It’s a hot, but dry, day in Beverly Hills. I stand next to a lavish mansion, counting blades of grass, waiting for his limo to arrive, looking spiffy in my dress slacks and my Star Trek cufflinks. If it were up to me, I’d be there in full Starfleet regalia, but I want to give the impression of at least pretending to be professional.
The limo finally pulls up, and a single figure opens his own door and steps out. He is William Shatner, and he has arrived at the photoshoot for Cheese Connoisseur magazine. Dressed in sneakers, blue jeans, and a black button-down shirt, the man is casual, but he looks like… Well, a captain. He’s just barely five foot ten, and a bit more round than he was when the Starship Enterprise was decommissioned at the end of 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but the man stands tall, his chest is wide, and he could easily engage in hand-to-hand combat, should any Klingons attempt to crash the photoshoot. Basically, William Shatner is as hot as he’s ever been. I ask him how he stays so fit, especially on days like today, with a photoshoot revolving around yummy cheese. “I worry about calories every single day!” He remarks. He explains the science of cheese-eating to me: “The tendency is to take the baguette, the huge hunk of cheese, and jam it into your mouth like a sword-swallower,” he says with a mischievous laugh. “But you shouldn’t do that since it’s such bad manners and the children learn from you. I suppose that, all things being equal, the bread and cheese should be the same size, so that the rim of the cheese just covers the cylinder of the bread. So it’s like an umbrella, and you lift the umbrella slowly to your mouth.” Knowing that he’d be eating cheese and drinking wine today, he mentions that, “in lieu of lunch,” he has this event, before joking that it is a “good title of a piece, isn’t it?” Yes, it is, Bill. Yes it is.
Of course, the shoot goes off without a hitch, much cheese is devoured by everyone, and Shatner handles himself like a consummate professional. He’s surely done this a thousand times, and this is just another day for him, taking pictures, eating delicious food, and being fawned upon by everybody in his vicinity. It comes as a shock to most when I tell them his age. While many guess he’s in the vicinity of sixty, jaws drop when I reveal that he is, in fact, 82. Indeed, The Shat is an octogenarian, and he comes across as a happy man who does what he wants, still works hard, but never loses sight of what is truly important.
Captain Kirk once told his friends Spock and Dr. McCoy that men like them don’t have families, but the man, William Shatner, would have to disagree.
“My life consists of family, dogs, and horses.” True, William Shatner is keeping busy with his children, his grandchildren, and riding and raising his Dobermans and horses (presumably, he doesn’t ride the Dobermans). In fact, he wants to get the shoot and interviews over with as soon as he can, for he has an appointment.
“This isn’t going to take four hours,” he says, with an authority only possible by the captain of The Enterprise. “We’ll be out of here before two o’clock. I have puppies whose ears need to be taped. I’m a Doberman breeder. I’ve bred Dobermans in the past, not a lot, but… I had one at Westminster, almost won the prize. A long time ago, but the judge went…” Bill points to me, and I can’t help but blush, fanboy that I am. Then he shifts his finger forty-five degrees to my left, pointing at someone else. “Over there. You win. I feel I almost won it. But, I’ve had two or more dogs in the house all the time.” Perhaps this next generation of Dobermans will have better luck.
In honor of his oldest dog, Shatner has written a song for him on his new album —coming out this year— entitled, “Ponder the Mystery.” He recites the lyrics for me, sadness in his eyes: “his muzzle is grey, his back is sore, he’s getting ready to die, and as I look at him with love, I realize, so am I.“ On the subject of his new album, he relaxes and explains: “I’m working with Billy Sherwood. He’s one of the musicians from the group Yes, and that could be very exciting. I’m writing the lyrics. There’s something really grand about this album, and I hope it’s as good as I think it is.”
Over the past few years, Shatner has been outspoken on JJ Abrams’s direction of the Star Trek films, even calling him “a pig” for taking on both Star Trek and Star Wars. Talking to me, though, he opted to set the record straight with an olive-branch of diplomacy towards the director. He says that he is “absolutely” going to see Star Trek Into Darkness, and, when asked who he’d like to see direct a future Star Trek film, he simply answers, “JJ is doing a wonderful job.” On his own potential return to the franchise, Shatner states, “I would love to, but I don’t know where they would find room for the old Captain.” I’m sure the internet community has literally millions of ideas on how to bring Shatner back into the Trek fold, so hope still exists.
