William Shatner, the iconic actor who has played space captains and eccentric lawyers, let it all out in a spotlight panel Saturday at Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con.
The famous “Star Trek” actor drove the agenda for the panel, sitting down and just starting to talk about his life and his projects and barely pausing for breath until the panel concluded about 45 minutes later.
He began by talking about his recent escape from Cannes, where he was promoting his TV work at an international market, and barely made it out before travel over Europe was shut down by the volcanic ash from the eruption in Iceland.
“I caught the last flight to Los Angeles on Thursday night. I wouldn’t have been here otherwise, and they closed the airport right after we left,” he says. “There are thousands of people, buyers and sellers, still at Cannes. I’m here by the grace of Air France.”
Shatner also talked about playing a part in the closing ceremonies of the recent Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, where he rose into a stadium on a rising platform with a teleprompter that looked like it wasn’t going to work until right up at the very end.
“There’s 60,000 people in the stadium and 3 billion watching on TV,” he says. “You do not want to forget your words.”
None of which prepared him for the case of nerves he had shooting the pilot for the sitcom “Bleep My Father Says” in front of a live studio audience.
There were so many people running around, such as agents, writers, directors, people’s mothers, in addition to the studio audience, that it was overwhelming for about 10 seconds, Shatner says.
“It was the strangest sensation. I’ve been in this business al my life and I’ve never done this before,” he says. “But I think it’ll be successful so you may be seeing it this season on CBS.”
Shatner went on to talk about his other television projects, which include his talk show, “Raw Nerve,” on the Bio Channel, and an upcoming project called “Aftermath” that looks at the aftermath of major news events like the Bernard Goetz subway shootings, the Unabomber case and the military exploits of Jessica Lynch.
“I got to interview them all,” Shatner says. “And it’s absolutely fascinating.”
The panel then opened up to questions, the first being about a little-seen Shatner project called “Invasion Iowa,” which he said was not well publicized but a lot of fun to do.
When asked if conventions have changed over the years, Shatner had a quick reply: “Not at all.”
Speaking to the on-screen relationship between Shatner’s character Denny Crane and James Spader’s Alan Shore on the now-concluded “Boston Legal” series, Shatner says he and Spader hit it off instantly.
“James and I spent five years, almost every day, together — especially on those balcony scenes where it’s just him and I — and we fell in love,” Shatner says.
When asked about the most fun role he ever had, Shatner immediately cited his turn as a villain on the classic Peter Falk TV series “Columbo.”
“That show was very difficult to write because the audience knew who did it, and the thrust of the show is how long will it take Peter Falk to learn what you already know,” he said. “Playing the villain was very difficult to do and very fun to do.”
A question was asked about whether there would be a sequel to the 1970s film “Kingdom of the Spiders.”
“I hope not,” Shatner says, adding that the actresses for the film were chosen in an unusual way. “The actress would come into the room and they have a box and ask her to reach in and grab a tarantula. One or two of them reached in and grabbed these tarantulas and they were hired.”
Shatner wrapped up the panel by speaking about an unusual project in which he returned to Stratford, Ontario, where he began his career in the Shakespearean Stratford Festival of Canada, to promote a documentary called “Gonzo Ballet.” The film documents the creation of a ballet based on some songs Shatner wrote.
Presenting the movie on the stage where he began his career was an emotional moment, Shatner says, with himself and the audience moved to tears. “They used to cry because, oh, God, he’s bad,” he joked.