The Wrath of Khan: An Interview with William Shatner
by Ted Zep
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit theaters in 1982. Three years earlier, Star Trek: The Motion Picture had been panned by critics. But The Wrath of Khan, starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban, surprised moviegoers with terrific performances, a thoughtful plot and a daring spirit. It set the single-day record for worldwide box office gross at the time. Both critics and fans agree that it is the best of the Star Trek feature films.
On Sunday, Sept. 23, William Shatner will host a special screening of The Wrath of Khan at the Akron Civic Theatre. The screening is at 5pm. Afterward, the lead actor will participate in a conversation and Q&A session with the audience.
William Shatner recently spoke with The Devil Strip about the film.
Ted Zep: Star Trek is one of the few television properties to successfully make the jump from small to big screen. Why do you think it was able to do so?
William Shatner: Well, a good story is a good story, and Star Trek relied on good stories. So, this movie, The Wrath of Khan, was enlarged to be on the big screen. Since we made it a film and gave it that bigness, what remains are the elements that made Star Trek so good, which was a good story and good characters. That’s why this particular film, and so many of the other films, were so successful. I think the fact that it is great entertainment supersedes whether it is a small screen or a large screen.
TZ: When you went to take the character of James T. Kirk to the movies, did you approach it differently?
WS: By that time, I was beginning to realize how little you have to do to convey something to an audience. It’s more about the act of thinking it rather than doing it. I ride horses in competition and they are like Olympic athletes that have what we call “buttons” on them. That is, the slightest touch of a leg or a hand or even your voice conveys a message to them. The problem is doing too much as a rider. And the same thing applies as an actor in front of the camera. You need to do so little. It’s more in the area of thought than action.
TZ: Mortality is a key theme of The Wrath of Khan. In Kirk’s case, he has to come to terms with aging. The macho admiral had to begin using reading glasses. What sources did you draw upon to depict such a layered depiction of the venerable gunslinger?
WS: Well, what was fun and what was so intelligent of [the] management [of the film] was the idea of dealing with the passage of time. Rather than denying the aging, accepting the aging and working with the aging was smart and a wonderful challenge for the actors. So, everyone appreciated the fact that we dealt with it rather than ignore it.
TZ: I think a lot of other series would make the mistake of pretending that everyone is still 35 years old.
WS: Yeah, exactly. I was delighted in finding ways to portray the Captain as a step slower as the years went by.
TZ: Ricardo Montalban shines as the vengeance-obsessed “Khan.” He is perhaps the greatest villain in the history of the franchise. What is it that he brought to the role that makes the character so iconic?
WS: He was an enormous presence. He had verve, that Latin verve, which is so startling and wonderful. I had seen him years before and admired him. Then he did an episode of Star Trek where he played [Khan] and he was wonderful. We became friends. He had that swagger that he carried with him up until his dying day.
TZ: Arguably, the earliest Star Trek convention took place on January of 1972. Unlike most actors of that era who rarely interacted with their public, you have had a hands-on relationship with your fans for decades. How has that impacted your career?
WS: Well, very much so. At first, I was reluctant [to do the convention]. Then [the organizers] said there were 15,000 people coming to it. I was astonished. I had to summon up the courage to go in front of [that many] people and not have prepared remarks. You did not know what you were going to say. Can you imagine how overwhelming and intimidating that might be? I gradually became used to that and knew that I could carry an hour. Then I evolved a one-man show, which I did on Broadway, based on the fact that I could handle a large audience by myself.
[This] then became part of making music, making albums. In fact, this year I’m not only on tour with this film but I’ve got two albums out there. A country music album called “Why Not Me?” and another Christmas album called “Shatner Claus.” I’m very proud of both of those. That includes a book that I started writing called “Live Long And…” I got these three [projects] and this tour all essentially because, years ago, I started talking to an audience and, not knowing what I would say next, hoping I could come up with something entertaining.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Hosted live by William Shatner – September 23, 2018 – 5PM – Akron Civic Theatre. For more information about tickets, visit: WilliamShatnerTour.com
Ted Zep has been a contributor to The Devil Strip since 2016.