Did we mention he also eased up long enough in March to celebrate turning 90?
Listen to William Shatner wax effusive by phone from his Los Angeles home office — his easy robust rhythm stopping only for the signature dramatic pause — and you begin to wonder whether there is any place he wouldn’t boldly go.
Shatner has even embraced his recent return to the fan convention circuit. On Friday evening, he will be a spotlight guest at Washington’s Awesome Con, talking about his seven-decade career in show business, including his iconic run as Capt. James (pause) T. (pause) Kirk of “Star Trek” on screens big and small, beginning with the original series in the ‘60s. He’ll also be on hand Saturday for more photo ops and autographs for fans. (His “Star Trek” castmate George Takei is also scheduled to appear at Awesome Con.)
Shatner takes on new projects like a tireless force of nature, though he says life during the coronavirus shutdowns prompted him to stop and especially appreciate the “precious” details of living: “The pandemic slowed everybody down and you begin to focus on important things.” For him, that included riding some of the horses he owns without hurry or worry.
But the Montreal-born actor does need his fresh adventures. So he traveled to the Bahamas to co-host the Discovery special “Expedition Unknown: Shark Trek,” which aired last month. “I got bitten by the urge to go,” he says, laughing as he momentarily hams up his answer. “I was invited to go swim with the sharks and it was a life-changing opportunity: I was down there with 18-foot tiger sharks and smaller sharks that were put on my lap to pet.”
The man who also performed across several decades as captain of the starship Enterprise says he would welcome space as his next frontier. He says a “very enterprising and entrepreneurial friend” — he drops the Star Trek pun without breaking full vocal gallop — once explored how Shatner could get aboard a civilian flight: “I would have liked it. I love the idea of being able to look at the blue orb.”
Much like Kirk, Shatner is a man of science who has long cared about humanity’s impact on the blue orb. “Star Trek: The Original Series” is set in the 23rd century. Will humankind be around to see it?
“I think that’s part of the charm and part of the reason for the enduring popularity of ‘Star Trek’ — is that it suggests we will be there,” says Shatner, who cites reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” more than a half-century ago as an eye-opener. “I read it and began to bleat about the warming of the planet. But nobody took it seriously."
Has he learned anything about humanity that he didn’t know before the pandemic and current headlines about climate change? “No. No. Humanity is so complex that there is a dichotomy between the good and the positive and the bad and the negative. Most people fall in between. ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ is the middle ground.”
So what might the late “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry think of the current state of the world? “Some of this stuff he wouldn’t put in a screenplay, because it’s too outlandish.”
Shatner says he chooses screen projects that engage his curiosity about how the world works. He hosts a new show called “I Don’t Understand” that explores eclectic questions of history and science. (The show generated some controversy recently because it’s airing on RT, which critics have called propaganda; Shatner has said in interviews he created the show for Ora TV at the time, even tweeting an explanation.) He also hosts the History Channel’s “The UnXplained,” which delves into mystifying phenomena.
Shatner, a veteran performer of spoken-word tunes, has an album due out next month simply called “Bill.” Some of the songs are inspired by events in his life, and his collaborators included They Might Be Giants songwriter-musician Dan Miller.
He also enjoyed teaming with the L.A.-based company StoryFile to spend five days recording answers for interactive conversational-video technology. He was filmed with 3-D cameras so his words can be delivered via hologram.
The idea, he says, is that people will be able to push a button and ask questions of a virtual celebrity — like “asking Grandpa questions at his gravestone,” but with technologically advanced replies.
Shatner speaks of the legacy he will leave even as some of his “Star Trek” co-stars have died in recent years, including Leonard Nimoy in 2015, and others face their mortality; Nichelle Nichols is reportedly in a conservatorship battle as she fights dementia.
And he especially embraces interacting with fans again, such as at Awesome Con, where other guests will include Christopher Lloyd, Shatner’s co-star in the recent film “Senior Moment.”
It will be a “spontaneous performance — how do you speak for an hour?” he says.
“I find that the most challenging.”
Shatner will appear at Awesome Con at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on the main stage Friday at 5 p.m., and will meet fans Friday and Saturday.