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HERO COMPLEX

William Shatner's latest enterprise

The 'Boston Legal' actor is shut out of the new 'Star Trek' film, but comic books are his latest venture.

September 16, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Communications were down and the captain looked confused. "These computer guys are working in my office," William Shatner muttered, "so I don't know where we should go to talk." The 77-year-old was standing in his Studio City office, which is lined with more photographs from his beloved equestrian pursuits than his interstellar acting career. "I know: Let's go to Starbucks. I don't have my wallet, though. Will you buy me coffee?"

Wow, Mr. Priceline paycheck can't pay for a cup of joe?

The Hero Complex was genuinely thrilled to spring for a triple-shot decaf for the man who gave us James T. Kirk, the bane of the Klingon empire and the master of the strained staccato delivery. We weren't the only ones a little geeked to see Shatner; the barista got the "Star Trek" star's autograph on an empty cup and customers kept coming by to shake his hand. One gushed about "Boston Legal" and another, oddly, expressed a passion for those Priceline.com ads. "Maybe coming here," Shatner whispered, "wasn't a good idea."

Shatner is shorter than you think and bowlegged after all those years in the saddle, but the main impression he makes is as a man of focus. He brought a stack of notes to the cafe and scanned them. "Let's begin, we have plenty to talk about."

That's true. There is a new "Star Trek" film coming and Shatner is peeved that he won't be in it (more on that later), but it's just about the only thing he isn't in. This past weekend he popped in on "Saturday Night Live" and Sunday night he may well be picking up his third Emmy for his sublimely kooky role as lawyer Denny Crane, the scene stealer on "Boston Legal" (and previously on "The Practice"). "Boston" returns Monday for its final season.

There's also Shatner's sometime-career in music, his recent autobiography and the deep shelf of sci-fi novels with his name on them, as well as his pitchman work. There's also a brand new venture: The actor is getting into the comic-book business by partnering with Bluewater Productions on adaptations of his novels about heroic deep-space struggles.

"They will be in the stores in March of 2009," Shatner said. "I loved comics as a kid. I used to sit under the sheets with a flashlight and read Superman when I was 6 in Montreal and now, with the comics as they are today, it's thrilling, really."

Shatner would love if those comics were coming out amid the hoopla of his appearance in the next "Star Trek" film, the J.J. Abrams reboot set for May, but that's a party he is not invited to. Only Leonard Nimoy, sharing the role of Spock, will be returning to the cast, which will otherwise feature young actors portraying Kirk, Spock and the crew fresh from Starfleet Academy.

"There is no need for me to know anything because I'm not a part of it. They will have an extraordinary campaign when it comes about, and my dear friend Leonard will be part of that and I would have loved to have been there with him."

But didn't Shatner's Kirk die on-screen in "Star Trek Generations" in 1994? "It's science fiction! If we're trying to put together the DNA of a dinosaur dead for a 160 million years, why can't scientists take a molecule that's floating around and bring back Kirk?" Shatner shook his head and watched the traffic on Ventura Boulevard. "It was weird for me to hand over the movie reins to Patrick Stewart in the last movie. It's strange to say goodbye. But it isn't any more strange than saying goodbye to 'Boston Legal,' which has been part of my life these past few years in an extraordinary way."

It was on "The Practice" that Shatner first appeared as Crane, an aging attorney with a slippery grasp of ethics and at times reality. "I will mourn and grieve the loss of this show."

On "SNL," Shatner spoofed his pitchman work for Priceline by pretending to coach Olympic hero Michael Phelps about "integrity" when it comes to endorsements. The crux of the gag was that Shatner would do anything for a buck and, well, he was the guy who sold a kidney stone to Goldenpalace.com in 2006 for $75,000. The money from that stunt went to charity, though, and the true knock on Shatner isn't that he's money-hungry, it's that he's starving for the spotlight. He says as much while waxing on about his new Emmy nomination.

"It makes you part of the happening. When you're not nominated, when you're not on the scene, then you're not happening. No matter what you or anyone else says, when that light is not on, you're in the dark. You don't know who you are until someone cheers your name. And spells it right."

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geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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