Just try keeping up with William Shatner. In the past year, the 74-year-old actor has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Denny Crane on The Practice and its spin-off, Boston Legal. He's also reprised his Miss Congeniality role for the sequel, released a CD and — yes, there's more — played a little practical joke. OK, it wasn't so little. Along with his merry band of producers, Shatner punked the town of Riverside, Iowa, into believing he was shooting a sci-fi film there. In fact, it was all a pretense to capture the candid reactions of its starstruck residents for Invasion Iowa, a reality miniseries that's airing tonight through Friday (9 pm/ET on Spike TV). Here, TVGuide.com debriefs the erstwhile Captain Kirk on his most recent mission.
TVGuide.com: In the first episode, you're chatting with locals at a diner and you take a bite out of one guy's hamburger. You had this look on your face like, "Am I gonna be socked in the face for doing this?"
William Shatner: [Laughs] Right! That's the beauty of Invasion Iowa. We, as actors, did not know how the scene was going to play out. I'm looking at this guy — he was kind of weathered and he had hardened knuckles and hands — and I thought, "This guy could kick me in the b---s before I walk two steps and he'd stomp me..." On the other hand, there's a camera on me. It's time to be brave.
Shatner: Well, I was, but also, a lot of that, I'm sorry to say... is me. [Laughs] TVG: Is it safe to say that you normally wouldn't take a bite out of someone else's burger?
Shatner: That's pretty safe to say... unless the burger was really good. TVG: Was there a point where you felt guilty about doing this?
Shatner: Oh, tremendous guilt. Every night, we'd come and spend three hours in front of the camera saying, "Oh, my god, I feel so guilty. I cannot believe it. I'm falling in love with these people and they think I'm such-and-such and I'm not." There were actors who cried out of the pain of lying to them. TVG: Sounds like you were unexpectedly affected by this experience. Was there one moment that particularly touched you?
Shatner: There's an old fellow in the coffee shop who took me out to the grave where his wife was buried because he [had become] my friend. He's 89 years old; he's dying. So over this vista of the Iowa fields where this graveyard was, he says [to me], "This is where I'm joining my wife." He starts to cry, and I start to cry, and I tell him I know exactly what it is to lose a wife. TVG: He was talking to you as a person, not "William Shatner."
Shatner: Everybody became like buddies and that was the pain of the last day when we had to tell them it was all a gag. TVG: How did it go?
Shatner: Pretty good. I had found out what their dreams were, and we were able to help them financially with their dreams. We gave our cue-card lady the money to pay for the lawyers to adopt her grandson. It's unbelievable. We gave the town $100,000. They don't know what to do with it! They're going to build a [community] center. It's one miracle after another, this show. And I think it's gonna be a fascinating time for everybody to watch. TVG: Are you a good sport if someone plays a joke on you?
Shatner: Um, yes... as long as I'm forewarned. [Laughs] TVG: Of course, you chose Riverside, Iowa, because they've designated themselves "the future birthplace of James T. Kirk." UPN's Enterprise prequel was canceled recently. Any words of wisdom for your fellow captain, Scott Bakula?
Shatner: You've got the money in the bank, Scott. Spend it well. And the next job is around the corner. TVG: Might you, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks and Kate Mulgrew — all the former Trek captains — take him out to dinner or something?
Shatner: We would like to. It's interesting how these people have become friends of mine even though I didn't work with them. Patrick Stewart is a really dear friend. We talked on the phone just the other day. He's in England doing a play. I worked for Kate's husband when he ran for governor of Ohio. Rene Auberjonois [who was on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine] has become a real pal as a result of being on Boston Legal. And Leonard Nimoy is probably my best friend. There's a whole coterie of people I hold on to from Star Trek. TVG: On Boston Legal, your character Denny Crane has early signs of some sort of dementia or cognitive issues. Is this emotionally tough to play?
Shatner: I'm very much aware and very fearful of dementia. My father-in-law died of Alzheimer's. I saw that happen. But the mystery is, is [Denny] really that way or is he just pretending to be that way? And that's the mystery I play.