Shatner to Play Captain April in Upcoming Movie
An exclusive interview with Olaf Sporil - some revealing news inside!
Ever since the first announcement of the upcoming prequel movie "Star Trek XI" one of the most discussed questions was whether William Shatner would join the cast. The recurring rumors of him being in the movie were usually refuted as fast as they popped up though. After some time it seemed clear that Shatner would not even appear for a cameo - until I got in touch with Olaf Sporil, assistant director of "Star Trek XI".
Here is a transcript of our chat on Shatner and on various other topics pertaining to the movie:
Ex Astris Scientia: Hi Olaf!
Olaf Sporil: Servus Bernd!
EAS: Thanks to your Austrian roots we could talk German, but that would require me to translate everything afterwards. So if you don't mind let's keep it in English.
OS: Agreed. Go ahead.
EAS: So you can confirm that William Shatner is in the movie?
OS: Absolutely. He plays Robert April, who captained the Enterprise for many years. It is an homage to Gene Roddenberry's very first proposal he sent to the studio in 1965 or so.
EAS: But William Shatner repeatedly complained about not being in the movie.
OS: I thought you knew our good captain better! ;-) Bill Shatner is a diva. He knows very well how to turn the 'misery' of his real life into a drama. ;-) But seriously, once you get to know him he is the greatest guy ever.
EAS: Oh well. How extensive are the scenes with Shatner?
OS: You won't see too much of him. It amounts to a couple of minutes on two occasions in the movie. But you may not immediately recognize him the first time.
EAS: Is he wearing prosthetics or something?
OS: Not exactly. It's a bit tricky to explain. Uhm... No offense to Mr Shatner. I mean, he is in great shape for his age. But... he just didn't look good in his Starfleet uniform.
EAS: You mean, he was too fat?
OS: Those are your words. I won't take the blame. ;-) But you're right in essence. When the 'younger April' scenes had already been shot, Lisa Rontoriou, one of our editors, came to JJ [Abrams] with the suggestion to have him 'thinned' digitally.
EAS: How did they do that?
OS: Digital wizardry. I can't really tell. But it is more than simply stretching the footage. Personally I wouldn't have done it, but Abrams agreed on it after reviewing the raw takes. And I must say he has the eye for such details.
EAS: You met Shatner at the set?
OS: Yes, more than just once. He was there for six days altogether, and I talked to him a couple of times. He had a chat with everyone. A very communicative, very pleasant person to work with.
EAS: What did he tell you?
OS: When I spoke to him it was to communicate the shooting schedule most of the time. But he also took the time to tell us about some of his new endeavors. Such as breeding 'Shatland ponies'. No kidding, with an 'A', as he kept reaffirming.
EAS: He's been pulling your leg!
OS: Perhaps. But he seemed serious about it. But then again, the Shat is a great actor. We had a good time.
EAS: I wish I had been there!
Wait a moment. Isn't the Enterprise a brand new ship in the movie? How can Robert April be a former captain? Is it a still different vessel than the Enterprise we know?
OS: Right. An even older ship than the Kelvin (you know, the Kelvin is the badass single nacelle design that rams the T'Neruu, Nero's vessel).
EAS: Does that mean we are going to see this old Enterprise too?
OS: Definitely. There is a very touching decommissioning scene at Piral Prime in which Shatner (as April) removes the command codes from that old Enterprise and hands them to Bruce Greenwood [Captain Pike]. It is a flashback experienced by the severely injured Pike. Damon Lindelof wrote that scene especially for Shatner. I was not present when they discussed it but I was told it was him who finally convinced JJ to go for Shatner.
EAS: Can you describe how the old ship looks like? What is the registry number?
OS: Well, it has three nacelles. I heard that Shatner himself went to our Art Department and told them to give him a three-nacelled ship. But that may be just a joke. They have a strange kind of humor, occasionally.
I'm not sure about the hull number. If I recall correctly, it was NCC-0401.
