When most people think of William Shatner, they think of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the smirking and often shirtless protagonist of the Star Trek T.V. series and a few more movies than were probably necessary.
But for me, the name William Shatner brings to mind Michael Myers, the homicidal psycho from Halloween. For one thing, they look almost exactly alike, especially in recent years. When I first learned that the disguise worn by Myers in the slasher franchise was literally a Shatner mask, it seemed cute and kind of ironic. (Captain Kirk might make sweet love to a babysitter, but he’d never kill her.) But as Shatner has gotten older and puffier, he’s started to look more and more like his murderous doppelgänger. Seriously, watch any of the Halloween movies again and then look at a recent photo of Shatner. It’ll chill your blood.
Also—and this is where the similarities get eerie—Shatner has repeatedly, and not unlike the cinematic killer who shares his face, survived long after he (or at least his career) should have been dead and buried. Remember when Michael Myers got shot six times at point-blank range? He somehow managed to crawl back to his feet and grab the nearest sharp object. Compare Myers’s pseudo-demise with the post-Star-Trek-cancellation Shatner, reduced to being a guest on $20,000 Pyramid and singing laughable covers of songs like “Rocket Man.” Just when he seemed like another cautionary Hollywood tale, he was back on top, starring in several wildly successful Star Trek movies and on T.V. as the beefy-but-lovable T.J. Hooker. Oh no, Myers is thrown off a fourth-story window? Look outside and you’ll see that he easily survived the fall. Shatner is a has-been who spent the 90s making embarrassing cameos in National Lampoon movies and discovered his wife’s body in his pool? Give him a decade and he’ll win two Emmys and a Golden Globe for playing a self-important lawyer on Boston Legal. Holy crap, Myers has been engulfed in flames! He must be—wait, no, he’s fine, and judging by that chainsaw, more pissed off than ever. Oh, how sad, Shatner is a cranky old actor with no prospects, complaining that J.J. Abrams didn’t cast him in the new Star Trek movie. Well obviously he should just officially retire and—wait, nevermind, he’s in a sitcom called $h*! My Dad Says, which premiered a few weeks ago on CBS and is already a hit, despite some rather uncharitable reviews.
William Shatner, like Halloween sequels, keep sputtering back to life, whether you want them to or not.
I called Shatner to talk about his new show—which, full disclosure, I haven’t actually watched yet, although I’ve recorded the first two episodes on my TiVo, and they’re still waiting for me like Chinese leftovers in the back of the fridge. The show’s premise seems clever enough, and I like Shatner a great deal, but somehow, I’m still not sure. Most days, I’m just not in the mood for chicken-fried rice. I might be more inclined to watch $h*! My Dad Says if at least one episode featured Shatner screaming “Khaaaan!!!” But if I learned nothing else from my conversation with the one-time legend of overacting, it’s that Shatner isn’t all that interested in hitting the high notes anymore.
So what’s all this talk about your star on the Walk of Fame being damaged?
You’re talking about the one in Canada?
Apparently. I wasn’t aware that Canada had its own Walk of Fame. That’s adorable.
My understanding is, the fans are so ravenous in Canada, they gnaw on the stars. We’re trying to find the identity of the culprit by measuring the teeth marks. We’ve got some forensic dentists on it.
I guess it’s better than what happens at the real Walk of Fame in Hollywood. If your star gets defaced there, they’re probably not using their mouth.
It’s from a different orifice, if that’s what you mean.
Does that bother you? Do you ever stop and think, “Yeah, my star is probably being pooped on at this very moment by some homeless guy?”
I’m an optimist. I’m hoping it’s just a dog.
I recently learned that there’s a Facebook page devoted to getting you to run for governor.
A governor general. That’s far superior in prestige than just a mere governor.
Do you have any interest in a political career?
Oh no, not at all. The only governor generals I’ve known are old, rich, and famous. I don’t fit any of those characteristics.
Well let’s say you did run for office. What’s your position on masturbation?
On what now?
