William Shatner is no stranger to playing larger-than-life figures, as he did most for his most famous character, James T. Kirk, the gallant space captain on the original Star Trek.
Now, the 81-year-old actor is onto another outsized role: himself. He's starring in a one-man Broadway show about his life, appropriately titled Shatner's World. The Montreal-born entertainer is bringing the 90-minute retrospective to Hamilton Place for two performances on Saturday.
Though renowned for his winking take on his own unlikely fame, Shatner spoke plainly with CBC Hamilton about how the show was developed, his excitement to perform in front of Steeltown crowds, and what keeps him working into his 9th decade on the planet.
Tell me about the show you're bringing to town this weekend.
I'm coming to Hamilton with the express purpose of doing a matinée and doing an evening show of this one-man show and having a party that Tim Hortons is supplying an hour-and-a-half before each curtain. I'll be there at the party, then I'll lead everybody back to the theatre and we'll film it at the theatre with the audience.
Do you have any connection to this city?
I've worked there and I lived in Toronto for many years. I've smelled Hamilton from Toronto. (Laughs)
I've been to Hamilton several times, absolutely. But it's been retrofitted, hasn't it? It's been built-up and a lot of the industry has gone that made it the industrial city it was, hasn't it?
Somewhat, yeah. It'd be interesting to get your impressions of it. But tell me more about your show. It's a comedic retrospective about your career. How did you decide upon which stories to tell?
That was difficult because people would come up to me and say, "You didn't talk about this and you didn't talk about that." Originally, everybody wanted to make it a 65-minute show and it's turned out to be 90 to 100 minutes, and I had to edit it down for a 90-minute television show.
What I found was, I needed as a criteria, something that was meaningful, something that had humour, something that shed some light on my thought processes, but that was entertaining. So I made those selections and added and subtracted as I went along. But it was an evolving process. I started in Australia and there were two people on stage, myself and somebody else. They were, in effect, interviewing me. That happened in Canada as well, but then when New York asked me to come, I thought, "I'd better do this in another way." So I sharpened it and made it only one person on stage and went from there. I sharpened the stories and edited the stories.
What's it like to deliver these anecdotes about your life over and over in different cities? Do you get new insight into your past the more perform the show?
I don't know whether you know how astute that question is. Because what I'm discovering is that the more I allow myself to feel the original reason I wanted to tell the story, the more entertaining it is for the audience, who connects to a personal story and yet, it's being told as it were a character. And that's a truth I didn't discover for quite awhile.
How does telling stories in this context differ from presenting at a sci-fi convention?
The stories that I might tell or ideas I might promote at Star Trek convention are more for entertainment. In this context of the one-man show, it becomes more meaningful because there's a through-line. Certain themes that I come to are repeated in latter parts of the show. So at the end, if I've done it successfully and if the audience takes it successfully, I've given you a complete experience.
Some actors or performers in this stage of their career might be content to retire. Why go through the process of being so analytical about your life at this stage in the game?
I see two threads there. One is that I was given the opportunity in Australia to experiment in some safety. The experiment was successful enough to bring it to Canada and ultimately to the United States, where I was in as much jeopardy as there was possible to be because I hadn't played that version of the show anywhere else.
But I also had held for the longest time the dream, if you will, of going back to New York and play Broadway. I'd been asked several times to do plays or fill in, but they wanted too much time. I didn't want to relinquish that much time from home and hearth and family. So I'd given up on that idea. But when I was offered a limited run in a one-man show, I thought this was like fate offering me one more opportunity.
Some people have — and I've asked them to do it all over now — to place on the billboard, "Last opportunity to see it," to see me, because it may well be the last opportunity. And this may be, in truth, the last opportunity I have to do a show like this, with this much largesse and this much personal commitment, before it's all over.
That's a tough thing to consider, a pretty profound thing to admit.
Well, I'm dealing a lot of profundity in this show, on other levels as well. The enjoyment and anticipation of going out in front of the audience. You can imagine the people of Hamilton coming, me having given them a party, and then appearing in front of them as a Canadian — in essence a homeboy, if you consider the megaplex of Toronto and Hamilton — in front of this glorious audience. I'm anticipating this great show. I've got the material to entertain you and they're there to be entertained. What a wonderful, joyful connection.
William Shatner plays at Hamilton Place (1 Summers Lane) twice on Saturday, at 2 p.m and 8 p.m. Tickets range from $62.25 to $212.25, available at Ticketmaster.ca.