On the heels of the hit film rebooting the classic Star Trek story, PEOPLE opens hailing frequencies with the classic cast of the original Trek: where they’ve boldly gone, what the Trek phenomenon means to them – and what they think of their new counterparts.
William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk)
RECENT WORK: An Emmy-winning turn as Denny Crane on ABC’s Boston Legal; hosts Shatner’s Raw Nerve talk show on Bio; 2008 memoir Up Til Now; Priceline.com commercials.
NEXT UP: The documentary Gonzo Ballet, dance performances of six songs written with musician Ben Folds.
Shatner, 78, had one of the most the most visible post-Trek careers, but he still held out hope he’d play Kirk one more time in the new film, awaiting a call from director J.J. Abrams down to the last minute of editing. “I had my cell phone with me all the time,” he laughs. “But no. They opened the film without me.” He’s still open to reprising the role one day, but says wryly, “it’s in other people’s hands. It’s such an awkward and humiliating position be in!”
“I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity that it gave me, the doors that it opened and the career that I was able to have – and am able to have – as a result,” he says. “I don’t know where I would’ve been had it not been for Star Trek, but I certainly know where I am because it did happen. It’s been a very meaningful and joyful thing for me in my life.”
ON THE NEWBIE: “My impression of Chris Pine is that it’s perfect casting. He’s young and he’s handsome and he will be rich.”
Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock)
RECENT WORK: 2008’s The Full Body Project, a book of his nude photography; the new Star Trek film.
NEXT UP: A recurring role on J.J. Abrams’ Fox series Fringe; a photo exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts in 2010.
BACK IN THE ACT: Nimoy announced his retirement from acting in 2003, but returned to Star Trek after J.J. Abrams reawakened his passion and “reminded me what it really could be.” Still, the 78-year-old actor admits that even after putting the ears back on, “it took a little while for me to get my bearings. What I enjoyed hearing later was that the young people were all intimidated by me. I said to them, ‘Look, when I was your age and at your stage in the business, and the older guy came on the set that had been around for 30 or 40 or 50 years, I was intimidated. Now it’s their turn!'”
He remains very close with co-star Shatner (“We finish each other’s sentences”) but despite their past, oft-maligned musical efforts, don’t expect a duet. “I don’t think I’d record an album with him,” he says. “I don’t think that either of us should record any more albums!”
ON THE NEWBIE: “Zachary Quinto and I watched some episodes. We wanted to get a sense of the flavor of what it was we were doing in the ’60s. But he’s found his own way to play Spock. I think he does it extremely well.”
Nichelle Nichols (Uhura)
RECENT WORK: 2005’s Are We There Yet?; recurring role on NBC’s Heroes.
NEXT UP: This Bitter Earth with Billy Dee Williams and Richard Roundtree.
Nichols, 76, recalls that the weekend after she resigned from Star Trek to pursue her singing career, Dr. Martin Luther King convinced her – as the only black woman in a command position on television at the time – to stay. “He said ‘You have established dreams for us and you cannot take that away. This is your destiny.’ I was nearly in tears.”
Her presence inspired future achievers like Whoopi Goldberg that black people had a place in the future, and reversed others’ racist beliefs. “I had young white men and women come to me and say, ‘Your being on Star Trek broke the binds that tied me to hatred – thinking I was superior, and knowing within I was not. I wanted to be something better.’ When that comes at you, it changes your heart.”
ON THE NEWBIE: When Abrams sneaked her onto the set, Nichols says Zoe Saldana “just lost it. We sat there for about two hours and talked and talked. She said ‘I knew I could be anything I wanted to be when I saw you.’ I said ‘No one else could have been cast but you.'”
George Takei (Sulu)
RECENT WORK: Recurring role as Masi Oka’s father on Heroes; Howard Stern’s SIRIUS Radio announcer.
NEXT UP: Narration for symphony orchestra recordings; lobbying for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Along with steady roles, Takei’s been in the public eye since announcing in 2005 that he’s gay and marrying longtime partner Brad Altman last year – just before California banned same-sex marriage. “Our marriage is [legally] solid,” he says. “But we’re concerned about others and the basic idea of equality. I’m absolutely confident that our Supreme Court will throw out Proposition 8.”
Takei, 72, says Star Trek has endured because “the core values are still pertinent and relevant. It tantalizes you to imagine what else is going to come about in the future. To be inventive, to be innovative and to boldly go where no one has gone before – that phrase really sums up the point.”
ON THE NEWBIE: “John Cho had heard many exaggerated stories about fans. I assured him ‘Yes, we have very intense and very loyal fans, but they are just as diverse as the cast of Star Trek. So enjoy it. You’re going to have a great time. I’m absolutely confident that Sulu’s in good hands.’ ”
Walter Koenig (Chekov)
RECENT WORK: Recurring role as Bester on Babylon Five; voice actor in Star Trek video games.
NEXT UP: Wrote, produced and co-stars in the indie sci-fi film InAlienable.
“I was very lucky to be awarded that role,” says Koenig, 72. “With Star Trek you could always find something to respect and feel good about in the stories that we were telling. I’m pleased that if I had to be identified so thoroughly with anything, Star Trek certainly would be one of my top choices.”
Not everyone fell under Trek‘s sway. Koenig recalls when he and James Doohan appeared at a video store opening in North Carolina: “We had been talked into appearing in our uniforms – the ONLY time that I allowed myself to get talked into doing that. We were waiting in the hotel lobby and a woman who had just checked in came over and said, ‘Y’all mind taking my bags to the room now?’ ”
ON THE NEWBIE: “I just told Anton Yelchin to do it his way. And to invest his personal experience and the way he feels about life into the character. Make it his interpretation. These characters are not historical figures, they’re fictional concoctions.”
Deforest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty)
Kelley was the first of the classic cast to pass away, in 1999 at age 79, followed by Doohan, in 2005, at 85. Kelley was “the epitome of a Southern gentleman,” recalls Shatner, “a good friend upon whom you could count at any time.” Doohan, says Takei, “was a great buddy. He wore his emotions on his sleeves – plural – and was a great, embracing guy.”