I can’t help it. The man is Captain Kirk, Denny Crane, the Priceline Negotiator, as well as countless others. If there’s a center of the Pop Culture Galaxy, it is Bill. I know I shouldn’t, but I have to, and so I ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
He is amused by the question, but gives it a degree of thought. “The journey is the important part,” he says. “The search is what drives you, because there must be a meaning. We’re conscious that there is no meaning, so there must be a meaning. The irony is you never find the answer. My hope is, just as you’re expiring, you say, “of course!” And you know.” His answer gives new meaning to Captain Kirk’s exclamation of “Oh my” in his final moments in the mostly-abysmal Star Trek: Generations.
Still, I have to learn about William Shatner: The Man. Fortunately for me, the generous star is happy to oblige. “In my life, I’m weak at everything. But…” He thinks for a moment and I brace myself for what’s coming. “I’m a good actor,” he nods his head. “I’m a creative person who gets excited by producing something, whether it’s a good joke, or a good line, or a plot, or a script, or training a puppy, or explaining something how I feel about something, and I’ve got the right words, I’m good at that. I’m good at figuring out problems and solutions to problems. I sometimes see things that I can solve right away, I get a whole picture. I think there’s a conscious aligning of the facts and seeing what there is in common, so that you take divergent things that would apparently be unrelated, and find a relationship.”
No doubt about it, William Shatner is a smart guy. But he’s also seen more than his fair share of disappointment and heartache. His first marriage ended in a divorce than left him living out of his car, and his second ended when his wife tragically drowned in their pool. Unfortunately, Shatner explains, there is no secret to dealing with grief. “Time takes care of a lot. You blunder on, and think that it’s the end of your life, but it takes about a year and grief slowly abades. It never goes away, but you can live with it.”
Shatner has since remarried the beautiful Elizabeth Martin (now Elizabeth Shatner), with whom he bonded over their shared love of horses.
So, what does the future hold for William Shatner? Over a bottle of the Canadian beer, La Fin Du Monde (The End of The World)—which I will later finish in some tribal attempt to gain his strength from traces of backwash DNA—he answered the question.
Anyway, the future. In addition to filming the making of his new album, Shatner is working on a variety of projects. “I’m in the middle of filming a documentary I’m calling Wacky Doodle. It’s about the power play that existed in Paramount Studios, when Star Trek: The Next Generation was being made, it was a really dramatic power play. Somebody said the whole situation was Wacky Doodle, so I named it that. We’re in the middle of editing.” And next year, his one-man show, Shatner’s World, in which he waxes on love, life, loss, and being a cultural icon, will tour the east coast.
As the day draws to an end, Bill gets philosophical about his age, noting, “I won’t be around long,” and, thinking about how different his life must be from even his wildest expectations, I ask him if there is anything he would tell a twenty-year-old version of himself, life lessons that he knows that he wishes he had known earlier: “If I could say something to that younger guy, I’d say, ‘You don’t have to be scared, because it’s gonna work out alright.’ But, you know, it could just have easily not worked out for me. I could just as easily not have had such a long career. A lot of actors don’t work after a certain age. In hindsight, I’d say to the young guy, ‘You’re gonna be lucky. I consider myself to be very lucky to be able to do that through a myriad of circumstances, but the most important one is being lucky.”
Despite the grandiose image we have of William Shatner, this larger-than-life, meaning-of-life-seeking, galaxy-saving Adonis, he has a humble heart, and acknowledges the amazing luck he has had in life. Still, his answer to my final question reminds me that I’m talking to the coolest guy in the universe:
“So, horses,” I begin, “you ride horses, and I read that in Star Trek: Generations, you rode your own horse and even taught Patrick Stewart how to ride.”
“Correct,” he replies, waiting for my question.
“Despite all the fist-fighting, space-battles, grapples, and otherwise awesome things you’ve done on screen, you making your horse walk sideways to join Patrick Stewart, which, any equestrian knows is an awesome maneuver…”
Sensing my question (how do you do it?), he opens his mouth in what has to be a deliberate use of his famous acting style, raises his eyebrows, cocks a crooked smile (dropping his age by about forty years), and says in the oft-imitated way that only he can truly deliver: “It’s… What I do.”