I did a segment of a series called Rookie Blue, in which I played a grandfather whose granddaughter was stolen away at the age of 3, in his presence. He sees her now at 11—eight years later—and he comes apart. I followed the script vaguely, but I just let it happen. That could be the purest acting moment I've had in a long time.
The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke has a wonderful epitaph carved onto his tombstone: “He never grew up, but he never stopped growing.” Any inspirations for your own?
I wish I could be as erudite and as lyrical as that! But I've got mine right now—just in this moment. I hadn't thought of it before: “What was I afraid of?”
That’s really good!
I’ve got to write that down. What was I afraid of? Because I’ve been thinking about that: how the advent of death, to me, is frightening. I’m overwhelmed with fear and sadness. Look at all this! [Shatner gestures at the trees, the sky, the pool.] To leave this!
At 81, do you still have many long-term goals?
Absolutely! On Saturday morning I’m going to Dubai; I’m traveling 22 hours on an airplane, then getting on another airplane for Johannesburg. I’m going to do some work in South Africa, and then I’m going on safari.
I also want to live long enough to see my five beautiful grandchildren see their lives—I had so little time with my own three daughters, who now live close around me. And I've got to make more documentaries!
You seem to have a very far-reaching curiosity. Is there something you still wish to do that you’ve never done before?
I want to discover a truth for myself. Something that is really true: whether it's a piece of scientific knowledge or a philosophical truth. Like, “What was I afraid of?” I hope that's true. But I won't know until it's too late.