Having recently celebrated his 90th birthday and the 70th anniversary of his very first feature film — the obscure Canadian gangster picture, The Butler's Night Off — William Shatner has seen a great deal of social and cultural change during the course of his eventful life and career. And one of the biggest changes the Star Trek icon has experienced in recent years has been the rise of the #MeToo movement within Hollywood and around the world. Shatner has expressed some controversial thoughts about #MeToo in the past, defending dated pieces of pop culture like the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and revealing that he's changed the way he's interacted with female Trekkers.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment about his latest film, Senior Moment, the actor says it's all part of a learning process that he and other members of his generation are going through. "The #MeToo movement has caught a lot of people over 30 by surprise, like 'I didn't know I was doing that,'" says Shatner, who was born in Montreal in 1931. "It never occurred to people over the age of 30 that if you say to a lady — and it happened to me — 'Wow, you look good,' that's verging on being written up when all you meant was, 'You look good.' So it's a strange world that needs to be navigated a little more closely." (Watch our video interview above.)
Shatner suggests that the Silent Generation isn't the only age bracket caught off guard by how #MeToo has changed the way men and women interact. "I'm thinking about New York and the governor," he says, alluding to Andrew Cuomo, the embattled 63-year-old New York politician who is facing multiple sexual harassment charges from younger aides. "I don't know anything about it, but if he said, 'You know, I like you' or was doing something in a familiar way that didn't belong there, I don't know about the governor, but people of a certain age took a certain freedom. And it wasn't thinking sexually — it was just a familiarity that doesn't exist at the moment.
"I met a policeman the other day who said, 'I don't know how to arrest somebody,'" Shatner continues. "I'm thinking, 'You know, that's true.' The older policemen don't quite know how to take you out of a car, or touch or don't touch you. There's a whole different attitude that didn't belong there to begin with, but over the ages was there. And now, this new concept of everybody's got their own private space is like, 'Wow, of course that's the way it should be.'"
As it happens, Shatner's octogenarian alter ego in Senior Moment also gets a crash course in how times have changed. When the movie begins, former Air Force flyboy Victor Martin is still acting like he's eternally 25, racing around the streets of Palm Springs in his vintage Porsche and wining and dining much younger women — like car magazine model, Kristen (played by 30 Rock's Katrina Bowden) — with his pal and wingman, Sal (Christopher Lloyd), by his side. But after an ill-advised street race with another driver (Carlos Miranda), the grounded pilot loses his license, and discovers that life moves at a much slower pace when you're not behind the wheel. But with his new circumstances comes a new chance at love: Victor meets local cafe owner Caroline Summers (Jean Smart) on the public bus and the two begin a late-in-life romance that leads him to embrace his age instead of trying to hide from it.
"Jean is brilliant and is a terrific comedienne," Shatner raves of his 69-year-old leading lady, adding that he thinks he botched his chance at being a suave romantic partner. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, I get to kiss the girl. How does an older guy kiss a girl?' I grabbed her and I kissed her, like a leading man. But I could have fiddled with it, and I didn't do it. If I had to do it again, I would ask, 'Let's go back to Palm Springs and reshoot this moment. I'll get a big laugh!' But I didn't do it."
Asked whether he and Smart discussed the impact of the #MeToo movement on set and if it informed their performances, Shatner says that he regularly complimented his co-star. "I'm sure I said to Jean in the morning, 'God Jean, you look beautiful.' I wasn't harassing her: I was being complimentary, every bit as much as if I'd said, 'I like that shirt.' The rules are different and we need to learn the rules."
Even as Victor learns the new rules of love, Shatner emphasizes that Senior Moment isn't a message movie. "If you've got a message, send it by Western Union," he jokes. "Oh wait, that doesn't exist anymore. Send it by computer! I hate films with a message. I love those old Westerns and every so often I'll look at one and say, what's the message here? Don't ride a horse too much, because they'll get tired. So yes, Senior Moment is about how love is everywhere and older people shouldn't resign themselves to old age, they should keep plying their trade. That's probably the message, but I hate messages so what I would say is if you want to laugh and have some joy, it's all there in the movie."
While Senior Moment is a more light-hearted depiction of growing older in America, Shatner has experienced the tragedies that come with aging, including the loss of beloved family and friends. In 1999, he lost his third wife, Nerine Kidd Shatner, when she drowned in their backyard pool. An autopsy later revealed she was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and Shatner subsequently disclosed that she was an alcoholic. "We all grieve in our different ways," Shatner remarks, reflecting on how the country has been grieving the loss of so many people during the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic. "It takes about a year — it's almost like catching COVID or something. Grief for most people lasts about a year."
"A lot of people think that the spirit of the beloved is still with you for two or three months," Shatner continues, visibly tearing up as he speaks. "And then the shock wears off, and now you're in another phase of grief and denial and appeal and anger, the seven stages of grief. And the final stage of grief is acceptance: acceptance that person is gone as much as you love them. That sorrow is always lurking under the surface. No matter how much of your life that you've spent since the sorrowful event, it's part of you. It's always there. But like I said, we're all different: I might have aroused anger in people who say, 'They've gone to heaven and are alive and right beside you.' I don't mean to deny that — that's your belief. I wish I believed that."
Senior Moment is currently playing in theaters and on streaming on Amazon.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
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