His name is not Lee Majors a.k.a. Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, but Oakville’s Ernie Nock says he’s ‘bionic’ — and very grateful to the Heart and Stroke Foundation for it.
On the surface, William Shatner seems like he'd be one of those "age is just a number" guys, but ask him what his thoughts are on turning 80, which he'll do in March, and his response is surprising: "I'm appalled."
He goes on to talk about winning a saddle and a belt buckle in some recent horse competitions in the discipline of reining, and the Emmy and Golden Globe winner doesn't mince words about the significance of those awards. "I'm competing against 18-year-olds who were born on a horse. Those are two of the most incredible accomplishments of my life, at my age. I got off three hours of riding hard on Saturday and feel limber on Monday and Tuesday. I can't believe this number (80) is coming up."
Shatner has more energy than people less than half his age, and that energy comes through on the screen in his role as cranky Ed Goodson on the CBS sitcom '$#*! My Dad Says.' Tonight at 8:30PM ET, Ed fights for the attention of his neighbor and new love interest, Rosemary (Jean Smart). Who is he fighting? None other than Lee Majors, the 'Six Million Dollar Man' himself, playing an obnoxious millionaire who paid to import a panda from China to San Diego.
The rivalry between Shatner's and Majors' characters culminates in a fight where the two of them are clothed in fuzzy animal costumes. "He and I have agreed to say we do our own stunts," joked Shatner. "Our whole stunt was getting into the costume. It took all our energy and then we let the stuntmen do the fight."
It's one of the many aspects of working on a sitcom that Shatner has enjoyed so far this season. In a nearly 60-year career on television, he's worked in just about every form the media has ever seen, from '50s-era live broadcasts to filmed dramas like 'Star Trek,' reality shows like 'Rescue 911,' action shows like 'T.J. Hooker' and dramedies like 'Boston Legal.'
But until now, he has never worked in the very unique format of the multi-camera sitcom in front of a studio audience, with its hours of taping and constant changes. "Here, you're in front of an audience for the first time, you barely know the words, and in some cases the words have been changed just before you go on, and all the bones are sticking out," he told me. "And it's the actor's nightmare, almost appearing naked in front of an audience, or not remembering the words."
The seemingly chaotic format has inspired Shatner to encourage the audience to go along the ride with him and the rest of the cast. "I welcome the audience and tell them what's going to happen, that we're going to make mistakes, and that they're going to see a show form in front of their eyes," he said. "And as soon as we do the first scene for them, they begin to get the idea that they are an integral part of the process, and then we're all together.
"It's a five hour ride, at the end of which, they leave the theater and they're charged. They've never had an experience like this, nor have we."
'$#*!,' based on producer Justin Halpern's Twitter feed where he repeats his father's not-so-politically correct statements, has quickly gotten away from its initial conceit and expanded the world around Ed Goodson and his son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski). His other son Vince and his wife Bonnie (Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan) have moved into the house with Ed and Henry, and Ed has found a love interest in Smart's character after initially clashing with her.
It's all an attempt by veteran producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan to find a comedic footing for the show, something that's been tough to do in the face of mostly negative reviews and mediocre ratings.
When I mentioned to Shatner that sometimes comedies take time to develop, he wasn't surprised. "What's funny to Max Mutchnick may not be funny to me, and may not be funny to you, but we've got to please you," he said. "So somewhere, we've got to find that which is OK with Max and me but still makes you laugh. And that solution is part of the bewilderment and wonderment of doing a half hour comedy because the reaction is so immediate."
Of course, Shatner wouldn't be Shatner if he didn't have a million projects going on at once. For instance, his 'Shatner's Raw Nerve' interview show just started its third season on the Bio channel, where he got Carol Burnett to talk about her alcoholic father and Marilu Henner to open up about the day her father died during a fight with her brother.
"I so enjoy talking to these people and getting them to open up and finding a way to get inside their defenses so that they allow me to explore with them some aspect that is meaningful to them," he told me about the show. He's tried to do the same with 'Aftermath,' an A&E series where he speaks to ordinary people who have been involved in remarkable events. In the show's first season, for instance, he spoke to Beltway sniper Lee Malvo and the families that were affected by his acts.
"We're using the success of the first season to lure other interesting people who might want to forget about what happened five years ago to come on the show" and get a fair interview, he said. "As (opposed to) somebody who may be taking them to task, I'm trying to understand the humanity of it." He's got letters and phone calls out to people for the show's upcoming second season, but nothing he can mention publicly at the moment.
In addition to his riding, his sitcom, and his interview shows, Shatner also has two new projects in the works: a book about "the dullest subject you could find: Me," he joked, and another album where he talk-sings his way through songs involving the 'Major Tom' character from David Bowie's 'Space Oddity.' He started the project when looking at songs for a sci fi album idea that someone brought him, and he noticed that Tom had been a character in a number of those songs.
When he gets started talking about that project, his usual cool and measured demeanor turns to excitement, as he talks about working with a number of famous musicians (but, sadly, not Ben Folds this time around; he was busy) on this album.
"We've got 20 great musicians, some of them well-known -- Brad Paisley for example -- that will appear with me on the album playing guitar. Brian May... I'm doing 'Bohemian Rhapsody'... Either Brian May is going to repeat it or somebody else will do Brian May's guitar solo on 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and Brian May will play something else on another cut... It is turning out to be monumental."
Why does Shatner push himself so much at this age? "I think what I'm saying to myself is, 'not yet.'" I ask him what he means by "not yet," even though I have an inkling, and he confirms it. To him, the thing he doesn't want to to yet is pass on to that great stage in the sky.
"I think it's validation. If I were lousy at it I would stop, but I've gotten quite good at it," he said about his craft.
But he's a young'un in the business, given the fact that the hottest actor in Hollywood right now, Betty White, is 89. "That means I've got 9 more years. I could do another series. I'm joking."
'$#!* My Dad Says' airs Thursdays at 8:30PM ET on CBS.