Masturbation. Are you pro or anti-masturbation?
(Long pause.) I think it’s fine, once you get the hang of it.
As far as actors-turned-politicians, would you at least be a better governor than Arnold Schwarzenegger?
You know, we thought the governor was so rich that he’d be fearless. But for some reason he got afraid and I don’t know why.
Forget fearless. California just needs a governor who doesn’t constantly quote his old movies. If you were in charge, could you resist saying things like, “Let’s take this health care reform bill where no man has gone before?”
I’m sure I could. The political scene is already so turgid, it doesn’t need more of that from me.
So you’re on a new TV show called Shit My Dad Says. Wait, can I say “shit”? Is it okay to call it that?
I can say shit. The problem is, can you write shit?
Absolutely. I can write a lot worse. I actually get paid by the expletive.
In this case, it isn’t meant in the literal sense, as in defecation. It’s shit as in “I’ve got to get my shit together.” The people who’ve come after this series because of its title are making a terrible mistake. They’re lowering the richness of the English language by advocating non-usage of that word.
You know what you should’ve done? Give it a title that’s way too offensive for TV, like Smegma My Days Says. And then when people complain, you could be like “O.K., O.K., we’ll tone it down to Shit My Dad Says.”
I would’ve been fine with Poo-poo. That’s strong enough language for me.
Poo-poo My Dad Says? That’s just … cute.
Well, it’s a cute show.
The show is based on a Twitter feed. When CBS pitched the idea to you, did you have any idea what the hell they were talking about?
Of course, yeah, I understood completely. It’s a little more complicated than just what [Justin] Halpern writes on his Twitter. It’s more similar to his book. It’s about the relationship between a young son and his father after the son loses his job and has to move back home. Hell, I’ve got a grandson who did that this year. It’s that conflict between the older and younger generation that makes for such great fun. And then we drop in a dollop of an aphorism that Halpern has tweeted.
You have your own Twitter account now. Do you enjoy tweeting, or does it feel like a waste of time?
I don’t spend much time on it. I hired a young man to do it for me. I tell him what I want to tweet and then he writes it up for me.
You know it’s just typing, right? You don’t need to know HTML code.
It’s just easier this way. I’ll tweet about the show, or the World Equestrian Games in Lexicon, where I was invited to be a part of the opening ceremonies. Do you know about that? It’s like the Olympics of the Equestrian world.
The way the world seems to be changing so fast, do you ever feel like Kirk exploring an alien world?
Well, it’s funny you say that. I was in the dressing room the other day, getting ready to do the show, and somebody said, “Have you seen this new app?” If each person on their iPhone has the same app, you can click your phones together and share information. You can transfer a number or a picture just by touching your phones together! Isn’t that amazing? There’s technology now where you can send a check by electronic mail. You take a picture of your check and zap it right to your bank. Are you aware of that one?
I am aware. And I’m pretty sure that you and my grandmother are the only ones who call e-mail “electronic mail.”
There’ve been some extraordinary advances in communications. And some of these are things I wrote about 15 years ago, just as conjecture.
Leonard Nimoy had a big cameo in J.J. Abrams’Star Trekmovie, but you were left out. Are you lobbying to be in the sequel?
I’m doing everything I can. J.J. and I used to go out for sushi and argue about the movie, but he’s gotten busy. He’s directing something else, something that isn’t Star Trek. He needs to focus on what’s important, which is planning the next Star Trek movie and figuring out how to put me in it.
Here’s what I want to see: Old Kirk, played by you, bloated and barely fitting into his Starfleet uniform, encounters the young Kirk, played by Chris Pine, and tells him, “Hey, skinny. I’m you in 50 years! Hahahahahaha!”
Yeah, I like it. If you come up with a concept that allows Chris and I to occupy the same screen, not only will you be rich, but I’ll invite you to Monday Night Football at my place.
You’ve got yourself a deal. If nothing else, I’d just like to see you showing Chris Pine how to do a proper Kirk.
