When Kirk became Shatner

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Neopeius, Aug 4, 2022.

  1. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Folks often note the contrast between the underplayed, nuanced performance Shatner gave as Kirk in the first season, and the more...notable performances that typified the character later in the show.

    This article, from latter July 1967 (reprinted in dozens, if not hundreds, of newspapers), is illuminating:



    Bill Shatner, these years, likely is as well-rounded, all-encompassing an actor as a hurry call to an agent can dig up. He can skip blithely from Shakespeare to riding in the saddle in a psychological Western movie–and yet, in his view, all this isn't good enough.


    "Don't misunderstand," he says. "I'm not complaining about lack of work. I've seldom been out of an acting job since I got into the business. Show business has been kind to me and I hope I've paid a few dues to it.


    "But right now, I'm not a full-blown, Grade-A star of the Cary Grant-Humphrey Bogart type. If you want to reach the top in this business–get the choice roles, be able to guide your career more personally–that's really where you have to arrive."


    The stocky, intense Shatner, who goes into another year of the science-fiction series "Star Trek" for NBC this autumn–it's being taped, of course, right now in Hollywood–thinks he just may have the answer: give the public a little more Shatner and possibly a little less the character he plays.


    "Take Grant, for example," he says. "He's always Cary Grant, no matter what the role. Bogart was the same. John Wayne, Jamese Stewart–they're always John Wayne and James Stewart. In other words, they put a good deal of themselves into a part. It's something I hope I'm learning to do."


    "Star Trek" actually is the first time Bill has gone in for this kind of thing. "In the last few episodes of the 66-67 season, I tried to play a little more of myself," he says, "and it seemed to go over alright. I hope to continue with the upcoming segments."


    Actually, during most of his career, Shatner has gone in for the classical, textbook interpretation of roles, as much as he can. If the part calls for a longshoreman, he tries to BE that longshoreman. "There are a handful of us in the industry," he says, "who get a lot of work because we CAN play so many different parts–men like Eli Wallach and Harry Guardino, for instance. But we don't get the big-star parts. I'd like to take a crack at them for a change."


    His attitude, thus, is almost an exact opposite of his co-star on "Star Trek," Leonard Nimoy, who told me not long ago that, to him, the part was everything and he tried to submerge his own personality to it. Nimoy feels that if he does this week, the good parts will gravitate to him. You pay your money and you take your choice.

    ----

    The article goes on to describe his acting career to date. So, it was a deliberate choice. It's a shame. I prefer actors who act. :)

    I'll also note that, while Bogart and Stewart often played themselves, they did display range when they wanted to. African Queen for Bogart and Flight of the Phoenix for Stewart, for instance.
     
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  2. JonnyQuest037

    JonnyQuest037 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Shatner can act. Look at him as one of his other famous parts, Denny Crane. There's not any James T. Kirk in him.

    But Shatner is right in that most big stars largely play variations on their own personas. We pay to see Tom Cruise be the cocky adrenaline junkie and Bill Murray be the sarcastic rebel. Sometimes they find other notes to play in addition to those, but those personas are their bread and butter.
     
  3. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Screenwriter | Award-Winning Journalist Premium Member

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    I'd argue that Shatner still had range even when playing "himself"... certainly more emotional range than Patrick Stewart. I said what I said.

    Although, as @Mark 2000 pointed out to me, Shatner is so way over the top in TJ HOOKER that he's a ham rocketing fast toward another galaxy.
     
  4. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    I dunno. The scenes with Stewart and Lenard in TNG (particularly the latter episode) are phenomenal.

    (I think Shatner was very good. Especially for 60s TV.)
     
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  5. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were two more who played the same character in every movie. In Eastwood's case, it was called "the Mount Rushmore School of Acting." :) Henry Fonda never went too far off his beaten path, either.

    The theory must have been that the audience is unsophisticated and they should think you really are a hero. If you play differing character roles, they'll know you're not a hero, you're just an actor. And thus they won't think you're a big deal.

    I always thought Shatner kept acting the Kirk part very well during the series, and didn't put himself above the character until the films. And to me it was the wrong choice, because movie Kirk wasn't quite the same. In TMP, I can't recall which scenes, but once or twice he had this dainty, almost-prissy finger-pointing gesture to punctuate his lines. It was worlds away from the Kirk who once said "I'm a soldier, not a diplomat." Movie Kirk came across as less of a tough serviceman and, at worst, almost a vain metrosexual business traveler.
     
  6. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Clint Eastwood had two expressions -- with and without the hat.
     
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  7. TREK_GOD_1

    TREK_GOD_1 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Of course he can. One does not become the in-demand actor he was pre-TOS for being some random player, or bad. Post TOS, he did not lose the range he often displayed in those pre-TOS productions, in fact, the only thing that changed were screenwriting styles in the 70s, with much of it going for a far more natural style, which Shatner had no issue achieving, if you've watched his 70s TV movies.

    Pretty much.
     
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  8. Grant

    Grant Commodore Commodore

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    Wow, it wasn't our imagination. I mean I 100 % notice at the end of season 1 how he changes and not for the better. Sorry to those who want to defend whether he can act (he can) -- but as far as Kirk goes he was never near as good after around Tomorrow is Yesterday (or so) as he was before. That's why regardless of the quality of the episodes in the first 2/3 of season one they were compelling -- because we were watching him play a nuanced character -- not himself. Shatner has an ego -- good for him, it has served him well -- but Kirk, should have confidence (with some moments of doubt) but not ego.
     
