What William Shatner Would Put on His Gravestone

The modern-day Renaissance man, known for his work on the stage and the screen, provides insights from the Tao of Captain Kirk

William Shatner, who turned 81 in March, still seems possessed of boundless energy and bluster. (Stephane Cardinale / People Avenue / Corbis)

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Let’s talk about your recent one-man show, Shatner’s World. Performing live can be a huge challenge. I once read that many people would rather lose a toe than speak in public.

Well, I think it depends on which toe. If you look at the construction of the foot, that big toe really gives you a lift.

The success of Shatner's World was phenomenal. I wonder if there's a life lesson that you learned from the process of doing that show?

I'll tell you the life lesson I learned—but I don't know if I'll ever be able to use it again. I was first asked to do a one-man show in Australia. I said "Well, I’m not going to fly all the way there and do a one-man show; I've never done it." They said, "We'll send over a director, and you'll talk.

So we essentially put together a sequence of stories—an extended interview, if you will, with some songs and footage. And I had to make each of those stories dovetail. I had to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I realized, I’ve got to say something, I’ve got to have some meaning in what I’m doing. And so I spent months talking to myself, obsessed, trying to find the right words. Because if you find the right word, the rest of the sentence falls into place.

I finished the six cities in Australia and got good reviews. People clapped. And I thought, “Well, that's over; I’ve done that.” Then I was asked to tour Canada. And then I was invited to Los Angeles and New York.

The more I did it, the more rhythm it got. It started to take shape. But it still wasn't good enough. I had one week in LA, trying to put it together. Then I got to New York. We had a couple of rehearsals, and one preview. The night before the preview my wife and I went out to dinner. I wanted to be careful of what I ate, so I ordered a little hamburger. And I got a stomach flu that night.

So I’m looking at a Broadway opening, and I am frightened to death that I’m going to fail. I mean, I’m not going to die; I’ve got enough money in the bank to survive, I'll be able to pay the rent. But to be laughed at—stomach flu means you can’t go from here to there. All I know is, I've never been so frightened of anything.

What did you do?

I had to go on stage. It’s an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Somewhere in the middle, I had to stop the show and get to a bathroom. I said,"Ladies and gentlemen, there's been a technical difficulty. Don't move, we'll be back in 10 minutes." I dashed to my dressing room.


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