Shatner On Pre-Trek CareerBy Caillan
August 29, 2002 - 3:47 PM
Although he'd been performing since age six, William Shatner (James T. Kirk) admits he never thought about becoming a professional actor until he bombed out in his business degree.
"The concept of full-time acting hadn't entered anybody's head," Shatner told Tasha Robinson at the Onion A.V. Club. "It was 'Isn't Billy amusing?' syndrome, and later, 'Wouldn't he be better off spending his time on more lucrative projects, like some kind of business degree?' The idea of being a professional actor never occurred to anybody, including myself, for a long time."
Shatner embarked on the business degree, but facts and figures never seemed to agree with the budding thespian. "Somewhere in university, I realized that I hadn't been to classes in months, and I'd get tired to the point of narcolepsy doing anything other than some form of performing, directing, writing, or acting."
Although he eventually managed to graduate, the actor himself admitted "I was perhaps the worst student to graduate from that program. I proceeded to prove everybody right as to how bad an economics student I was by failing as an assistant manager in every theatre I went to that hired me, both as an assistant manager and as an actor. I lost money and tickets, and I couldn't keep track of anything. So eventually they fired me from assistant-manager jobs, but kept me on as an actor."
After some television guest appearances, Shatner's good looks won him the role of Alexi Karamazov in 1958's 'The Brothers Karamazov,' based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "I think it was my cheekbones that... ['Karamazov' star] Yul Brynner had big cheekbones, and a couple of the other brothers had already been cast. They were name actors, and I think the casting people at MGM saw my cheekbones and said, 'He's the guy that should play the younger brother.'"
By the mid-1960s the actor had established a name for himself, appearing in the Oscar-nominated 'Judgement at Nuremberg,' The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Soon he was asked to star in the horror film 'Incubus,' which would offer Shatner an unique acting experience.
"This gentleman who was quite well-known at the time was putting this film together. He came to me and I read the script, which was a very basic script dealing with elemental good and evil. And I thought it was operatic but really nice, and then he said, 'We're going to do it in Esperanto.' I had no idea what Esperanto was. He said, 'Don't you understand that there are seven million people who speak Esperanto, and each one of them will want to come and see our movie? It'll be great for box-office.' What he didn't realize was that there were three in New York, and two in Cincinnati, and one in Los Angeles. All the rest were in Tibet."
The full interview, in which Shatner also talked about his portrayal of Kirk and his latest book projects, can be found here at the Onion A.V. Club. Thanks to Bas van Ombergen for this!