‘Nervous, frightened’: Space-bound William Shatner’s fears

Just like Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, the beloved Star Trek character who made him a pop culture legend, Shatner is heading to space with billionaire Jeff Bezos’s travel company, becoming the oldest person to do so.Bezos, a huge Trekkie who had a cameo role as an alien in the 2016 movie Star Trek Beyond, invited Shatner aboard the New Shephard NS-18 flight, which will soar 106km above the Earth’s surface, and the nonagenarian Canadian admits the prospect has left him feeling “thrilled, anxious and a little nervous and frightened”.But the trailblazing trip also very much encapsulates Shatner’s attitude to life. Even after a career that has spanned 70 years and produced highlights including hit cop drama T.J. Hooker, his Emmy-winning role as Denny Crane in legal dramas The Practice and Boston Legal – in addition to playing Kirk in three seasons and seven movies of the famously groundbreaking sci-fi series – Shatner is still searching for new experiences and says he’s as creative as he’s ever been.He gets to play the romantic lead opposite Emmy-winning Hacks star Jean Smart – “she’s beautiful, she’s a total pro” – in the comedy Senior Moment, released next week, and his new album Bill, is earning him some of the best reviews of his long and storeyed career. He says his mantra of being open to trying new things and staying active at a time when most of his contemporaries have either passed on or are putting their feet up is what sustains him. “It is, and for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we now have new information about the fact that if you do things that are new and create new things and learn new things, then your brain actually grows,” Shatner says. “We thought forever that the brain shrinks and as you get older the brain’s capacity is less. That’s not so and I am proving it in my case.”Shatner’s rom-com, in which he plays a skirt-chasing, Porsche-driving retired air force pilot, is unlikely to trouble the Oscars, but he says it was an easy yes for him.“I get to kiss the girl, I get to drive the car,” he says with a laugh.More than that, the fact that it was a rarity in so far as it was a movie about an older generation – made for an older generation – made him feel “energised”. But for the man who famously had one of television’s first interracial kisses in the 1960s when Kirk scandalously planted one on his African-American crewmate Uhura, how does it feel to be romantic lead at his advanced age?“Well, it felt very good as I gently pressed my lips against Jean Smart’s,” he says. “It was wonderful. It was a throwback to some years ago and I loved the idea that as you get older, you don’t lose that impetus that energy, that desire, the imagination of romance and passion.”Despite his continuing lust for life and multitude of projects on the go – he continues to work on documentary series The UneXplained With William Shatner and will appear in the second season of Aussie/Kiwi mystery series My Life Is Murder – Shatner admits that mortality has been on his mind of late.His new spoken-word album, which features contributions from Joe Jonas, Joe Walsh and Brad Paisley among others, is a deeply personal look back at his life and career and touches on subjects including loneliness (the title of one of the more revealing tracks), the coronavirus pandemic, anti-Semitism and vulnerability. He’s had plenty of highs and lows in his life, not to mention his fair share of pain, from discovering his third wife drowned in the pool of the house they shared, to losing his dear friend and colleague Leonard “Spock” Nimoy six years ago. “All of it is personal,” he says. “All of it is part of this thing that I know the end is coming – and very soon – and the questions I have about ‘what is it going to be like?’. I am off on an adventure that we are all going to take but it looks like I am coming to that adventure sooner than you are. The last line of Loneliness is ‘is there going to be anybody there?’. These are all questions that assail me and I look back on things that I haven’t looked back on before.”He says he feels like a stranger to his 90-year-old body, but he’s also hyper-conscious of making the most of every last moment he has left.“You have to be so aware of a drink of cold water and the feeling of it going down your throat, be aware of the leaves and how the trees are talking to you, and your dog is there looking at you with loving eyes,” he says a little wistfully. “You can’t miss any of those impressions and if you do your life is lesser for it. You have to be so sensitive to everything and be aware of all this good stuff around you.”Death, however, might not quite be the final frontier for Shatner. He has hooked up with a just-launched tech company called Storyfile to record hours of audio and video footage to create an artificial intelligence version of him that will live on when he is gone.Future generations will be able to ask him questions about his life, experiences, passions and world views with the push of a button and he considers that to be his legacy.“If we had this with Aristotle, or Napoleon, or one of the great Australian soldiers – if you could only talk to them and ask them a question, wouldn’t that be fantastic?,” he says. “It’s a project of the future. So yes, I am thinking of the future and the album lives in the past and the talk show talks about the present – I am living in all three dimensions.”Senior Moment is available to rent or buy on Digital and DVD from October 20. Bill is out now.

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