EAS: Three nacelles!?!
OS: Don't worry! They are much smaller than your usual nacelles. You will like that ship.
EAS: And on the inside? What does the bridge look like?
OS: You will fall in love with it. It is a precise reconstruction of the bridge of the Pike Enterprise (as in 'The Cage'). Only the animations on the monitors have been updated.
Oh, and I was lying (sort of). The ship that April is captain of in 'Star Trek' is named 'Enterprize', with a 'Z'.
EAS: Why is that?
OS: It was Bob's [Orci] idea. He knew how fans have been complaining all over the place about Bakula's ship being named 'Enterprise'. We just didn't want to squeeze yet another one into the family tree. We thought if we gave that other ship in 'Star Trek' a subtly different name, it would avoid some fuss and help the avid fans focus on the essential. And, you probably know better, there was already a 'HMS Enterprize' in the opening credits of Star Trek Enterprise.
EAS: Uhm. Let me comment on that name later...
OS: Hey, Bob was thinking of people like you when he changed that one letter!
EAS: Well thanks.
Looking back at something else you said. You mentioned "T'Neruu" as the name of Nero's ship. I thought it was the Narada.
OS: No, T'Neruu is correct. I have no idea where 'Narada' comes from, never heard of that. We always called the ship T'Neruu, the name being supposedly related to our villain. 'Neruu' would have been the spelling of his name. But JJ thought that 'Nero' would be more accessible so we renamed the guy and kept the spelling of the ship (although I don't think it is visible written out somewhere in the movie). In one scene Bana [Nero] mourns the loss of his planet (you know, Romulus = Rome) in a dirge. Sounds silly but wait until you see this wonderful homage to Ustinov on the big screen. [Emperor Nero, played by Peter Ustinov, first ignited Rome and then sang about it in "Quo Vadis".]
OS: This is a key scene. And you'll see that Bana pulls it off in a quite decent fashion. He's not your every day villain. Especially in light of Nero's relationship to another character.
EAS: You mean, he is the descendant of one of the crew?
OS: Descendant? *lol* No. I would have expected less one-dimensional thinking from you.
EAS: I bet you won't enlighten me?
OS: Go see the movie. And keep in mind that Abrams is a self-confessed Star Wars kid. :-)
EAS: Nooooo! Gimme a break.
OS: I can only repeat. Go see the movie. It is much more dramatic than the Star Trek you know, and it is absolutely justified that it borrows a bit from other, possibly cooler franchises.
EAS: Alright. Back to the ships. Any other vessels that I would like to know of?
OS: You have most of them already on your list. But there are two more: the Sovereign class and the Defiant class.
EAS: Because these are following Nero back through time? Don't tell me Captain Picard is in the movie.
OS: *lol* No. It would have eaten up half of our budget just to pay Patrick Stewart's expenses. Actually, the Sovereign and Defiant are not the ships from Picard's era. Let me explain. Very early in the process, when the premise was not even nailed down, those funny guys from the newly formed Art Department came to JJ with a pile of photos of starships and props. JJ picked the ones he saw as the most appealing (or the ones that were described to him as fan favorites). So these remained in the movie even when it became obvious that their presence would be hard to justify. But our illustrators made some changes to the digital models before sending them over to the VFX people, so we could just say the Sovereign and Defiant are predecessors of the ships that you know from one century later.
EAS: Oh no. Not again.
OS: I am sure you will find a workable explanation! And Bob Orci is eager to write up something about these 'anachronistic' vessels too! You guys could have worse problems.
EAS: Or I will ignore them. I have some practice with that.
OS: Don't be pessimistic. A lot will be different than in your apprehension.
EAS: Okay. I'll keep that in mind.
Speaking of apprehensions, will the movie be shaky and hectic like other recent action flicks?
OS: If you mean something like handheld cameras - yes. JJ was using them all the time. After the good experiences in Cloverfield he decided to film essentially everything with hand cameras. Sometimes there were seven or eight of them active at a time, and not only in the chase scenes. I take it you don't like that?
