William Shatner will always be Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character he originated on the classic NBC science-fiction series Star Trek and returned to in a series of seven films. The Canadian-born Shatner had early successes with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Broadway productions of The World of Suzie Wong and A Shot in the Dark, TV guest spots on shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone, and film roles in The Brothers Karamazov and Judgement at Nuremberg. Shatner found renewed success on television in T.J. Hooker and Boston Public, among other shows. He has also kept himself busy in the recording and publishing worlds, with interviews he submits to or conducts, with convention appearances, and with his one-man show Shatner's World: We Just Live In It. I had a chance to put a question to the Shat at the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con on March 18, 2016 at the San Jose Convention Center. Here's our exchange.
Groucho: You still spend a lot of time on stages like this one, and sometimes doing your one-man show. I wanted to ask you about all the way back at the beginning of your career, on the Canadian stage and then on the Broadway stage, what kind of lessons you took that were foundational for your acting career from that time, and would you ever go back? You could do King Lear.
William Shatner: I’d have to learn all those lines. (Comically grumbles.) You know, I started off as a stage actor. And a stage actor’s like this, like we’re having here this evening. The stage it’s, like, immediate connection. I mean, I’m enjoying you, you’re enjoying me, we’re having fun. And if I had prepared lines that somebody smarter and more talented and funnier than me had written for me, would even be more fun. But this is totally spontaneous, and you recognize it as such. So my career was started off onstage and I did years and years of it, gradually getting into television in Canada, and then I came down to New York, and I did a Broadway play in New York and essentially stayed because there weren’t any young actors—my age, my look—who had had the experience I had of five years of continuously playing onstage. Every week. I must’ve done—I don’t know—sixty, seventy plays. Rehearsing one during the day and playing at night in front of an audience this size at night. Play it, and then the next morning get up, nine o’clock, ten o’clock, we’d be rehearsing the next play. I discovered that the only way to do that was hard work. Learning lines is no different than boning up for an exam. Or a presentation when you’re older. Or making an excuse to your boss. You have to work very hard at it. You have to be meticulous, you have to study hard, you have to spend the time, and nothing is for free. You don’t do the work, you don’t make—you don’t get the job. Or if you’ve got the job as an actor, you don’t do the work, you won’t get another job. So if I learned anything, in my early years is working hard is beneficial. And you’ve got to put in your 10,000 hours. And I remember the story, I think in that book of the 10,000 hours, where—and I’ve forgotten the name of the book, or the author [Ed.: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell]—who said, “It takes 10,000 hours to become adept at something.” And I remember, it was Gates who passed by the computer that was empty at night. And he would go in at night, and work on the computer night after night, ‘cause it was freed up at the early morning hours. And he spent all that time acquainting himself with how computers work, those 10,000 hours. So it takes that kind of work. And when I was asked, “What do I like to do best?”—in essence, that was the question—I’ve spent my 10,000 hours in another skill, as well. As a horseman. I’ve ridden competitively now for the last thirty years. I’ve worked really hard. What’s happened is: purportedly, supposedly, as you get older, you’re supposed to lose your balance, you’re supposed to lose your ability to move, you’re supposed to lose your ability to remember what the pattern is. None of that has happened to me as a result of desire to compete on the highest level. So here again, I’m working hard. And I’ve become one of the top reigners, in competition, in Southern California. And it’s a highly physical skill. And I’ve tried to get up in the morning and work out with the intention of I’ve got to get better for the horses. And I am. I’m better this year than I was last year.