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The Last Word: William Shatner

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Launching a new book, collaborating on an album with dozens of rock legends, premiering an original documentary and hitting the road for a one-man show would be a pretty impressive career for most performers. For William Shatner, it’s just your average month. Best known for his roles as Captain James T. Kirk, T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane, the Emmy Award-winning Canadian icon has left an indelible mark on popular culture during his 60-year career. We caught up with the Notre-Dame-de-Grace native to find out more about his Montreal roots and what’s up next for the man who’s already done everything.

After spending so much time away from the city, what’s the first thing you do as soon as you’re back in Montreal?
Eat at Schwartz’s deli. There was a line around the block when we went this time – I couldn’t believe it! It’s worth it, though. Every time I’m back, that’s the first thing I do.

How often do you make it back home?
My sisters are here and the large, extended Shatner family still lives here, so I’d love to be able to visit more but unfortunately I don’t get to make it back as often as I would like. If they would invite me back to host another Just for Laughs gala or come as part of the Jazz Festival, I would love to. That would be an ideal summer vacation – there’s no place like Montreal in the summer.

A poud Montrealer, Shatner loved the Rocket as a kid.
You grew up in Montreal – how big a Canadiens fan are you?
I was a big fan. Rocket Richard was the man. We were spoiled – we had the Rocket and the Pocket Rocket and Jean Beliveau and all the greats. We got to see some great hockey and a lot of parades over the years.

How were your skills on the ice? Did you ever play hockey as a kid? 
I actually didn’t. I skied in the winter and we didn’t really have time to do both. I never really got into skating, but I’d take the train up to Saint-Sauveur or St-Hyacinthe or Tremblant and ski almost every weekend.

You’ve said you were more into the cultural elements of student life at McGill than academics back in the day – do you have any recollections of favorite hangouts or activities from your days on or around campus?
(laughs) I actually hung out mostly under a staircase in the old student union building. That was where the office was for the “Red, White and Blue”, our student musical group. I wrote and directed and performed in those over the years. That was a big part of my McGill experience. Radio, drama and musicals: that was my education. 

While McGill might officially consider the structure at 3480 McTavish the “University Centre”, everyone else acknowledges its unofficial name of the “Shatner Building”.  Are you more flattered or amused by the passion with which students still embrace that moniker?
Oh I’m flattered! You’d think that would be something students would say for a year or two and then forget it but it’s stuck around for a while. I heard a rumor about it when it happened and I came to speak at McGill’s commencement last summer and saw it when I was walking around campus.

You recently took part in Comedy Central’s Roast of Charlie Sheen and you starred in your own roast a few years ago. Does anyone actually enjoy being roasted?
I’d describe it as the pain/pleasure principle – like a love bite. In a weird way, it’s a compliment. They only roast certain people. Even when you’re not being roasted, they’re very dangerous to be around. It’s like a forest fire; if you’re around it, you’re going to get burned. My roast actually got nominated for an Emmy. Charlie’s was very funny I thought of it as an intervention.

In your book Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large, you list some of your personal rules to live by. Give us the Coles Notes – what’s the most important rule one can follow to becoming more “Shatneresque”?
The most important rule is to read the book! It’s very funny and perhaps there are some good lessons in there people can apply. My mother’s story at the beginning exemplifies the way you should look at life: if there’s free cake to be had, take the free cake. We all deserve free cake.

Shatner rocks out with guitar legend Zakk Wylde for a track on Seeking Major Tom.
We listened to some of the tracks off your new album, Seeking Major Tom, and fan comments seem to be split into two camps: half think you’re dead serious, the other half think you’re doing it as a goof.  Is the truth somewhere in between?
I won a Headbanger Award from Revolver Magazine. I’m not goofing; I’m trying to do heavy metal with Zakk Wylde. It’s quite a compliment to get to do that.

Personally, we think this is the best collaboration Zakk Wylde’s done since his work on Ozzy’s No Rest for the Wicked album.  Did you have a good time working with a guitar god?
Zakk Wylde is a magician. The way his fingers fly over that guitar, the way he does it, the way he sings – he taught me a great deal about heavy metal. I had to go back and re-do my contribution because he was just so centered and I needed to up my energy.

Of all the songs you covered for the album, which one is the most fun to perform?
I try to pay attention to all of them as an actor would do a scene that’s supplemented by music. Each one tells a story.

You got to work with some legendary musicians. Who did you enjoy working with the most?
All of them, to tell you the truth. They’re all such great musicians. Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, the list goes on. Seeking Major Tom is sort of a fantasy of mine – a rock opera – answering the question ‘What happens to Major Tom as he steps out of the capsule?’

Who does the best William Shatner impression you’ve ever seen?
I do the best impression of me. I do a great Shatner. I never know what the heck they’re doing when they “do me” – that doesn’t sound like me at all!

What’s the craziest or most memorable fan encounter you’ve ever had?
I mention this in my book, but one that stands out is the girl who stole my underwear from my hotel room. I wanted them back and the only way I could get them from her was by signing her breasts. It was a trade-off so to speak.

Which of your lines gets quoted back to you the most and which one would you be happy to never have to hear again?
That’s a complex question, actually. I know you’re looking for “Beam me up, Scotty!” or the name “Denny Crane”, but it’s not that simple. I’ve learned some lessons on “Beam me up, Scotty!” as part of The Captains documentary I made, and it has deeper meaning than just a catch phrase. Anytime someone comes up and says one of your lines back to you, it’s always a compliment.

Who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and USS Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard? We've learned to never bet against Shatner!
If Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard were to throw down, who would win? We’d give the edge to Kirk…
The edge? It’s more than the edge! It’s a tsunami – Kirk would win for sure.

Define: Trekkie.
There is the common thought of what a Trekkie is: a geek who is overwhelmingly interested in Star Trek. But what I learned by doing a documentary about people who go to conventions is that they’re participating in a ritual of mythology and it has much deeper meaning. Even they might not know it, but since every culture needs a mythology, it’s possible Star Trek is ours.

Be honest – when taking notes or writing in your day planner, do you ever catch yourself accidentally writing “Stardate”?
(laughs) You want me to be really honest? I don’t have a day planner. 

Another of your enduring contributions to popular culture is the fact a Captain Kirk mask was modified to become the mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween horror franchise.  Personally, do you see any resemblance of yourself in it?
Well, there’s a smoothness there that is unmistakable. They somehow got the mask from something we actually did on Star Trek and they put it out in stores and the production crew from Halloween went out and bought it. I wore the mask out trick-or-treating once, actually.

A little paint and bigger eye holes was all it took to transform an innocent Captain Kirk mask into the face of Michael Myers in the Halloween horror franchise.
The Kirk mask or the adapted Michael Myers version?
No, the Kirk mask. It worked like a charm!

You turned 80 last year.  At this stage in your career and life, is there still someplace you’d like to “boldly go where you’ve never been”?
WS: room upstairs! No, you know what? I still want to do everything.

Follow Bill’s every move on, or head to to order your copy of The Captains, Seeking Major Tom or Shatner Rules. Head to his official YouTube channel for a behind-the-scenes look at all things Shatner.

This article, written by Shauna Denis, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 26 No. 4.

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