There are few people on Earth who need no introduction regardless of audience demographic, and even fewer celebrities who have that kind of rep throughout the galaxy. William Shatner, however, stands tall among such intergalactic elites. So without further ado, with the 85-year-old icon headlining Boston Comic Con this weekend, here goes our interview with the newest addition to the Red Sox pitching staff …
DB: Word is that even among the extensive star-studded roster of Star Trek alumni who were present at Comic Con San Diego, you summoned the most applause and excitement. Is that basically Captain Kirk 101, to be the center of gravity in any room?
WS: There are two places that I do that—with my wife and family, because I get a great deal of applause from my kids, and with the three people who remember the Star Trek I was in. It’s fun, people are enjoying themselves. With the group of people [from different generations of Star Trek] it’s a little unwieldy, when there are a number of people on stage and there’s a limited amount of time to ask and answer questions, so it’s about making the best of the time and making it entertaining and informative. It can be awkward with three people, it can be embarrassing if people ask you the question and not the other people, so it’s a matter of working it out, I guess, group therapy. But it becomes a jazz for me, a jazz session. It becomes me working totally spontaneously upon themes that are suggested by the audience, and you weave the themes and the meanings and the jokes and it becomes a wonderful challenge as a performer. But doing it with other people, I have to be aware of the give and take.
DB: You’re kind of the king of addressing character-obsessed audiences…
WS: Who said king?
DB: We did.
WS: Well, knowing your reputation for excellence…
DB: But was that something that you had to grow into? Or have you always been happy to entertain the most insane of fans?
WS: In the beginning there were 15,000 people hanging on to every word, and you’re standing in front of that many people totally unprepared. It’s the actor’s nightmare. The only addition to the nightmare is if you’re unclothed. So here I am, trying to be amusing and informative at the same time, and it was frightening. But gradually, after being afraid to make a slip of the tongue that would reveal all, we who were doing it became more confident in the fact that we were able to ad-lib—the likes of which we are doing right now—and that it would be sufficient. And then it was really interesting, since people began to laugh and applaud. Then it became like stand-up—you had these stories in reserve in case something didn’t work. That became the one-man show that I did on Broadway for a limited run and toured all over the United States, including Boston. It was called, and still is called since I go out on the occasional tour, Shatner’s World, and it is as a result of standing in front of an audience for an hour and playing for entertainment that I became confident in my ability to do it … It is the ultimate challenge for an actor to be on stage for an hour and a half and keep the audience amused without any dancing girls or music. Some one-man shows have a bunch of glittering balls in the air, but a one-man show that’s just standing there talking is the ultimate around-the-campfire thing.
DB: What Star Trek memorabilia do you still have and display prominently all these years later?
WS: It’s all in my head. Material things … who knew that you and I would be talking 50 years later? If only you had told me, I would have gathered stuff. Somebody knew—[in 1990] they broke into the roof of a sound stage that housed a lot of the memorabilia, wardrobe, props, sets, and stole vast quantities of it. Somebody has it somewhere, and they’re enjoying it.
DB: Do you visit these conventions as a fan at all? Or are you strictly there as talent? Have you come to understand what it’s like to worship something the same way that Star Trek fans worship [your work]?
WS: Not in the pop culture area. For example, I don’t watch half-hour and hour shows, so you name one of the great shows from any era and I haven’t seen it. But I am a newsaholic, movies and sports, I love the Boston teams other than the Montreal teams. If it wasn’t for the Expos, the Red Sox would be my team.
DB: Speaking of which, you’re throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park [on Friday, Aug 12]. Do you make a habit of pitching at Major League Baseball stadiums when you visit a city?
WS: I used to fool around.
DB: Do you have any more of a connection to Boston as a result of being on “Boston Legal”?
WS: I married a beautiful Boston Irish girl. My connection with Boston, coming from Montreal, there’s a great similarity—old city, old franchises, a difficulty winning. But Boston is one of my favorite cities.
DB: What’s your selfie policy? Is it any different in public on the street than it would be at a place like Comic Con?
WS: If you draw blood, that’s not good. I try and avoid being mobbed as much as possible. I buy expensive clothes, and you don’t want them ripped.
Check out Shatner and Boston Comic Con at the Seaport World Trade Center from 8.12-14. More at bostoncomiccon.com