An historic first meeting occurred last night in Los Angeles. The original captain of the starship Enterprise, William Shatner, and the second man to play the iconic role of James T. Kirk, Chris Pine, met face-to-face only a few weeks before the opening of J.J. Abrams stellar reboot of "Star Trek."
"I saw Bill last night actually for the first time at his charity show in Burbank," Pine revealed today. "He was very kind and it was a very short meeting. He had a lot of people to see. It was big event that had been taking place all day, but my interaction with him has only been really wonderful."
Pine, a 28-year-old star in the making, also described how he first reached out to Shatner before shooting began.
"I sent him a letter very early on in the process and explained to him who I was and who this punk kid was taking over for him, for the time being, the role and he was very kind and wished me all the luck in the world," Pine says. "I know Leonard [Nimoy] was the same way [with Zachary Quinto], there was a wonderful feeling of handing over the mantle to us and wishes for luck and all that. But it was more about allowing us the freedom to make these characters our own without having the feelings of weight and expectation and responsibility."
It's not surprising the in-person meeting took so long. Shatner has voiced his displeasure for some time about not being a larger part of the new "Trek" film. The "Boston Legal star's long time friend, Leonard Nimoy, returns to the franchise in the iconic role of Ambassador Spock. It's clear director and producer J.J. Abrams wanted to make Shatner a part of the new series latest incarnation, but what he could offer wasn't enough for the Emmy winning legend. Making matters even more difficult was the fact that Shatner's Kirk met an unsatisfactory end in 1992's "Star Trek Generations."
"We had a scene with him in it that we wrote. A sort of flashback thing, but Bill made it clear he didn't just want to do a cameo," Abrams says. "So, we ended up realizing it would change the whole story to bring him back to life. We had to bite the bullet and move forward without Shatner. We would have loved to work with him."
For a new generation of fans, however, Chris Pine's charismatic performance as the young captain may end up relegating Shatner's portrayal to the history books. Describing himself as a member of the "Star Wars" generation, Pine admits that as a kid he found the original series "campy" and the special effects "a bit absurd." Pine was, however, a big admirer of Shatner's other work.
"My grandmother was a huge William Shatner fan, so when she babysat me we would inevitably end up watching reruns of "TJ Hooker" -- Heather Locklear in her prime," Pine says.
Even taking Shatner's legacy out of the equation, the project represents the biggest challeng in Pine's short career. He faced a lot of pressure during the production because not only was it a big, studio tentpole movie, but a picture a lot of people are expecting to make a lot of money. And, of course, there is that avid and protective fanbase.
Pine says, "I think once I met J.J. and I got a sense of what he wanted to do with it and that he wasn't looking for a bad impersonation of what Mr. Shatner does [it was OK]. Realizing that what Mr. Shatner did was so unique, was so specific and was so iconic, in many ways it was very liberating because I knew that if anything I had to run in the opposite direction to make any mark of my own on the part. And that's not to say there wasn't a conversation early on about I might be able to use little nuances from his performances to use on my own. But it was very much a re-imagining and very much in the spirit of JJ's idea of making these characters our own."
The new film carries many of the same optimistic themes Gene Roddenberry championed when "Star Trek" took to the airwaves in 1966. The original series included an ethnically diverse cast, explored controversial topics and featured the first interracial kiss (between Shatner and Nichelle Nicols) on television. And as a newfound fan, Pine finds that legacy humbling and can't think of another property with such a valuable legacy.
"When it came out in the late 60s it was time of great social unrest and two wars and great division. And as trite or cheesy as it may sound, the idea that many people can work together as one and achieve great things I think is -- why not? It's a wonderful vision of humanity, to have the deck of the Enterprise a virtual United Nations of faces and sexes and races and people from desperate backgrounds," Pine eloquently states. "Hopefully the resonance it had in the late 60s, it will have a similar effect on a world similarly torn by economic crisis and wars . it seems like we try to spend more trying to kill each other than anything else. So, to present a vision of people working together is quite a wonderful thing."
Rumored to be the lead in everything from the new "Green Lantern" to Joe Carnahan's never dead thriller "Killing Pablo," Pine thinks it's presumptuous to take about another installment in the "Trek" franchise already (seemingly ignoring the fact a sequel is already in development and he's signed for two more pictures).
"That's another question we get a lot, the sequel stuff," Pine says. "I had a lot of fun on it. Clearly our job sitting in front of you is to tell you what a wonderful job we had an what a what a wonderful film it is and I can't do anything else than tell you that's exactly the case. We had an absolute blast making it. I think it's a lot of fun. If they invite me back, I'd certainly be the first onto sign up."
"Star Trek" opens nationwide in conventional theaters and begin a limited two-week IMAX run on May 8.
Watch a clip of Chris Pine as the new Captain Kirk alongside the new Dr. McCoy, Karl Urban, below.