Captain's log: Shatner on Milwaukee Ballet, "Star Trek" snub
Podcast: William Shatner talks about his hope to play Capt. Kirk one more time
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William Shatner is not your typical 78-year-old actor. He's actually more of a modern day Renaissance man whose resume includes jobs like professional poker player, horse breeder, science fiction author, guest photographer for Playboy, celebrity pitchman, and oh, yeah, Captain Kirk.
Since 2007, Shatner has also served as the inspiration for a ballet, commissioned specifically by the Milwaukee Ballet and the world-famous choreographer Margo Sappington. That ballet, "Common People," is based on Shatner's critically-acclaimed 2004 spoken-word album, "Has Been."
The backstory of the ballet has also been turned into a documentary film called "William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet," which is making the rounds at film festivals this spring. "Common People" returns to town for a repeat performance during Milwaukee Ballet's season finale, "Live & Kicking," May 14-17 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
We caught up with Shatner in a phone interview this week to discuss his ballet, the documentary and his take on the new "Star Trek" movie -- of which he is not a part.
OnMilwaukee.com: By the time I really first discovered William Shatner, when I was 12, back in 1986 in "Star Trek IV," you had already done a career's worth of work. I've known about your acting performances in a 1960's Esperanto horror movie, the volumes of TV work and some of the other stuff. It's an incredibly diverse resume, but did you ever think you'd be the focus of a ballet?
William Shatner: Well, I'll tell you, when I was at the University of Montreal, a friend of mine was a ballet dancer, and he married a beautiful ballet dancer, as well. They were in on the formation of the Canadian Ballet Company, and so by association, I was around and learned from him and her -- and I was madly in love with his wife, Olivia -- to love the ballet. My association with dance goes way back, and although I had no talent in that area, I learned to appreciate it. Though I never thought that anything I did would be associated with the ballet, I have loved dance for a long time.
OMC: Did the ballet turn out as well as you had hoped?
WS: I had no expectation. I didn't know the limits of Margo Sappington's talent. Have you seen the documentary?
OMC: Not yet, but I plan to soon.
WS: You're in for a good surprise. It will be a pleasant experience.
OMC: It's getting good reviews, from what I've read.
WS: I know, fabulous. I didn't have any expectation, because I didn't know where it would it go. It was only when I came to Milwaukee to see the opening -- my wife who had written some lyrics to a song that I was writing, as well -- it made us cry, and we were terribly moved. The whole thing was a wonderful experience for us.
OMC: Did Margo capture an essence of the album that maybe you hadn't anticipated?
WS: Absolutely, and beautifully so.
OMC: You're not coming to Milwaukee for this run of the ballet, but you were here for the premiere. Did you get a good response from the audience?
WS: The response was spectacular, and the response to the documentary was also spectacular.
OMC: You probably don't care much about reviews anymore, but you went 36 years between musical albums. Not everyone loved 1968's "The Transformed Man," but then this world-famous choreographer makes a ballet from your next album, and it's critically acclaimed. For "Has Been," you worked with some stellar musicians. Is this one of the things that you're especially proud of in your career?
WS: The album?
OMC: Yeah, and the subsequent machinations that have come from it.
WS: Absolutely. To me, it's one of the most creative things I've ever done. Thusly, the ballet and the documentary. That stands on its own, as well. It's uniquely its own. It combines the spoken word, the spontaneous reaction of people to a variety of things, and the approved ballet, itself. It not only has music and dance, it has words and becomes a documentary that is a unique piece of art in a separate medium.
OMC: You seem to be more busy that most of your 78-year-old peers, I imagine.
WS: They're just busy trying to remember where their home is. My benefit is that I can remember where my home is.
OMC: And you're still working up a storm. What's next for you?
WS: Jeez, a lot. More comic book lines are coming up this year. I have a talk show called, "Raw Nerve," which is out there and getting great reviews. I have the soft cover version of my autobiography called, "Up To Now." I just sold another show and another book I'm planning.
OMC: So you're not slowing down?
WS: And, I'm going to ride in a horse show on my way to world championships in August. I'm practicing right now for next weekend.
OMC: Can we talk a little about the William Shatner brand, the mystique?
WS: The brand?
OMC: Well, there's something about you that attracts fans of several generations. Is it the self-deprecating sense of humor, or your range? I mean, what's your secret?
WS: I just think there are creative juices flowing, and I don't wish to stop them.
OMC: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you one "Star Trek" question. You're not in the new movie, and you've been very gracious toward J.J. Abrams in your comments. But do you still have the passion to play Captain Kirk one more time?
WS: Well, I know J.J. Abrams a little bit, and what I would say to him in the moment which I hope I get in the near future, is why not write something for the Kirk character as he approaches death once again? But as he dies, with having lived a full life, what would that do? How would that work in an action movie?
OMC: Lets drum up some support for that.
WS: Who knows?
You go, Shat-man!!! I'm giving you all the props in this world (or any other) for all you're doing. Keeping busy with creative projects and staring death in the face and laughing (much like you're alter ego, Jim Kirk). You are an inspiration to all of us. Keep up the great (and the not so great) work, man!!!
Refueling F-117s, chatting it up with The "Shat," nice! One thing, stop taking away my boyhood dreams!
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