William Shatner’s name is synonymous with space. It’s where the 92-year-old actor, author and recording artist has made a significant amount of history.
The veteran performer originated the role of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek” in 1966, appearing in every episode of the franchise-launching series. That includes 1968’s “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which featured what is generally accepted to have been TV’s first interracial kiss; he shared with the late Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura.
Decades later — after starring in spinoffs including the first seven “Star Trek” films, culminating with “Star Trek Generations” in 1994 — Shatner experienced space not through Kirk’s eyes, but his own. In 2021 at age 90, he became the oldest person to ever fly in space during Blue Origin’s second sub-orbital human flight. His journey is chronicled on “Shatner in Space,” streaming now on Prime Video.
Shatner reflects on that and more during “William Shatner LIVE on Stage,” coming to Florida Nov. 8-12 starting at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The tour promises “a night of intergalactic fun as he leads audiences on a journey through time and space; sharing fascinating and humorous behind-the-scenes stories from his life and illustrious career, including answering audience questions.”
The event also includes a screening of 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wraith of Khan,” one of the franchise’s most celebrated feature films. Shatner will appear afterwards in an adjustment made “to adhere to the guidelines of the ongoing and necessary strike” being held by SAG/AFTRA.
Watermark spoke with Shatner ahead of his Florida appearances, who reflected on his tour and shared a message for LGBTQ+ fans.
WATERMARK: What can you share about the restructuring of your show due to the strikes?
William Shatner: Well, what’s happened is this. The Actors union, the Screen Actors Guild, is on strike and I’ll deal with that that evening. We’ve had to restructure the program and the advertising so that we essentially don’t cross picket lines. So the movie will play first — if people wish to go to the movie, I’m not there. I won’t be in the theater, so I don’t cross the picket line. Then the movie is over and I come on stage and spend an hour or more in front of the audience talking, answering questions, doing what I can to amuse and amaze you.
It becomes an evening with me, Shatner, so I’m avoiding cutting across picket lines that we have here in Los Angeles by manipulating the schedule and what I can talk about. So it’s a tight rope dance, but I’ve been doing it and it’s working. It’s a really fascinating look at show business, at myself, at anecdotes that might apply, answers to questions and a lot of laughs and a lot of interesting information both from the audience to me, and from me to the audience. It’s a wonderful evening in the theater, and I urge your audience to attend.
Do you prefer working with a live audience or on screen?
Well, it’s all my skill set and really, the creativity flows. It doesn’t seem unique or unusual to be behind the camera and being in front of an audience on stage is where I am a lot of the times — effortlessly, but with a great deal of effort, I move between it all. I try to prepare, which is the essence of being ready. So that preparation of what am I going to talk about, to whom am I talking or what’s in front of a me and what’s the story I’m telling, it’s all part of a natural thing for me.
What else are you working on right now?
When I’m done promoting the fact that I’ll be in southern Florida in the next couple of weeks, I will get in my car and drive to a studio near me and do the narration for a big, hit show called “The UnXplained,” which I’m hosting [on the History Channel.] I film the host job like once a month … I’m going over to a studio when we’re done and narrate two, three shows.
It will take me two, three hours to do. The show has become very popular and it’s a really good hour of entertainment.Things that are unexplained, that happened to us that are around in our world, weird things that have no explanation and we just throw it out there and say, “look at this, you will not believe your eyes,” and it’s great entertainment. It’s a big hit. So I’m busy doing a lot of things, one after the other, and that’s my life.
What message do you have for your LGBTQ+ fans?
You know, I guess the message is this — I mean, I’m not one for messages — but whatever your sexual orientation, it’s your business, it’s what you do. It’s what you’re feeling. If you were born in one body and feel identification with another, that’s your business. You’re not harming me, I’m not harming you, live your life. You only have — I want to tell you, from the point of view of my age — you have one shot at it, and to make yourself miserable, unhappy, unuseful, is outrageous. Live your life. You just have a few moments.
It’s been just over two years since you went into space. Has your perception of that trip changed at all?
Things apparently I said, and I saw them briefly on some footage, I don’t recall saying, because it was such an emotional moment for me. But apparently, I said “I don’t want to forget this moment” when coming out of the spaceship, having had a real — I don’t know, life-changing is dramatic — but it certainly affected me a great deal along lines that I had already been affected by. Thinking of global warming and the destruction of our planet.
But I have not forgotten the circumstances of why I wept so uncontrollably at that moment, and I’ve continued to tell the story — and I will tell the story, if I’m asked the evening I’m in your town — about what I felt, what I saw. The conclusion of which is very profound, in that we’re losing it, and I keep saying we’ve got to do something about it as the years go by, and as we further the destruction of our Earth.
What do you find more fascinating, science or science fiction?
That’s an interesting question. You know, what a lot of people don’t understand is that scientists are like very creative writers. They theorize something and let’s use black holes as an example. “I think there’s a black hole in the center of the galaxy, but I don’t see it. I don’t know. It’s just theory. What I’m going to do is try and find from all the examinations by so many people with telescopes and radio telescopes and observation, I’m going to try and support my idea that there’s a black hole in the center, gathering all the energy in its horizon.” Well, that was the theory. Stephen Hawking. The theory is supported by facts that came along and all of a sudden, they say, “I think it really does exist.” And then, because of the advent of technology, we see them. So what was a science fiction idea became a science fact as time went on, and that’s what’s happening all over.
What else do you want readers to know about your show?
What I want to tell you is come to the evening I’m in your town. It’s fun. You’ll see a wonderful movie that’s been refurbished and then I’ll come on stage and we’ll have a good time. It’s really a worthwhile evening of entertainment and information. Please go, I’d be delighted to see you all.
“William Shatner LIVE on Stage” plays at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Learn more and buy tickets at StrazCenter.org. Shatner will also appear in Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville, along with the King Center in Melbourne Nov. 10 and Sarasota’s Van Wezel Nov. 11. Learn more at WilliamShatnerTour.com.