Enterprising icon: 'Star Trek' star William Shatner brings 'Wrath of Khan' tour to Oklahoma

William Shatner [Manfred Baumann]

William Shatner has occasionally taken the opportunity over the years to sit in the back of a movie theater and watch audiences watching him.

"It's fascinating, actually, to see all these upturned faces lit by the light from the screen, so there's like a silver glow over everybody's face and mostly they're having rapt attention to one degree or another," he said. "You see people totally focused on what you are doing up there. It's the strangest feeling. I don't like to do it too much 'cause it gives me a strange feeling."

These days, Shatner, 88, prefers to "stay out of the way" backstage until the movie ends and then appear on stage in front of audiences.

For the past few years, the enterprising actor has been boldly going on tour with the beloved 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," sharing tales of his more than five-decade voyage playing the famed role of Captain James T. Kirk and participating in post-film question-and-answer sessions with legendarily loyal "Star Trek" fans.

"What I enjoy is the fact that everything is totally spontaneous. We're doing what I'm doing with you, only a little more extensive and I'm able to dwell a little longer on the subject matter ... and have a Chautauqua, if you will, with the audience," Shatner said in a phone interview. "I'll have some of their questions that they've written out and try and answer some of those things but also tell them some stories that pertain to the question they've asked."

Shatner's cinematic Chautauqua — a type of traveling show that flourished in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — will make a stop in Norman on Friday night at Riverwind Casino, where fans will get to see the film as it was intended before the Golden Globe-winning actor's live appearance.

"This has been set up so that you will have a good time with a large screen and the big sound," Shatner said. "It's an unusual moment in the theater, and everybody will have a great time — I assure them."

Iconic actor

For nearly seven decades, Shatner has crafted an eclectic entertainment career as a stage and screen actor, director, producer, writer, recording artist and horseman. Based in Los Angeles, the Canadian icon has made multiple treks to Oklahoma City over the years to participate in events organized by the National Reining Horse Association, which awarded him its Dale Wilkinson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Originally trained as a classical Shakespearean actor, Shatner's vast career ranges from well-reviewed runs on Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s to his current History Channel gig hosting and executive producing “The UnXplained," an hourlong docuseries returning with new episodes Feb. 29.

But he remains best known for playing the fearless captain of the starship Enterprise, a role he originated in 1966 on the television series "Star Trek" and returned to for the feature film franchise, which spanned seven movies, one of which — "1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" — he also directed.

Enduring popularity

Of the "Star Trek" films, "Wrath of Khan," which followed 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," remains arguably the most popular.

"In the hierarchy of 'Star Trek,' this film is important in that when Paramount made the first film, which they called 'The Movie,' it wasn't as successful as they had hoped. So, they decided not to continue on with 'Star Trek,'" Shatner recalled in a December phone call.

"It was only after the urging of the wife of the head of Paramount that they decided to make one more and turn it over to the television people rather than the movie people. And the television people made a much cheaper version of a 'Star Trek' movie but adhered to the story ideas of the series. And it turned out to be a really successful film and made a lot of money for the studio, which then begat the rest of the 'Star Trek' hierarchy."

In "Wrath of Khan," Shatner's Kirk and the stalwart Enterprise crew face off against the genetically engineered despot Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a colorful character who first appeared on the TV show in the 1967 episode "Space Seed."

The action-packed film takes cues from classic literature — notably Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" — but Shatner said he can't say exactly why "Wrath of Khan" has proved such an enduring favorite.

"If I knew that, I'd write down the rules and sell them," he said. "Nobody quite knows the answer to that: The obvious things are the characters and the stories and the adventure and the actors. ... But what makes a hit — and what doesn't make a hit — is a puzzlement from prior to Shakespeare to today. You just don't know what's going to work. All you can do is go by, 'Well, that entertains me; I hope it entertains you.' And nobody knows. ... It's a mystery as to why things in show business succeed, although there are certain rules. And I guess those are the rules we followed, you know, the classic Greek thing: character development, contention between opposing forces and its resolution."


William Shatner and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"

When: 7 p.m. Friday. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Where: Riverwind Casino, 1544 W State Highway 9, Norman.

Tickets and information: www.riverwind.com.

Related Photos

William Shatner [Manfred Baumann]
William Shatner [Manfred Baumann]
William Shatner [Rory Lewis]
The 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" will be screened prior to an appearance and Q&A by William Shatner Friday at Norman's Riverwind Casino [Paramount Pictures poster]
The 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" will be screened prior to an appearance and Q&A by William Shatner on Friday at Norman's Riverwind Casino [Paramount Pictures poster image]
William Shatner, left, and Leonard Nimoy appear in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." [Paramount Pictures]
From left, DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and James Doohan appear in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." [Paramount Pictures]
Ricardo Montalban, center, appears in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." [Paramount Pictures]