EAS: I f*cking hate it. It makes me dizzy. I look away each time they have shaking cameras on the big screen, or bullets going across the screen in all directions.
OS: Well, I can understand you a bit. I've just turned 33, and I already notice that my eyes won't compensate for everything. And I'm getting new reading glasses every two years. But our movie is definitely made for the teen generation. They are playing video games all the time. They type with one thumb faster than I can with ten fingers. They love custom ringtones. Heck, they are listening to hip-hop all the time! We give them a film with everything they like. We just have to.
EAS: Alright. On a more pleasant note, you spoke of two scenes with Shatner/April. What is the second (later?) one?
OS: The second one is one of my absolute favorites. It is several years after the decommissioning of the old Enterprize. Shatner, as Grand Admiral April and some 90 years old by now, is present on the new Enterprise (NCC-1701 that is) on her maiden journey that almost goes awry. A definite déjà vu, as it brings to mind the events from the 'Generations' movie when Kirk was sucked into the Nexus. And this time Shatner as April has a decisive role -again- in getting the ship launched safely.
EAS: Oh, I don't really know if I should love or hate this tip of the hat. Can you be more precise? What is Shatner/April doing to save the ship?
OS: Okay. Heavy spoiler time! It has something to do with a modification of the deflector array. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But this time the special twist is that originally young Kirk volunteers. But April knocks out Kirk and does the job for him. Figure that: Old Shatner saves future Captain Kirk's life! I'm telling you way too much, really.
EAS: How was Shatner's interaction with the other actors? And does he have a scene together with Nimoy?
OS: No scene with Nimoy, unfortunately. As far as I know they didn't even meet on the set. But Bill's interaction with George was great.
EAS: George... Takei?
OS: Yes. He's in the movie too. I almost forgot to tell you. He is playing another admiral. Not Sulu's ancestor because that would have been way too contrived. His character's name is Kotsulu Tulife Kobayashi.
EAS: Let me guess. The inventor of the Kobayashi Maru scenario?
OS: Close but not quite right. It will be explained in 'Star Trek' how the test got its name though.
EAS: He was the first to pass the test?
OS: I thought you knew your canon. ;-) Of course we stick to the facts, and Kirk is the first to succeed. But the nature of the test was somewhat different in the early 23rd century. Not the Klingons were on the opposite side.
EAS: But who?
OS: Kobayashi was the first to run into that species, and the encounter left visible marks on his body (Takei looks quite scary in our movie). There is a cue in his first names.
EAS: I noticed the two anagrams. Tell me this isn't true.
OS: It will absolutely make sense. Trust me. We can't simply ignore what happened in 'First Contact' and in that one Enterprise episode, 'Rejuvenation' [actually, "Regeneration"]. And for what it's worth, Nero will remain the only actual threat in the movie. Don't be worried.
EAS: One more thing: Takei and Shatner. From what I read they do not get along well.
OS: I can tell you. Don't believe everything you read or what Shatner says in his video messages. They are the best pals.
EAS: On a different note, could it be that the additional scenes filmed with Mr. Shatner were the true reason why the release date of the movie was postponed?
OS: No. It wouldn't have been possible after the production had been wrapped. The decision to get Shatner for the movie was made much earlier by Damon, JJ and Alex [Kurtzman]. Actually, he [Shatner] called up JJ [Abrams] almost every day ever since he knew there would be a new movie! The move of the release date has to do something with the post processing.
EAS: That makes me curious. Can you tell more?
OS: Not really. Just keep in mind that, in modern scifi movies, 80 to 90% of all footage is genuinely digital or is digitally altered in some fashion. Recently our post processing wizards are able to tweak a few variables, and we may wind up with a different film.
EAS: A different film?
OS: Can't tell you anything more. Just take everything you see in the trailers with a grain of salt. You know, they were made for a broader audience than your gang of geeks. We need to draw them into the theaters. Where we will show a Trek movie that blends perfectly with everything established so far (also visually). And I mean perfectly. I saw the reworked film last month.
