William Shatner leads screening of ‘The Wrath of Khan’

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William Shatner leads screening of ‘The Wrath of Khan’

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By Sam Cronin, news staff

William Shatner, star of stage and screen, took the audience behind the scenes of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and shared anecdotes of his on-set experiences and career after a screening at Worcester’s Hanover Theatre April 3.

Shatner’s career has spanned more than 60 years, during which he starred in numerous TV shows and stage productions, including “Boston Legal,” “TJ Hooker,” and, of course, “Star Trek,” where he played Captain James Kirk.

Shatner said that the entire idea behind the “Star Trek” films, which were a revival of the seminal 1960s TV show, was to capitalize on the success of “Star Wars: Episode IV,” which came out in 1977.

Shatner also said after lukewarm reviews of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” a new director, Nicholas Meyer, was brought on for “The Wrath of Khan.” He then mentioned the difference in production quality and budget between the films and the show.

“On the series, I think there was a guy holding up the ship [for the camera],” Shatner said. “They were just getting the hang of using computer graphics by the time the second movie came out. The movie was the first to feature an entirely computer generated scene.”

Shatner had only flattering things to say about his co-stars. His amusing anecdotes drew lots of laughs from an audience clearly composed of major fans.

“They were brothers-in-arms,” Shatner said. “You do a film, you go to war, you fight fatigue. Getting up at 3, 4, 5 a.m., it’s war against your own human feebleness, but also against people who have a different idea.”

Shatner’s relationship with Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, was fraternal and long-lasting.

“Leonard and I used to unite,” Shatner said. “We’d form a front. On the movie, we sit in one of our dressing rooms and talk about how to improve the script. My relationship with him was not only like a brother, but we were constantly trying to improve our performances.”

Shatner’s relationship with DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. Leonard McCoy, was also quite close. Shatner shared a personal story and revealed his nature as a prankster on set.

“DeForest was just a lovely Southern gentleman,” Shatner said. “We would sometimes shoot at night, from sundown to sunrise, and in those small wee hours of the morning, you reveal yourself.”

Shatner recalled one evening when Kelley confided in him that his memory was starting to slip. In response, Shatner repeatedly stole Kelley’s toast from his dressing room toaster to make him think he was forgetting to put it in. It was good, clean fun in Shatner’s eyes, but probably wasn’t viewed the same by Kelley, who Shatner described as a serious man.

Another of Shatner’s on-set pranks was his repeated theft of the bicycle Nimoy used to get back and forth to set on his lunch breaks. Once, Shatner even chained it to the ceiling of the production stage and had the spotlight technicians point lights at it. When Nimoy screamed asking where his bike was, Shatner slyly told him to “look to the stars.”

A moderator poses audience questions to Shatner. / Photo by Sam Cronin

Sally Young Bates, an Oxford resident in the audience, was impressed with Shatner’s stage presence, especially as compared to his persona on “Star Trek.”

“I found him to be very personable,” she said. “More than you used to hear on Star Trek, where he was very standoffish. [He was] definitely very willing to answer questions.”

Shatner expressed humorous regret for some of the movies he’s been in, without calling out any projects by name. He said, however, that each project he is in is the best to him as he’s doing it.

Another audience member, Paul Burbank, got to meet Shatner after the Q&A and was able to connect to him on a personal level.  

“He was engaging and funny,” Burbank said. “Some of the stories I’d already heard before, but others were things you’d never hear without being there. He didn’t pull any punches; he was real. I told him my dad wanted to be there, but he was ill, and he wished him well.”

Shatner finished off the Q&A with an anecdote about a time when he got pulled over for speeding to set early in the morning wearing his captain’s uniform.

“Where d’ya think you’re going so fast?” asked the highway patrolman on duty at 4 a.m.

“I’m going to my spaceship,” replied the ever-unflappable Shatner.