In what can only be described as a rather interesting turn of events, William Shatner spent the first morning of this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego reading aloud from the book “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” — a faux autobiography about the character he played on Star Trek” — while the book’s author, David Goodman, sat beside him with a huge grin on his face. The morning’s events were made even more interesting when you realize that Shatner’s performance may be the last time he portrays the iconic Starfleet captain.
The occasion was “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” panel, which focused on the fictional biography set to be released on September 8th. But while the book chronicles the life of the character Shatner portrayed in the original “Star Trek” series, seven “Star Trek” movies as well as various cartoons and video games, it was actually penned by Goodman. The author was a writer on the TV shows “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Futurama” (where he wrote the “Trek” homage “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”) and “Family Guy,” and wrote the book “Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years.”
The panel began with Goodman who, after joking that “no one is here to see me,” went into detail about his career as a TV writer and relationship with the franchise. “Like most of you, I’m a life-long ‘Star Trek’ fan,” said Goodman. “And like many of you, I’ve had a fantasy of taking William Shatner hostage and making him read my fan fiction. So, welcome.”
Goodman then noted that the book, like many autobiographies, will include a section of photos, which he demonstrated by showing the crowd Kirk’s Starfeet graduation picture.
“But as someone who’s been writing for television for twenty-seven years,” he then noted, “no matter how well a script is written, it’s a talented actor who really brings a character to life.” With this, Goodman introduced Shatner, who took the stage to thunderous applause.
“San Diego Comic-Con, wow,” said Shatner, addressing the audience. “It’s a happening. I don’t do this very often…but this is the big time. I’m glad to see you all.”
Before jumping into the reading, Goodman asked Shatner if the actor had any perspective on why the work he did on “Star Trek” continues to be popular.
Following that quick answer, Shatner explained how he used to think science fiction conventions were all about people coming together, the community. “But then I did a documentary on it,” he continued, referencing 2011’s “The Captains,” “and I began to understand that people go to them because there’s a mythology involved. Most science fiction has a mythological component, and if [it’s done well] you subscribe to it, and begin to honor it, and it becomes part of your mythology.”
Shatner then proceeded to read the first of three excerpts from the book. In the first, Kirk recalls the time he met Dr. Carol Marcus, best known from the 1982 movie “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.” While Shatner inserted some fun jibes, including a running gag about “rock climbing and horseback riding” as a euphemism for sex, the remembrance was rather poignant. As Shatner declared when he got to the end of the excerpt, “It’s a very serious book.”
Goodman then asked Shatner to read a part where Kirk recalls the day he first boarded the Enterprise as its captain. While this part was also somewhat emotional and serious, it actually had a bit more humor, typified by a part when Spock, upon meeting Kirk, says, “Please let me know if there is any way I can be of service.” Kirk then thinks, “Tt sounded as if he’d memorized it off a flash card.”
Finally, Shatner read from the book’s epilogue, in which Kirk talks about what prompted him to write the book as well as how he was going to see the maiden voyage of a new Enterprise the next day — an event depicted in the movie “Star Trek: Generations.”
The epilogue also included a quote from Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington — “Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won” — which seemed to confound Shatner a little, prompting him and Goodman to discuss its meaning.
Goodman then opened up the floor to questions from the audience. The first came from a fan who wanted to know how Shatner felt about being in the location that inspired his infamous “Get a life!” sketch from “Saturday Night Live.” Shatner, after a pause, replied, “It feels good.”
Shatner was then asked about his tweeting and how it has effected his charity work. “Social media has taken us by storm,” he replied. But after waxing philosophic about it, he pointed out, “In the period of time that I’ve been tweeting, we’ve been able to raise an extraordinary amount of money [for his charity The Hollywood Charity Horse Show], which goes to help children.”
The next audience member, a woman with the last name Kirk, asked which aspect of Kirk’s background Shatner considers his favorite. “I wrote eight ‘Star Trek’ books,” he began, “and Paramount allowed me to continue the Captain Kirk character after he had died. So I wrote several books based on what was happening in my own life. And that aging process, which I developed in the books — and we had started that in the movies as the actors got older – that, to me, that human being that I was attempting to portray, based on what was happening in my life, so it became sort of biographical. I found that of interest.”
This was followed by an inquiry as to whether Shatner would be doing the audio book version of “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk,” which prompted a fun back-and-forth between Goodman and Shatner. The author complimented the asker on how well he had read the question that Mr. Shatner had given him. Goodman followed by saying, “No one’s approached him yet.”
The next question posed to the panelists asked when they start imagining a character’s backstory. “I think, with any kind of good writing — in television, in books, in movies — the writer creates a world that doesn’t just exist for that one hour of television or two hours of the movie, but one that continues on and leaves things unanswered,” said Goodman.
“In order for an actor to learn the words,” Shatner added, “you not only have to memorize them, but you have to deliver them with conviction. And one method of remembering those words is to give the character a backstory so that those words have meaning, you know why that character is saying it in that moment.”
This discussion was followed by a lighter inquiry asking Shatner which of Kirk’s many uniforms he preferred. “It was always embarrassing after lunch to be wearing the green one,” Shatner joked. “I thought [‘Star Trek’ costume designer] Bill Theiss was one of the great designers in film. He was incredible, and much unheralded, I think. We were very happy, with the limited budget we had, with the costumes he designed.”
Shatner then talked about the “Take a Bite Out of Lime” challenge, which hopes to raise awareness about Lyme disease; the question posed by someone who has the disease. “It’s not mine at all,” he noted, “I’m just furthering the message. It’s a dreadful disease and it sneaks up on you and becomes hard to get rid of. I wish you well.”
“You do a lot of charity work,” Goodman noted, prompting Shatner to explain that being a celebrity is a gift — one he doesn’t take for granted, and instead uses to do good.
A fan then asked Shatner about whether he could provide any updates on his rumored role in the next “Star Trek” movie, 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond,” given how the film’s script has supposedly been rewritten. “How do you know it’s been rewritten?” Shatner asked the fan.
This prompted Goodman to ask Shatner if it was weird seeing someone else playing Kirk, to which Shatner declared, “It’s horrible! But [Chris Pine is] wonderful. Dammit. He’s terrific, I’m very proud of him.”
Finally, Shatner was asked how much influence an actor has on the writing. “A new born baby,” Shatner explained, “is no less dependant as the actor is on the writer.”
“And the reverse is true,” Goodman added. “It doesn’t matter how good your script is if you have a terrible actor reading the lines.”
“The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” will be out September 8th.
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