William Shatner has boldly gone his own way for decades.
From Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk to Boston Legal’s Denny Crane, Shatner’s made a distinctive name for himself on his journey.
Over the past few years, the 81-year-old Montreal-born thespian has even played a stage version of his illustrious persona in a one-man autobiographical show called Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It.
The performance piece as a life-and-times chat had a successful run on Broadway last year, enjoyed sold-out tours in the U. S. and Canada and will now be etched in history with a TV special thanks to filmed shows at Hamilton Place in Hamilton, Ont., last year.
He’s also an actor for hire when the mood and the money suit him, so he said, ‘yes’ to portraying the voice of the villain in the 3D animated motion picture, Escape From Planet Earth, which opens in theatres Feb. 15.
In the family film, we first get to know heroic alien astronaut Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) who is celebrated on his home planet of Baab. That’s thanks to his astonishing rescue feats with quiet but vital assistance from his introverted nerdy brother Gary (Rob Corddry), head of Baab’s mission control.
When Scorch ignores warnings and heads out on another mission to the dangerous destination of Earth, the brothers get caught up in a conspiracy spearheaded by a human armed forces general (Shatner) and a Baab planet space chief (Jessica Alba).
Only Gary’s loyal wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) believes that her intelligent hubby can save the universe from destruction.
It’s all in cheeky self-aware fun. And who better to showcase the double entendre than Shatner, who plays the bad guy with more charm than churlishness.
“I wanted to see if I could take the edge off the horrible villainy, and layer it with some sort of humanity; it being for a children’s entertainment,” said Shatner of his dastardly general during an interview from L. A. promoting the movie.
He also had his three young grandchildren in mind; when he accepted the voice role and decided on how to play it in the recording studio. “My grandchildren can’t see a lot of the animated movies because they are too scary, so this was a good opportunity to do something they could experience.”
Certainly, he’s no stranger to the gig. He did voices in previous animated movies Over the Hedge, The Wild, and Osmosis Jones and a series of video games including recent Star Trek incarnations.
And, as Shatner is quick to remind, he got his start in radio on the CBC after graduating from McGill University, first in Montreal and then in Toronto with his colleague Christopher Plummer.
In the Canadian actor tradition of being multi-faceted, he also did Shakespeare at Stratford, Ont., and played Ranger Bob on The Canadian Howdy Doody Show.
“I was part of a company of actors who went on to do other great things, and that included Chris Plummer,” said Shatner. “We learned how to convey a message in a word during that time, using our voice as an acting instrument.”
The actor’s elegant emoting has been immortalized with his Capt. Kirk portrayal in the 1960s Star Trek series and films that followed.
Less famously, he was T. J. Hooker in the cop show and he won Emmys for his lawyer Denny Crane in Boston Legal; a portrayal that underscored his refined talent of mixing comedy with drama, sometimes in the same moment.
In fact, his self-deprecating sense of humour about all things Kirk and Star Trek helped rejuvenate his career, not to mention nurture a lucrative side job as a TV pitchman.
“There has to be a respectful way to go about things and that’s exactly what I’m thinking about when I do it,” said Shatner of his occasional spoofing of Kirk and Star Trek.
He seems to know how to have fun without making fun of what he does.
“It always has been a tough balancing act,” he said, specifically referring to his one-man show which covers a wide range of career recollections — some serious, some humorous.
That was especially true of the Hamilton filming of his act which proved to be a great deal more intense than he anticipated.
“Two performances on a Saturday with eight cameras and 16 angles. We have a really fine piece of film, and the technical people were extraordinary.”
Shatner’s World will air later in the year, but he’s already moved on to other projects.
He’s in the early stages of putting together a performance album. “It’s a work in progress and it is strange and terrifying because I really don’t know what I’m doing yet.”
He’s considering another TV series but won’t offer many details. He has a few more ideas for TV advertisements. “And I might go out with another one-man show,” he hinted.
There’s no denying he’s on a roll these days.
“The creative juices are stirring,” admitted Shatner. “And wherever I go, I always spread the word of Montreal smoke meat and bagels.”