’s the Fonz to shame!

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

With all of that in mind, you can understand the excitement I felt at this year’s New York Comic-Con when I heard that the Shat was going to be there to talk about voicing the character of Two-Face in the animated film Batman Vs. Two-Face. And that I would be sitting next to him in the media room, surrounded at our particular table by about eight other journalists. To be honest, I put the idea of being star-struck behind me a long time ago, but it was nonetheless pretty exciting. There was also a bit of trepidation, given that I’d done phone interviews with him over the years and knew that if he was in a good mood, you ended up having a lot of fun. If he was in a bad mood... well, not so much.

Back in the ‘90s I was an editor at Cinescape magazine, and was interviewing him regarding the feature film Star Trek: Generations, which brought Kirk together with Patrick Stewart’s Picard of The Next Generation. It was obvious pretty early on that he was simply not in the mood to chat, which I believe is best summed up by the following Q&A exchange.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

ED: Generations represents the first time that you, as Kirk, will be on the bridge of an Enterprise without Leonard Nimoy as Spock or DeForest Kelley as McCoy. I would imagine that filming your sequences would have been an odd experience.

THE SHAT: It was odd... It got odder as time went on.

Cue the sound of crickets.

So what would this one be like? I found out pretty early on when Shatner was asked about his interpretation of Two-Face, which he explained (actually interestingly equating the character’s mindset with what could have been going through the mind of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock as he shot concert goers from his hotel window). When he finished, I asked if he recorded the part alone (meaning in the studio). Shatner turned to me, bemused expression on his face.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

“Obviously, you weren’t paying attention,” he offered, making my mind race, wondering if he’d already addressed that and I somehow missed it. Maybe I was Star Trek star-struck. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I smiled and quickly replied, “So sorry, sir.” To which he basically re-explained his view of the Two-Face character, elaborating a bit as well.

“Lovely answer,” I responded good-naturedly, “but not what I asked.”

“What did you ask?” Shatner inquired.

“If you’d recorded alone in the studio.”

“I recorded alone.”

“That’s what I was asking.”

Laughter all around and I thought that was it. But then (as you can hear in the audio earlier) Shatner kept it going; throughout the conversation he would answer questions making sure to mention he was alone, or whether or not he came up with something…. by himself. When it was all coming to an end, one of the journalists — and bear in mind we had been told not to ask any questions about Star Trek: Discovery — decided he’d go for broke and ask Shatner if he’d seen it. More laughs, but Shatner answered. He talked about how he went to a premiere for the first two episodes in California, wasn’t sure why he went, but thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the things he was working on. When he was finished, and just before he left our table, I asked, “Did you go alone?”

The other journalists laughed and Shatner turned to me, a grin on his face. He placed his hand on my arm and replied, “You could have gone with me,” to which I managed, “You didn’t ask me.”

(Photo Credit: Getty Images

With a laugh, the Shat was gone, and I found myself struck with an odd feeling of both joy and melancholy. What a great exchange all of that had been, yet at the same time I couldn’t help but feel that with just the natural progression of time, this was likely to be my final interaction with the man who had fueled my childhood (oh, the hell with that —lifelong) imagination, and whose Captain Kirk stands shoulder-to-shoulder with James Bond and Superman as far as I'm concerned.

Thank you, Bill!

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