EAS: Wow. You mean, there is a new version of the film coming to the theaters? Not the one that would have been shown in December 2008? You mean, even the ship and the sets that I complained about may look different in that final product?
OS: *lol* I read your articles. You will have a shitload of work on your hands once our 'Star Trek' is out (which will be two days earlier in Germany than in the US so that may buy you some time).
EAS: Come on. How different will it be, compared to the trailers we know?
OS: I really really can't tell you more. Only that much: In advanced VFX composition anything such as a starship is only a vector object with a skin that is being moved across the screen. And the bridge (although we definitely built a full size set) is ultimately reduced to an animated backdrop. It can be customized after the filming. At least that's how Fred Batica of the CGI company that worked for us explained to me. I myself am the organizational interface to those guys but I'm only a layman in the technical matters.
But in simple terms it is a new 3D technique called 'Natural Graphical Interchange and Enhancement of Film' (NGIEF). 'Star Trek' is the first full-length feature film to take advantage of it. If we gave you the NGIEF data of 'Star Trek' you could theoretically create a completely new look on your computer with a bit of artistic talent. That is, if your computer can handle some 200 terabytes of data!
EAS: I must say I'm frightened. Sure, there will be always the one original version. But you need just enough computer capacity and a few CG artists and you can produce new versions of existing movies in no time? Or, with even a lot less of an effort, edit things you don't like?
OS: Essentially, yes. But there is already something like that with the digital remastering of Star Trek and other series. It is the future to do even more to produce custom tailored movies and TV, and ultimately to let the viewers customize everything themselves. And until that can come true, we (or rather, the people who are then in charge of it) can issue BDs not just with different languages but with somewhat different movies. One romantic, one action-loaded. Or, in our case, one for the Bernds and nerds and one for the ordinary crowd.
EAS: Now that you have told me so many secrets would I ask too much if I wanted so see the new Enterprise? I mean the ship that will really appear on the big screen?
OS: The trailer Enterprise (designed by Ryan Church) *is* the final design in one way or another, as I have explained above. In one alternate version of the movie. But if you want to know how our 'mainstream' Enterprise looks like, you probably already know it.
EAS: You mean, it is the original, the true, the one and only Jefferies Enterprise?
OS: Sorry to disappoint you. At least until the Multiverse Blu-rays are released. ;-) No. Actually the theater version will show another 'upgraded' design in most countries. It is the Enterprise by Gabe Koerner (sorry I don't have umlaute on this keyboard)!
EAS: And I thought you couldn't surprise me still more. Let me guess, the occasional pictures of Köerner's "wrong" design in place of the "right" (Church) ship were part of a viral marketing campaign?
OS: Congratulations. You begin to understand the JJ way.
EAS: And which variant of the Köerner Enterprise will we see in the movie?
EAS: Yes. One has a quite heavily ribbed secondary hull.
OS: Oh, now I know what you mean. Yes, the greebly one it is. JJ digs this design because of its 'Battlestar Galactica' feel. He even suggested to modify the lettering accordingly.
EAS: To "USS Galactica"?
OS: No, don't be foolish. To 'Battlestar USS Enterprise', of course.
EAS: He's a bit crazy, isn't he?
OS: He'd say the same about you.
EAS: How and where will the Church Enterprise appear?
OS: In the Latin American market, in Russia, East Germany, and most African countries. Oh, and in Iceland and Ireland.
EAS: I can't make any sense of that. You've lost me.
OS: It would make sense if I showed you the market study. Fans with considerably lower income or with high debts prefer the Church Enterprise.
EAS: You mean it has a certain loser appeal?
OS: Dunno. I can only repeat what the study says and I don't want to speculate about the reasons. But in a way, yes. None of us was really happy with Ryan's Enterprise. Incidentally we discovered the work of Gabe in the web, and we decided to let not just him but also his fans work for us.
