Last night was the second annual VoiceArts awards gala in Hollywood. One can be forgiven for not being aware that this event even existed, it is after all, only the second time that this event has been held. On deeper reflection however, and after being corrected by William Shatner, this is an award that really should be celebrating more than just its second anniversary. To quote Mr. Shatner, “voiceovers are more than just what you would normally think of, commercials and such”. When you stop to think about it, voiceovers are all around us, in the very fabric of our daily lives. There are websites, radio ads, audiobooks, movie trailers, narrations, animated movies, and many other places you hear them. Founded in 2014 by Rudy Gaskins and his wife Joan Baker, the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences was founded to “connect job seekers to the best sources of training, education, network, mentoring, and employment opportunities within the voiceover industry”. The VoiceArts awards acknowledge the many people who make up this multi-faceted segment of the entertainment industry.
At the event, William Shatner was being presented with the VoiceArts Icon Award for Lifetime Achievement. Some of the previous year’s honorees were James Earl Jones, Kate Winslet, Patrick Fraley, and a host of others. Last night, in addition to Mr. Shatner, some of the better-known artists on-hand were Michael Winslow, John Amos, Malcom-Jamal Warner, and Bruce Vilanch. If you watched any of the Police Academy movies, you’d know Michael Winslow, the man with all those great sound effects. John Amos, famously known as the father in “Good Times”, and Bruce Vilanch, head writer for the Oscars since 2002.
The list of projects that you can find most of the recipients in is endless, and I’ll leave that to IMDB, but once you start to research the artists, you have something of an epiphany when you realize how ubiquitous all of their works are. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the work of many of these people.
In addition to covering the red carpet last night, I had the privilege of having a one-on-one interview with the evening’s star awardee, Mr. William Shatner. To many, having grown up watching his work on both the big and small screens, the man is truly an icon. He’s done everything from Shakespeare to authoring many books, hosting his own talk show, and of course his many film and television roles.
Quite pleasingly, I found Mr. Shatner to be nothing at all like what I expected. I was expecting a larger-than-life, self-absorbed star. What I experienced was a warm and engaging person who was humble and hilarious. Initially a bit overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all, I quickly warmed to the task at hand.
I was ushered over to an area where it was just he and I, and his wife Elizabeth. The two of us spent over thirty minutes chatting about a far-ranging list of topics and he could not be more down to earth. He was funny, frank, honest, and there were no subjects that were off limits. The interview turned into a chat between a couple of expat Canadians and the time just slipped away. Before I knew it, it was time to go. I laughed all the way home, literally. Here’s the interview:
How much voiceover work do you do? It’s not something that you’re really that well known for is it?
That’s interesting for you to say that, I’ve done quite a bit. It depends on what you traditionally think of as voiceover. When you think of voiceovers, you think of commercials, and stuff like that, right?
Voiceovers in my opinion are things like narrating movies, animated films, cartoons, and documentaries, that kind of thing.
How long have you been doing voiceovers?
Since I was about ten…?
So really not for that long then…
No, not really (chuckles).
What’s been the highlight of your legendary career? Can you pick a specific project or is it hard to pick something with you having done so many different things?
That’s very difficult to say, it’s such a general question, and over such a long period of time. Everything has been a highlight for me.
That’s how I feel about my photography. They’re all highlights.
I’m more of a concert photographer, I don’t typically do celebrities, but you Mr. Shatner are somewhat of a rock star in the entertainment field. And you did have that spoken word album…
There you go..
Do you still consider yourself to be Canadian even though you’ve been gone for so long?
I still have a Canadian passport.
So in a hockey match between Canada and the U.S. whom do you root for?
I’d root for Canada at the Olympics. I was actually there.
Yes, I remember watching you during the closing ceremonies in Vancouver.
Not only was I there for the closing ceremonies, I got tickets for my entire family for the Canada/US matchup. When it went into overtime and Crosby scored the winning goal, I WAS THERE!!!
That must have been thrilling to see Sid the Kid score that goal.
It was very thrilling.
What’s your secret to your longevity, you seem to show no signs of slowing down.
Well, you’ve gotta do three hours of a workout every morning. I get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and do a three-hour workout, eat lean meat, um, blood, lots of blood, don’t cook it, bloody meat, gnawed on, suck it right down to the bone, suck on the bone all day long, get the marrow. Have three women pursue you, and in teams of four, so that they never leave you alone, from 9 to 12, 3 to 6, and 6 to 9. Copious amounts of alcohol….I don’t know, good genes, or good luck.
Do you ever entertain any thoughts of retiring? You’re almost like the Keith Richards of celebrity; you don’t show any signs that age is slowing you down.
Oh my god, (laughs). Keith Richards looks awful.
