It’s not often you can say, “Here’s a man that needs not introduction,” and he doesn’t get one. But that’s what happened Friday night at Fan Expo Canada as William Shatner entered the room with only a brief clip package to usher him in, no third-party intro, and no moderator to assist him with the Q&A. In town to mark the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, there was actually precious little discussion of Star Trek. Instead Shatner discussed his pre-Star Trek days as a starving stage actor, and his present project as a documentarian.
Looking back, Shatner recalled moving to Toronto after growing up in Montreal and attending McGill University. Before his well-known move several miles west to Stratford Ontario and the Shakespeare Festival there, Shatner was a starving actor working in theatre and CBC radio plays, and the starving part was somewhat literal. “There was a hotel that had an all you can eat buffet on Sunday night for $2 in the cafeteria, and because I was broke, I went there and tried to eat enough for a week,” Shatner said adding, “I became acquainted with the ladies of the night there.”
Moving on, Shatner was asked the inevitable question about which Star Trek episode was his favourite. “Here’s the thing, and I’m going to be totally honest, I hate to look at myself on camera. I hate the way I look,” he said. “I always wanted to look like Gregory Peck, but every so often I get a look at myself the way I was back then and I think ‘Why didn’t I look at myself.” Eventually, Shatner offered that “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “City on the Edge of Forever” were likely his top picks. “Everybody yearns to go back in time,” he explained. “‘I wish I hadn’t said that,’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t married her.’ That taps into that the all-too human feeling about wanting to go back in time and change something… Like buy Apple stock.”
Technology is on Shatner’s mind of late. He’s currently working on a documentary project that was once supposed to be a tribute he pitched to celebrate 50 years of Star Trek called The Truth in the Stars. “I kept trying to sell Paramount on a 50th anniversary thing, and I couldn’t interest them,” Shatner explained. The project involves talking to scientists and engineers about the continuing advancements in their fields and how we’re closing the gap between science fiction and science fact. “Astrophysists work with their imagination, they work with mathematics too, but the concepts they work with are in their minds, and that makes the difference between science fiction and science fact no different.”
In fact, Shatner was working on the documentary that very night, he said, having dinner with BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis. It’s one of several high-profile people that Shatner’s talking to including an interview last week with Prof. Stephen Hawking. “I talked to him, read the prepared questions, and he said, ‘I’d like to ask Bill some questions too,'” Shatner remembered. “So I asked him, ‘What are your questions?’ and he said, ‘What are your favourite episodes?'”