ComingSoon.net Talks to Hollywood Legend William Shatner
ComingSoon.net was honored to have an exclusive chat with living legend William Shatner, he of Boston Legal, T.J. Hooker and, of course, Star Trek fame! We talked to Shatner about his voice role in this week’s DVD and Digital release of Aliens Ate My Homework, and also touched on his work in dramatic radio and his retro horror performances in The Horror at 37,000 Feet and the cult classic The Devil’s Rain!
Based on Bruce Coville’s best-selling book series, the suspenseful family comedy Aliens Ate My Homework follows the adventures of sixth grader Rod Allbright and the extraterrestrial lawmen known as the Galactic Patrol. When a tiny spaceship flies through his window and lands on his science project, Rod and his cousin Elspeth meet a group of friendly aliens, including Phil, a talking plant (voiced by William Shatner). The earthlings quickly join the aliens’ adventurous mission to help defeat an evil alien criminal. After discovering the evil alien is disguised as a human — someone he knows all too well — Rod and Elspeth race to save the world from total planetary disaster.
The film adaption of the first book from the popular “Rod Allbright and the Galactic Patrol” series by Bruce Coville follows a pair of middle schoolers racing to save the world from destruction after extraterrestrials invade Earth. Aliens Ate My Homework features the voice of two-time Emmy Award winner William Shatner (Star Trek) and comes from director Sean McNamara (The King’s Daughter). The film also stars Jayden Greig (The Shape of Water), Lauren McNamara (Summer of Dreams), Kirsten Robek (The Edge of Seventeen), Dan Payne (Star Trek Beyond, Watchmen), Ty Consiglio (Wonder) and Alex Zahara (The Man in the High Castle).
ComingSoon.net: So I remember I was in middle school when this book first came out, I think it was around ’93.
William Shatner: Aren’t you lucky. Middle school. So that was in ’93… so you’re 37.
CS: Correct! Dead-on. It’s interesting to see them finally making a film of it. Were you aware of the book or was it simply a project that came your way?
Shatner: I was not aware of the book until it came my way. It’s written by a couple friends of mine, Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens. We’ve written other things together, so when they finished this they asked me to do it. I read the script, they’re lovely writers, it’s a lovely script.
CS: You’ve actually had almost this whole other career in voice work, whether its animation or your albums or audio books, you even did a televised radio play of “First Men in the Moon” years ago.
Shatner: Oh my god, it’s incredible that you would remember that! Norman Corwin — who was the great author in the radio days and who I studied at McGill and met here in Los Angeles when I first came — we sort of became buddies and I went to his 100th birthday a few years ago, he died shortly thereafter. Norman Corwin was the great radio writer, and his plays in the ’40s and ’50s predated me doing radio plays out of Toronto, which won Peabody Awards ten years after his had out of CBS in America. I’ve had a convoluted history with radio. You know the story about that? The lady who was directing it had several cameras on us. Norman had assembled his company of radio actors and I was the youngest. She would film, and in those days a reel on those Mitchell cameras could only handle 11 minutes. So every 11 minutes she’d yell cut while she reloaded all those cameras. About the second or third time she yelled cut, radio actors didn’t pay any mind, continued on making this radio play and then left an hour or two into it. They’d had enough, they’d gotten all they needed, and we continued to put this radio play on the air and there was no air. There was no cable, microphones disconnected, Norman Corwin had Leopold Stokowski and CBS philharmonic as background music, was waving to this imagined orchestra. Then he’d wave his hands at imagined soundmen, and we radio actors took it all in and it was as real as a real show. We suddenly got real nervous when were going to go on the air at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve told that story more than once, about this phenomena of actors thinking they’re with the master, Norman Corwin, doing radio. That very show. I think about it often, how we just let our imaginations run away with us. And this thing became a radio program that never saw the light of day or broadcast into the ether.
CS: What was the title of that?
Shatner: I don’t remember the script, CBS wanted to film what it was like to do a radio show in the ’40s so we gave her what she wanted but it became something real for all of us.
CS: Being a big fan of TV horror movies from the ’70s, I wanted to ask you about one specific TV movie: “The Horror at 37,000 Feet.” I’ve seen it so many times, the combination of you fighting a Druid ghost on a 747 is just unbeatable. What are your memories of making that?
Shatner: Hopefully that you get paid very quickly because I didn’t have any money in the bank. Those were poverty-stricken days with three kids and a roof that I needed to put over their heads.
CS: You had Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebson, and Paul Winfield, who you would work with again…
Shatner: It has remained alive, unbelievably, all these years later.
CS: A lot of it comes from the fact that it’s this utterly silly premise of a haunted airliner but played dead straight. The title is very similar to the classic “Twilight Zone” you did with Dick Donner, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”…
Shatner: Talk about Dick Donner…. I dropped into one of those Hollywood parties that we read about that I never go to, but I went for a specific reason. A guy came up to me and said, “Do I look familiar?” And I looked at him and said, “Yeeeeah… but I don’t know where.” He was old and grizzled and gray. He said, “Dick Donner!” It was right out of “The Twilight Zone,” it looked like he had old age make-up on.
CS: Another of my favorites of yours from that era is “The Devil’s Rain,” which just got a great Blu-ray release, and I’ve seen that in 35mm as well.
Shatner: How is it? Is it funny? What kind of a film is it?
CS: You’ve never seen it? It’s you verses Ernest Borgnine’s satanic cult. You’ve got these melting people everywhere…
Shatner: You know, it pre-dates all these programs with zombies that are so popular. If you look at what those images are on television, it’s stupid make-up. Why does a zombie shamble? Where is it written that you have to shamble with your mouth agape. Everybody’s playing this stock zombie and they’re the most popular things around!
CS: I think it’s just ingrained in pop culture. But I’ve heard on “Devil’s Rain” that there were some odd events and accidents and stuff behind the scenes. Everything from they slashed the schedule and the budget, to the film was funded by the mafia, and Robert Fuest had a nervous breakdown. Is there any truth to that?
Shatner: Oh yeah, it was weird. It continues. Everybody’s fate has been altered. The divorces, death, destruction, the tragedies that befell so many people in the cast was more than normal. That’s all I can say, from what I remember of it. I haven’t kept up. At the time it was a little weird.
CS: Speaking of voice work, you just signed on to record a country album in Nashville?
Shatner: Yes! And an offbeat but very good Christmas album. I’m doubling up.
Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip and a featurette from Aliens Ate My Homework below!
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)