William Shatner is sick, but he refuses to admit it.
"We'll call it early morning stuffiness," he hoarsely growled via phone from New York City -- at 2:30 in the afternoon -- where he was performing his one-man show that's coming to Chicago next weekend. "Let's not call it a cold. Then it becomes one."
The actor who gave life to iconic television characters like Capt. James T. Kirk in "Star Trek," the eponymous "T.J. Hooker" and Denny Crane in "Boston Legal" is getting back to his roots. Even with "early morning stuffiness," he's living by the theater adage that the show must go on.
And he promises it will go on when "Shatner's World, We Just Live in It" arrives Friday, March 16, for a one-night engagement at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre.
With 50-plus years in the public eye, there's not much of Shatner's world left unknown. He may actually be more famous for being William Shatner these days than any of the roles he's ever played. At 80 (just a few days shy of his 81st birthday), he's still quick with a joke, jab or retort. It's clear he loves his life, but he'd rather be horseback riding.
Q. Where did the idea for the stage show come from?
A. The genesis is actually in Australia when someone said they'd like me to do a one-man show, so I went down there and they put together some visuals. They wanted to do it in an interview format, so I agreed to that. It was very successful with the interview, so we toured Australia and then got an offer to do the same kind of thing in Canada. So I improved on the show and toured Canada. Then a Broadway guy came and said do it on Broadway, but I did it the way I wanted to do it.
Q. Is it harder being by yourself on the stage?
A. Harder is a difficult question to answer. ... It's much more relaxed because it's conversational. What you'll have in Chicago is a dynamic, energetic, driven and cohesive beginning, middle and end involving comedy, drama and music that deals with basic human things that have happened to me that I seek to put in as an entertaining way as possible.
Q. Is there any room for improvisation or going off script?
A. Not really. There's a fair amount of visuals and they're depending on an auditory cue. Also, I've spent months obsessing over the right word, synthesizing the dialogue to get the right laugh line.
Q. This show seems like a capstone. Are you winding down your career?
A. I'm glad you didn't say headstone. No. I'm not winding down my career. I'm winding down my watch. What you've touched on is maybe there's this feeling that this is as good as it gets. I've taken a flying leap into a pool that I hope is filled with water. There's no greater challenge than a one-man show.
Q. Are you surprised people are so interested to hear you talk about your life even though it seems we already know you so well?
A. They're not coming because it's like "let's feel sorry for him because he's an old man." They're coming because this is a hell of a show. It's a terrific time. They will be moved emotionally time and time again and laugh from their belly. I'm confident you'll like it.
Q. Here's my obligatory "Star Trek" question, courtesy of a pal in California: How does the transporter beam send the soul as well as the flesh?
A. That's a lovely question. I've never been asked that before. There are mysteries we can't imagine because we're so limited. In some unimaginable way, that should give us reason to believe that we're all only God's tiny creatures.
Q. Of "Star Trek," "T.J. Hooker" and "Boston Legal," which did you enjoy working on the most?
A. The answer to that in my opinion is one led to the other. You learn by your mistakes. Only by making mistakes can you learn what was right. Everything I've done culminates in doing something better the next time.
Q. Which characters in those shows did you identify with more?
A. They're all aspects of me. I tried to do the best I could every time I went out there.
Q. Are you ever recognized as solely the Priceline Negotiator?
A. Sure. But they all work for Priceline.
Q. Would you ever be a company's spokesman again?
A. Ummm. Hmmm? Yeah. Why not?
Q. Rate yourself as an actor.
A. My problem is that I never think I'm good enough. So my rating system is somewhat prejudiced.
Q. Is there a role you wish you had taken?
A. Yeah. I wish I would have played Christopher Plummer's role that he just won an Oscar for.
Q. What current actor, not yourself, do you want to play you in the movie of your life?
A. Chris (Plummer) is a friend of mine and I think he'd be great at it. But he's old and decrepit. I have to pick someone young and vigorous to do it? I don't know anyone young and vigorous anymore.
Q. What's on your bucket list?
A. Nothing. Well, there is, but I don't know what it is. I love riding horses and I haven't been on a horse for a couple of months because of this show, but in a few days I'll be on one. And there may be a bucket there, but it will probably be full of manure.