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  9. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Well, that's the thing. The guy himself says he changed his style. We can squint our eyes and make apologies all we want. We can like the change. But if Shatner says he changed, I have to believe it.

    (Nimoy had an ego, too. Kelley, when he got his co-star billing, talked about how it wouldn't be easy to "squeeze between Shatner and Nimoy"... This is from an article of similar vintage)

    Speaking of Eastwood, I gotta watch this -- it's playing my home town! (from "today's" Escondido newspaper)

    [​IMG]
     
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  10. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Shatner is also on record as saying one gets tired as a season and series wears on and inevitably more and more of your personality seeps into your character.

    For myself I think Kirk became more Shatner throughout TWOK-TUC.
     
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  11. Grant

    Grant Commodore Commodore

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    It must have happened around the time the showed was renewed for its' second season. They must have felt considering the regard that sci-fi was held in, that perhaps they wouldn't get a second season and he was doing what he had done as a ubiquitous guest star on many, many shows -- treat Trek as an audition for his ongoing career -- showing that he could play the thoughtful captain with the world on his shoulders. Then just about the time they realized the show was a "big" hit (at least with certain demographics) and had been renewed he consciously decides to "play the hero" and become the star.
    I mean the stories are all out there about the directors couldn't give direction to the actors as the show went on. "We know how to play the part" -- is what they would say. A couple of regular directors stopped in the third season and a couple had enough after a single attempt.
    Pretty sad when Nick Meyer has to force a 25+ year acting veteran into multiple takes just to get a simple non over the top line reading from him in TWOK. I love the guy -- he's an icon, but his later style is famous because it's not remotely subtle (most of the time).
    Trek 4 is a good movie but damn is he playing Shatner and how much better a strong director would have been for Trek 5 (which I do like) by reining him in -- especially in that brig scene.

    Yep -- you have to take direction from Robert Wise -- Nick Meyer and your buddy Nimoy -- not so much.
     
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  12. hbquikcomjamesl

    hbquikcomjamesl Commodore Commodore

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  13. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That mistake occurred plenty in articles about filmed shows, even when the writer got a set visit. I'm not sure why. Maybe these TV writers spent most of their time covering talk shows and soaps, and they said taped reflexively.
     
  14. TREK_GOD_1

    TREK_GOD_1 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Those in leadership positions have ego, and its not always buried, either. Ego is one of the supportive traits which allows some to achieve whatever is set before them, or do what others will--or cannot, particularly in times of crisis. The reason Shatner's Kirk became an important part of pop-culture was due to the overall work, not part of one season. Moreover, Kirk would show no growth at all if he maintained the same emotional tone/level throughout all three seasons.

    In-universe, Kirk was becoming warmer in his core relationships as time moved forward, which is realistic, unlike Stewart's Picard, who served with a crew for years, and at the end of it all seemed just as remote as in TNG's pilot. At no point did I ever believe Picard and Riker were anything more than Pompous Boss and Agitated Employee, respectively, no matter what stories they were shoved into. Not so with Kirk, as Shatner made post S1 Kirk warmer, open to joking around and showing his concern for his crew was not strictly professional. In order for that to work--and it did, hence the reason TOS fandom (along with Roddenberry's convention-era preaching) fully bought into the "Enterprise Family"--and that feeling started at the top with Shatner's developing approach to the character.
     
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  15. Qonundrum

    Qonundrum Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    :techman:

    True, but wasn't his claim to fame also asking people if they were wanting to get lucky? Oh wait, oops, he was asking if they felt lucky and then equated them to fans of a certain musical genre... Which can still amount to the same thing in some situations, which involve different types of guns. Don't ask Johnny Rotten or even Zardoz about it, though, as both were manufactured images... :eek: :devil::guffaw:
     
  16. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Screenwriter | Award-Winning Journalist Premium Member

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    He had two more -- grim and grimmer.
     
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  17. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I think it was a deliberate choice because of the actors who influenced him. He was trying to compete for a larger piece of the pie, by his own admission, and those actors always seemed like themselves, at least if I'm reading Shatner correctly. I think it's a balance in acting of your own personality and the character being played. Given the way TOS very much forged it's own frontier it's understandable that Shatner would have Kirk become more Shatner, though I think it was more TWOK than anything else that let that through.
     
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  18. Maurice

    Maurice FACT TREKKING across the universe... Premium Member

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    I suspect he amped up Kirk in response to his co-star getting so much attention.
     
  19. Commishsleer

    Commishsleer Commodore Commodore

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    I think Kirk started becoming Shatner in TSFS. I think Meyer and Wise managed to stop him from taking over in TWOK and TMP.
    But Kirk was full on Shatner in Generations. I think this is the real horse-loving Shatner, Shatner as he wished he was - chopping wood, fending for himself, his woman waiting for him in a log cabin. Then the pesky script came in the way where he had to say I hated being a starship captain and I should have devoted myself to a family or was that don't let them take the captaincy away from you. I can't remember exactly. Anyway Kirk couldn't have been more Shatner in Generations unless he was refusing to sign an autograph for a fan or forgetting Takei's first name..
     
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