William Shatner starts things off with a compliment.
We’re talking via Zoom — he’s beaming from the expansive kitchen of his Los Angeles home, which overlooks the San Fernando Valley. I’m calling from the living room of my Brooklyn apartment, a much more modest setting. But Shatner is impressed by the cluttered bookcase behind me, as well as the paintings, a seascape and an impressionistic pastoral scene I inherited from my grandmother, that line the wall around it.
More from Variety
“You have great taste,” Shatner exclaims, with the enthusiasm with which Captain James T. Kirk, his most famous alter-ego, approached his mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek new life and new civilizations, [and] boldly walk where no man has trod before!’
But Shatner isn’t just here to talk about “Star Trek,” though his time in command of the Starship Enterprise invariably comes up. Instead, he discusses “You Can Call Me Bill,” a new documentary that covers the highlights of Shatner’s career — from the Star Trek movies and series to “TJ Hooker” and “Boston Law” — as well as his acting idols (Brando and Olivier) and the love of nature. The film, which was directed by Alexander O. Philip and premiered at SXSW, is also a meditation on mortality, something the 91-year-old Shatner thinks about a lot these days.
Why did you decide to make the documentary?
I have previously turned down many offers to make documentaries. But I don’t have long to live. Whether I’m going to be reeling while I’m talking to you or 10 years from now, my time is limited, so that’s a very important factor. I have grandchildren. This documentary is a way to reach after I die.
Did you learn anything about yourself that you didn’t know before making this film?
Every now and again I come across an interesting thought or idea. This may be due to an attentive interviewer who triggers something in me. In the film, I didn’t want to just keep going I did this or that when I was 7 or this is my favorite color. I try to find something I’ve never said before or find a way to say something I’ve said before in a different way so I can explore that truth further. I read all the time – newspapers and books. I feed my mind. The sad thing is that the older a person gets, the wiser they become and then they die with all that knowledge. And it’s gone. It’s not like I take my ideas or clothing with me. Today there is a guy going through some of my clothes to donate or sell because what am I going to do with all these suits I have? What am I going to do with all these thoughts? What will I do with 90 years of observations? The moths of extinction will eat my brain as well as my clothes and everything will be gone.
It’s sad. What about your legacy?
When Leonard Nimoy died a few years ago, his funeral was on a Sunday. His death was very sudden and I had committed to going to Mar-a-Lago for a Red Cross fundraiser. I was one of the celebrity fundraisers. This event was on Saturday night. I chose to keep my promise and go to Mar-a-Lago instead of the funeral and told the audience, “People are asking about inheritance. There is no legacy. The statues have been toppled. Cemeteries are devastated. Tombstones have been toppled. No one remembers anyone. Who remembers Danny Kaye or Cary Grant? They were big stars. But they are gone and no one cares.” But good works are what one lives by. If you do a good deed, it reverberates until the end of time. This is the butterfly effect. That’s why I made this movie.
Your decision not to attend Leonard Nimoy’s funeral was controversial. How did the backlash feel? Do you regret your decision?
Who cares? I know what I did was right. So it doesn’t matter. They criticize us when we lift a finger. I don’t read stuff like that. I try not to give in to the evil that is outside.
Everyone thinks about death, but actors actually have to act out what it’s like to die on stage or on film. Does this change your perspective on death?
There was a time when actors, and I include myself in this, portrayed death by falling to the ground and your eyes fluttering and you slump around, then you’re dead. That’s not how you die. This is how to die [Shatner’s eyes go wide abruptly and his breath stops]. can you see i’m dead Have you ever put a dog down? When I have to drop off a dog and I’m at the vet, I wrap my arms around my dog’s head and say, “I’m with you, honey, I’m with you.” And the shot goes in and the dog looks at me lovingly and that’s it. You don’t know they’re dead. That’s how you die. That’s sharp. My wife’s brother came out of the living room and into the bedroom. There was a thud. His wife came in and he was dead. Death comes again to us all.
In Star Trek: Generations, you should have some say in how Kirk died. In this scene, he approaches his last moments with wonder. Why was this something you insisted on?
I am of the opinion that one dies as one lives. I thought Kirk was going to die with a “Wow, look what’s coming at me. There is a man with a scythe. Damn!” He had seen all these strange aliens before. Death comes and he meets it with awe and a sense of discovery.
You have traveled the country doing sold out screenings of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a movie that came out in 1982. Danny Kaye and Cary Grant aside, some of your movies will outlive you. Is that comforting?
They’ll be good for another 10 years, maybe five. I’ve done all these movies that are popular, so I’m sure they’ll come up every now and then. But I don’t need validation from a film I made in 1982. I’m delighted to be talking to you right now.
In “You Can Call Me Bill,” you talk about how you often think about how you’re 91 years old and you won’t see the people your grandchildren will grow up to be. What is it like to realize this?
I have a grandson named Sebastian who is 3 months old and already has a mischievous smile. He’s a bit comical now. His mother and father are wonderful people. You look into his eyes and you can see aspects of what he will be like. If hunger, disease, and misery don’t bother him too much, he should become this wonderful, funny human being. So with the time I have left, I like to watch all my grandchildren and try to get what I can from the impressions.
Do you love going to those Star Trek screenings and conventions and being in front of all those fans?
I don’t enjoy being pulled, but I do enjoy answering questions and being in front of thousands of people.
Do you have a favorite role?
No. I’m just trying to have a good time on set. I just did an ad for a watch I designed. There is a face with a telescope, the sun, the milky way. And the watch company made all this science fiction for me to talk about. Well, there’s a part of the ad where they use CGI to land a meteor next to me. I ad lib, “That’s a lot of meteorite.” That was a pretty funny improv. I did this on Monday and it turned out to be one of my favorite moments. I don’t know about others. I went to see Dwight Yoakam record an album last night because I have no idea how a great artist creates his art. It’s like, how does everyone else fuck? You have no idea. I don’t know if he has a favorite album, and I don’t know if I don’t have a favorite role.
In 2021, you went to Jeff Bezos’ space Blue Origin space shuttle and you said it made you cry because it gave you a better idea of what was going on with the planet. What do you mean?
When I got out of the spaceship I was crying, just sobbing and thinking why am i crying What’s happening? i am in sorrow What am I sad about? Oh damn, I grieve for the world because now I know so much about what’s going on. I saw the Earth and its beauty and its destruction. Disappears. Billions of years of evolution could disappear. It is sacred, it is holy, it is life and it is gone. This is beyond tragic. We stupid fucking animals are destroying this beautiful thing called Earth. Doesn’t that make you angry? Don’t you want to do something about it?
The best of the variety
Sign up for the Variety newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Click here to read the full article.