William Shatner – actor, author, singer, philanthropist, horseman, Twitter bon vivant and James T. Freakin’ Kirk – isn’t slowing down at age 86.
"Only around the curves," he says without a missing a beat, answering a question he’s surely been asked a million times … and probably by me, too, when I interviewed him last in 2009.
Of course, what question hasn’t Shatner been asked? In a creative career that spans every genre, he’s also been remarkably close to his fans, whether it be through Star Trek conventions, or the new trend: live theater Q&A sessions with actors after screenings of their iconic films.
That’s why Shatner is coming back to Milwaukee on March 24, when he will take the stage at the Riverside Theater after "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Probably effortlessly, he’ll bring his disarming repartee to this live platform. He is, after all, pretty good at finding new ways to tell an old story. "It should always, that’s the art of a conversation," he says. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. event range from $49 to $69, or $150 for a meet-and-greet.
I caught up with Shatner by phone in advance of his trip, to discuss not only the Riverside show, but also to learn how he wound up on Milwaukee airwaves as a law firm pitchman.
OnMilwaukee: What do you think of this new trend of actors doing these screenings of an iconic movie, then doing the Q&A afterward?
William Shatner: I'm not the first one, am I? I recently discovered that.
I saw Mel Brooks and Christopher Lloyd live. It's a pretty cool platform.
Was Mel Brooks funny?
Mel Brooks was hilarious, but the thing is, I'd heard all the stories before. And I wanted to ask you, people must ask you the same questions over and over again. How do you answer genuinely at this point?
I don't know. I’m gonna try. I’m desperately looking for new stories. No, there is the making of "Star Trek," the making of "Wrath of Khan," and there's some really unique things that happened there, which brings to mind certain other things that happened along the way in making the "Wrath of Khan." So I'm slowly remembering them and I'm kind of thinking this would be a good story if somebody asked me about this, I could tell them.
You've been so connected to your fans through live events for many years, so does this type of show feel different to you?
No, it feels familiar, and as a result, it should be a real fun time for everybody.
Why did you pick "Star Trek II?"
I never asked the question! I should have said "Why Star Trek II?" Star Trek II is considered among the best of the Star Trek movies, and that's really the reason why.
You were an early adopter when it came to Twitter, and I was just looking: you’ve tweeted 74,000 times. It's a big part of who you are now, right?
My God, that's more than Trump!
What is the process? Are you sitting on your phone tweeting, or do you have a person who you dictate to?
I dictate it; you know, it's a couple of sentences. It doesn't take very long. The whole Twitter thing is a fascinating jigsaw. On the one hand, you get a staccato message out there, and what you get back at times is really good, or is really bad and ugly and mean. But because of a number of things that happened, and it's a little lengthy to go into in this short 15 minutes, I've come to believe that there's an overwhelming feeling of good will on Twitter, as well.
As a result, I've tried to harness that goodwill in something I'm calling an Ubuntu, which I believe is a Swahili word from South Africa meaning humanity, knowing your humanity. So I try to harness that goodwill to do something for your neighbor. I don't want to do a 501(c). It's not a charity. It's I'm alerting you that there's somebody in Milwaukee, and we would find that person out, or 10 people in Milwaukee, who need help, lunch money, tires for their car. Who can't afford either one of those things or other things that have been achieved in Twitter, like a kidney, food for an autistic kid who won't eat anything else. But I've started a movement called Ubuntu, which is trying to harness the goodwill of Twitter, and that's why I'm in it as deeply as I am.
You sign a lot of your tweets with "My best, Bill." That’s not really a style you see on social media, but I like how it connects old-school letter writing with modern technology.
Well, the message there is, and that's what I sign when I'm signing autographs, is I'm doing my best.
Are you OK with being labeled a modern-day Renaissance man?
I love the idea, I don't know how true it is. It is true that I'm doing two albums this year. A country music album with Jeff Cook from Alabama and an album of Christmas songs that aren't off-beat, but the approach is off-beat and I'm trying to make as unique a Christmas album as possible.
Although I've laid down my tracks for the Christmas album, I know it's going to be either really good or very good, but I've got the songs for the country music album and they are in my opinion, terrific songs. So I'm kind of looking at two albums this year that I could be very proud to have done.
People in Milwaukee know you for lots of reasons, but one of the reasons is from the ballet, "Common People" that you did with the Milwaukee Ballet. Can you reflect at all on that experience?
I went up there. We put several cameras on the rehearsal period when they were doing ballet to my song, and Margo Sappington asked me if she could choreograph to songs that I had written or an album that I had done with Ben Folds, and I said yes. We filmed the rehearsal period and the performance, and it became an award-winning documentary call "Gonzo Ballet." That was an extraordinary experience. Then I went to the opening with my wife, and we both cried.
So it turned out as well as you hoped?
Oh, yeah. I mean, imagine writing some songs, having a ballet choreograph to it and filming it. I mean it's like a complete lovemaking act. The totality of it.
What’s the story on your role as spokesman for Michael Hupy?
I was asked to do this, and I met them and they're a really good law firm and I thought that was something I could do, and I've done it. In fact, they are coming to the show.
I would hope so! Do you do that in other markets or is this kind of a one-off thing?
What are you looking forward to doing in Milwaukee?
I'm looking forward to coming on stage after the movie.
I've read you don't really like watching your work.
Oh, exactly, I don't know what will transpire, but whatever it is, whether it's dead ugly silences … that’ll be surprising.
And we’re excited to have you.
I'm looking forward to it, and I believe your audience will have a great time, as well.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.