EAS: You mentioned "Multiverse Blu-rays". I assume "multiverse" means that these discs will contain a version that would be visually fitting with the established history?
OS: I don't have too much to do with the disc release. But 'multiverse' can mean a lot. Star Trek is not the only science fiction universe.
EAS: Crossover... Now that would be horrible!!
OS: But that's one segment of the market. And a steadily growing one, as I gather from blogs and internet forums.
EAS: You are hanging around in the wrong forums.
OS: There is nothing 'wrong' with crossover fans. In fact, these people always provide fresh views, without the usual bias of Trek-only or Wars-only devotees.
EAS: If you say so. It is not my impression though. So you're implying that there is some sort of cross-over with Star Wars on the Blu-ray discs?
OS: It is one possibility that JJ is discussing with the developers. We still have a few months to go, so nothing is set in stone yet. But as you think you know JJ's predilections, you can give the answer yourself.
EAS: On a completely different note, how long is the movie?
OS: 178 minutes.
EAS: Three hours?!?
OS: Yes. We had the chance to incorporate the best computer generated effects, and the prices have dropped considerably in recent years, with one fully digital minute currently just costing 12,000 dollars. We included scenes such as a shuttlepod ride around the new Köerner or Church Enterprise (as she has just been towed into space). Only that our scene is more than twice as long as the one in the first Trek movie that you are probably thinking of. Our film has starship pron galore!
EAS: So is there any major spoiler you didn't yet reveal?
OS: I am keeping a few secrets. ;-) But on a final note, you shouldn't expect everyone of the main cast to survive.
EAS: So which one of them will die? Pike?
OS: I didn't say that just one character dies. Pike won't. He will be bound to the wheelchair though.
EAS: Oh yes. How could I forget. So who is going to die? Old Spock?
OS: Spock will return home for good.
EAS: Safely to 24th century Vulcan I suppose?
OS: No. That's not his home! ;-) And I won't tell you more because that would be the biggest spoiler of all.
EAS: He is not Vulcan?
OS: You are saying that. No comment.
EAS: So something about him is not as it seems? Is he a Romulan?
OS: He is half human.
EAS: And the other half?
OS: Is alien.
EAS: And not Vulcan?
OS: You promise it is the last question about him?
OS: He's not Vulcan but close enough.
EAS: Oh I see. And Nero is his...
OS: No further questions, please. Case closed.
EAS: Olaf, one final question, not about Spock, but a very important one I think: Won't you risk your job or a lawsuit by telling me all this?
OS: I don't currently have a job anyway. And regarding the nondisclosure JJ has set up a very special policy. You already mentioned yourself he's done a lot of viral marketing, and I'm afraid to tell you that now you're a part of it. But seriously, I asked whether I could inform the fans in advance. In a few days he will officially announce Shatner's appearance (there will be yet another trailer!). It was our wish to tell our most faithful fans in advance, as a little courtesy.
EAS: Well, thanks a lot! It is an honor, although I don't consider myself to be an avid fan of the new movie.
OS: Go and watch it! If you don't like the premise as you keep saying, you will radically change your opinion after seeing the re-edited thing. Nimoy still knows to wield the lirpa. Shatner is simply fabulous, as is everyone else among the cast. Pine, Quinto and the rest are the most talented cast I have ever seen on the soundstage! And JJ is a directing god.
EAS: What are your plans for the future?
OS: I will soon join the crew of a new Canadian TV show called 'Feu contrite'. That will be an opportunity to polish up my French. Or french up my Polish?
EAS: *lol* A bientôt et bonne chance!
OS: Merci beaucoup!
Wow. I'm blown away. A few days ago I didn't even know his name, and now Olaf Sporil, the guy who did some important work for the new movie, has told me much more than I would have ever wanted to know. I will stay in touch with him. So if you want to be spoiled even more and if you have any questions I should ask him, please put them into the contact form.