Arts & Culture News

William Shatner on Fans, UFOs and Being Honored by NASA

This is what happens when you -- or me, at least -- find out that you're getting a chance to chat one-on-one with William Shatner:

You tell your parents that you're talking to the guy they used to see on TV all the time. You start conversations with friends just so you can stop them and say, "Oh, I have to go. I'm sorry. I have to give Bill Shatner a call." You call people you haven't talked to in years just so you can casually drop references to your talk with "Bill."

It's not bragging really -- or at least not all bragging. You do it so you can watch your listeners' faces light up. It's like watching them learn that Santa Claus is real, not just this legendary figure who comes to them only through TV sets, movie screen or uncomfortable fan fiction. Shatner gave us Captain James T. Kirk, one of television's greatest characters, and then went on to create yet another iconic character in American pop culture: William Shatner.

He built a persona that's at once macho and self-deprecating, bombastic and slyly humorous, who's joked about and honored often in the same breath. He was The Most Interesting Man in the World long before that other guy started peddling beer.

Shatner attracts crowds if there's even a possibility that he might be seen in public, so expect fans to flock to the live panel discussion he' be hosting with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation at 4 p.m. Sunday at Dallas Comic-Con in the Dallas Convention Center.

"I enjoy being in front of [the fans]," Shatner said from his home in North Hollywood. "You get to know the fans. I get to find out what they want and what they've liked in the past and where I've made mistakes. Then there are a lot of things I'm doing that I want them to know about, like a book I'm writing or comic books that I'm getting out there and a new series and documentaries I'm working on. It raises an awareness and it's good for everybody"

This won't be Shatner's first rodeo with the Next Generation crew and we don't just mean Star Trek: Generations. He's hosted a panel or two before with the cast at other comic conventions, and he describes them as affable and enlightening.

"They're very funny, very, very funny people and really are very fond of each other and it shows," he said. "It's a great love fest, funny and informative and people ask questions and there are some dramatic events happen and very funny events. They're going to have a good time on all the days but particularly on Sunday."

He also said it's interesting to watch the dynamic between the cast as they step in front of a crowd because it can also get a little competitive.

"You can imagine nine people on stage and who gets to speak and how long they speak," he said. "You're talking about actors who are entertainers who want to spend their time entertaining and how do you get them off. Everybody's respectful of each other, but there are some real A-personalities there, so it's an interesting gig."

Shatner may just have moderating duties this weekend, but he's got plenty of projects of his own from his acclaimed one-man show Shatner's World, which just saw a nationwide release in theaters, to his comic and book projects. His next two books are on decidedly more serious subjects including a self-help book called Hire Yourself, which offers lessons to the downtrodden on how to turn who they are and what they do into self-employment, and a non-fiction novel about UFOs and alien abductions.

He said the UFO book came from the work of a once-tenured Harvard professor and psychiatrist named John E. Mack who concluded after interviewing more than 200 subjects who claimed that they were abducted by aliens that they were telling the truth. Mack died as a result of a hit and run accident before he could complete his work, but he finished a thesis on the subject, and Shatner thought it would be worth turning into a book.

"He died 10 years ago leaving this thesis and given all that we know and what we've discovered just through observation, there are strange, mysterious things at work in the universe that we can't even imagine, and UFOs may be part of that," he said. "At least it's an interesting subject."

He's also been an ardent and public supporter of space exploration and last month NASA honored his work with their highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. Shatner probably had the same reaction most people did when they heard that James T. Kirk would be getting an award from NASA.

"I'm meandering around my life not knowing what I'm doing, I guess like everybody else, and suddenly I'm being honored by this international facility," he said. "This international program to which I've had ties a lot of my adult life but have never though of them as recognizing me as being other than a fascinated student of NASA, and suddenly they give me this award. I was flabbergasted and honored all at the same time."

Of course, any science student or anyone with any mild interest in the cosmos or space exploration might have gotten her start by watching or being a fan of Star Trek.

"We all should be filled with awe and wonder at the things around us and be aware how incredibly much we don't know," he said, "and we don't know what we don't know is really very important."

Dallas Comic-Con is Friday through Sunday, and a complete lineup of events is available at