I’m not sure he needs my help.
O.K., maybe not him specifically, but the world is filled with people who do terrible William Shatner impersonations. Can you offer any advice for beginners? Any tips on cadence or inflection?
I’m afraid I can’t. My impression is the worst. I don’t know what I’m doing, quite frankly.
Your “impression”? I don’t understand. You don’t impersonate yourself, do you? Shouldn’t it just come naturally?
It should, but I have no idea how to do what people say I do. I don’t even realize it when people are trying to impersonate me. When it happens, I’ll usually turn to my daughter or wife and say, “Is he doing me?” I have no idea.
Wow. So you can’t do you, and you don’t recognize yourself when other people are pretending to be you? Your life sounds like an existential hell of self-doubt.
I just think people get it wrong. Have you heard me do anything that sounds like what people expect from William Shatner in the entire 20 minutes we’ve been talking?
I guess not, no. Have you lost your ability to overact?
I’ve lost everything. It’s all gone, including the cadence. The only one who is worse at being me is what’s his name, the guy who thinks he does it the best.
Yeah, that’s him. He doesn’t do a great Shatner, at least not according to Shatner.
Your Kirk, the original Kirk, was killed off in the early 90s. But he faked his death, right? He’s still out there, living on the lam and getting fat like Elvis?
I like to think so. Shortly after that movie, I talked to the producer who was running the whole franchise and told him, “I’ve got a way of getting him back.” But he didn’t show much enthusiasm. I think he was anxious to keep Kirk dead so he could hold on to his percentage of the Star Trek profits. But I wrote a book about it anyway, where Kirk comes back to life.
Does it involve spanx?
Does Kirk’s resurrection in any way involving putting on spanx?
I’m not sure what you mean.
Spanx are pantyhose that suck in your gut.
I never bothered to suck in my gut, if that’s the nature of your question. Perhaps I should have followed your advice.
You’ve got a show on the Biography Channel called Aftermath, where you’ve interviewed people like Bernard Goetz, Mary Kay Letourneau, and Lee Boyd Malvo.
That’s right, yes. It’s something I’m very proud of.
You got Malvo to admit that there were other gunmen involved in the D.C. shootings. I can‘t begin to wrap my brain around that. How does T.V.’s T.J. Hooker get a confession from a convicted sniper?
We got a scoop on that, and it was an entirely fascinating aspect of celebrity and the popularity that you in the media have given me, used in such a manner that the guy wanted to speak with me.
I understand how the interview happened. But once you’ve got him on the phone, how do you get somebody to admit to something that maybe they shouldn’t be saying out loud?
I don’t have any technique except for genuine interest. I try to follow their conversational line and listen intently. And if I’m in the same room with them, it’s about looking and listening.
So by checking my e-mail while I’m on the phone with you right now, I may not be the most attentive interviewer?
I think you’re doing a fine job. But you need to really listen. Become immersed in a conversation like it’s somebody you know or love or respect.
Say I wanted to trick you into talking about your affair with Betty White. How do I make that happen?
Quite easily. Betty and I have been lovers for awhile. That’s all out in the open. We’re going to do a sex tape for the A.A.R.P.
You said in a recent interview that Betty’s “totally flexible in the hip area.” You do realize that you’ve given the world a mental image that can’t be un-thought?
I do realize that, and I stand by it. Her hips are very flexible. Although to be fair, it’s held together by rubber bands.
Is there anything on your body that’s still flexible?
My left pinkie. That’s pretty much it. You should see it flex. But other than that, it’s… Oh god, you’re getting me to say things I shouldn’t. You’re dangerous!
Would it help if I mentioned that I’m listening? I’m looking and listening, Bill, just like you told me.
No, it doesn’t help. But I appreciate the effort.
O.K., one more question. You wear a toupee. We all know it, it’s obvious, but you won’t admit it. How long are you going to hold on to this ruse? Is it a mystery you’ll be taking to your grave?
Probably. But if it’s any consolation, that’s not very long from now.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)