Well, I don’t mean in looks, I’m referring to your longevity.
Ah, longevity. I wish I could play the guitar like Keith Richards. Uhhhh, no. I’m not slowing down. I like what I’m doing, whatever it is that I’m doing. I’m having fun!
Do you ever get tired of answering Star Trek questions? That must come up all the time.
I don’t get tired of it, I understand. I’m ok with it.
Was there a time when you weren’t OK with it?
Was it just another role to you, or was this something more. Obviously the fans see it as something more.
It was always pretty much just a role; I mean I never saw it as marching off into the future.
Yet a lot of people still seem to have a problem separating you from the role.
That’s right. I can understand them not being able to separate me, but if I couldn’t separate me from the role, I’d need to be in an institution.
So with that being said, let me ask you, in episode number 37, the Kardashian Web….
Yes, the Kardashian one, the one where Bruce came in as an alien….(laughs).
Bill Shatner’s Raw Nerve, let me ask you about that.
Yes, I loved that show.
So did I. I thought it was one of the high points of your television career.
Thank you. I had the best time doing that.
Do you plan to do any more shows like that?
I love talking to people, and getting their soul. In the same way that your best photographs capture someone’s soul, I feel the best interviews capture a moment there.
I actually thought that was one of the most well done talk shows I had ever seen. Have you ever considered making an excursion into late night?
The key to that show, aside from sitting close to them and being “intimate” was being able to edit, being able to do an hour or an hour and a half and edit it down to thirty minutes. That was key. It took time to warm up, to warm them up, and let them warm up to me, and so a live show could turn out to be boring until you got to the soulful moment, and that’s the problem. It would need to be filmed. With an audience it would be OK, that whole song and dance that takes place before a live show would be interesting to me, but others might not find it so interesting.
I found that show fascinating, to borrow a phrase.
It was fascinating, to work around it, to get to people who were reluctant to release that wall, and then suddenly it crumbles.
Was there not a huge demand for that show to continue?
It was on the Biography channel and they didn’t pursue it well.
That’s too bad.
I did another one, I can’t remember the name.
At this point, both Elizabeth Shatner and I are both sitting there with our cellphones out, trying to ask Siri what was the name of Bill Shatner’s talk show. Both Siri and the nameless Android app were both drawing a blank. Funny, voice recognition seemed to work on the Enterprise. They must have better cellphone apps in the future. Between the three of us, we could not come up with the name of his other show.
Didn’t you have a couple of the cast members from Star Trek on Raw Nerve?
Yes, Leonard came on and talked about his grandfather. And he said “I’ve never told this to anybody”. In all the years I knew him…
This thing you hear of in the press, this supposed animosity that some of the cast seems to have toward you. How much of that is manufactured by the press?
That’s just George Takei. He’s a psychopath. He’s just nuts. I mean how do you hold a grudge for fifty years?
You’ve got me….
I don’t know, I really don’t know. I haven’t seen him in thirty years. How do you keep talking about somebody for thirty years? There’s something wrong with him and I just don’t know what it is. I knew this guy for a few weeks fifty years ago and he still talks about it, so how do you deal with that?
Do you think they should have made your Captain Kirk character Canadian rather than being from, where was it? Iowa?
Isn’t that funny? Yeah, maybe. I did a show, where I went to Iowa, oh, what’s the name of that town….
Elizabeth: Yeah, what’s the town that Kirk is from?
I’m not up on all my Star Trek trivia….
I went up there with a film crew pretending to film a movie, when in fact I was filming the town’s reaction to a movie. I punked the town for ten days! Invasion Iowa. It aired on one of the networks.
When you did the celebrity roast, it was so out of character for you, but it was hilarious. How much of that was off-the-cuff?
Some of it was scripted, but it was mostly ad-libbed. Some of my remarks were scripted.
What did you think of doing that roast?
Oh f**k! (laughs). I mean, you just take a deep breath and hope for the best.
Thank you so much for your time Mr. Shatner; it’s truly an honor.
We stop the interview, and the three of us are still trying to come up with the name of his other interview show, and I decide to get in one last question.
What do you think of this voiceover award?
Given the chaos where they let us off at the limo stand I thought “S**t, I’m not gonna go out there! But then I saw my picture and thought f*********ck…This is all about me”.
And then I noticed it. As Bill Shatner says the word “about” there is a distinctive Canadian accent, the much-maligned and oft-lampooned “aboot”. Straight outta South Park…
You know, I’ve never noticed this, and I’ve been watching you on TV since I was seven years old. You actually still have a Canadian accent.
Yes, when you say “about”. It comes out a bit. Kind of ironic given that you’re here at the VoiceArts award gala.
I’ve kind of tried to hide it….
Thanks again for your time Mr. Shatner. It’s been a pleasure!