“Hi nerds,” Brad Paisley said as he addressed the crowd Wednesday night (Feb. 12) at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. “They made fun of us when we were growing up watching these and now we rule the world.”
The all-ages audience cheered Paisley’s remark. They weren’t at a country music concert, but were gathered to watch a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a 1982 science fiction classic starring veteran actor William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk and Ricardo Montalbán as his nemesis Khan. Following the film, longtime friends Paisley and Shatner entertained the crowd with a spirited dialogue that covered everything from their friendship to Shatner’s acting career to how the actor narrowly avoided getting a speeding ticket while dressed in his Star Trek uniform.
“I’m so thrilled to introduce somebody that is the most interesting human being I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something,” Paisley said before welcoming Shatner to the stage. “He is so full of life and so charismatic. You’re gonna get to ask him anything you want tonight. You know him. You love him. He’s amazing.”
“It’s embarrassing. That film was made 35 years ago and then I come out,” the 88-year-old actor told the crowd as he took the stage, and in a self-deprecating fashion proceeded to tell a story about how he was buying an airline ticket and the agent looked at the credit card then looked at him, and said “Is that you?!!!”
Shatner began sharing the backstory of how the film was made after director Robert Wise was approached about working on The Wrath of Khan but was hesitant to take on the project until he went home and discussed it with his wife. She was a huge Star Trek fan and encouraged him to do it.
At one point during the story, he was trying to recall the name of Orson Welles’ most famous film, when Paisley piped up and said Citizen Kane. Shatner looked at him and said, “I can barely see you under that hat.” The audience erupted in laughter as Paisley took off his trademark cowboy hat and replaced it with a ball cap.
As Shatner delivered tasty tidbits and shared behind the scenes stories, the audience hung on every word. At one point, he was talking about the special effects and couldn’t remember Douglas Trumbull’s name. Several people shouted it out from the audience. “Yes, that’s him,” Shatner said as the audience laughed. “He was a genius!”
The veteran actor talked about the lackluster response to the first film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and how The Wrath of Khan saved the franchise. “The Wrath of Khan was so successful that all these other editions of Star Trek came about as a result of the success of The Wrath of Khan,” he said. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
No matter the subject, Shatner is an excellent raconteur and had the audience in the palm of his hand the entire night, but the best moments came from seeing the camaraderie amongst the two friends. “I love Brad Paisley,” Shatner said as the audience cheered. “I love his family. I love everything about the Paisley family. I love their house too, by the way. And I love their cooking. We had a good dinner last night.”
“Yeah, we didn’t cook that, but it was great,” Paisley quipped, and then told the audience about their evening and how Shatner had put on the virtual reality goggles and played games with his sons Huck and Jasper. “It was amazing. He put on VR goggles and did ‘Star Trek Bridge Crew’ for the first time,” Paisley said of Shatner playing the game. “The other kids who were online playing didn’t know he was going to do that. They were playing with Captain Kirk.”
“Those goggle things are incredible technology,” Shatner added.
“But you still crashed the Enterprise,” Paisley revealed as the audience laughed.
“Yeah, but you can always build another Enterprise.”
When Paisley agreed and recalled when they had blown up the Enterprise in the third film, Shatner looked surprised and said, “I can’t believe you even know that.”
Paisley responded, “I know way more than you do about this stuff.”
Shatner admitted that was likely true because he doesn’t like to watch himself and has never really seen his films or television series. “I never watched,” he says, “so whatever you know is far superior to anything I know.”
Paisley admitted he was in third grade when The Wrath of Khan came out. “Oh my God, Brad! Geez! You were in third grade when I was in this film,” Shatner asked incredulously. “You had to say that here in front of all these people?”
“I remember it being life-changing,” Paisley interjects.
“You were nine-years-old and it was life changing,” Shatner asked with a laugh.
The country icon went on to explain that he’d had pneumonia in third grade and had to spend two weeks in bed. He watched the movie every day. “I think I speak for everybody in here that it opened our eyes to how great science fiction could be on the screen in a different way than something like Star Wars because Star Wars was more fantasy. This was an idea of the path of humanity and where we could be going.”
“That’s the truth,” Shatner added. “Star Trek, at its best, told human stories with something behind it that made you think. The whole thing brought you into the cast and crew. Star Trek was something you watched because you loved the characters instead of seeing flying things shooting other flying things.”
Taking a shot at Star Wars’ famous space battles, Shatner asked Paisley if he liked seeing flying things shooting other flying things. Paisley admitted he did and revealed he was a Star Wars fan too. “How did you get this job?” Shatner asked. To which Paisley replied, “No one else would do it.”
Such good-natured banter continued all through the night, with the two friends regaling the audience with stories and even offering up a song when Paisley picked up his guitar and he and Shatner performed the duet “Real,” which Paisley wrote and they recorded together for Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been. (Paisley can also be heard on Shatner’s upcoming blues album.)
As the night wound down, Paisley pulled out cards with questions that had been submitted by the audience and Shatner gamely fielded questions about everything from his acting roles to whether he wore boxers or briefs. He spoke affectionately about his friendship with co-stars DeForrest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy of the USS Enterprise) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), and shared with the audience his off stage passions for horses and fast cars.
He concluded by sharing a hilarious story about one early morning he had been driving out to Vasquez Rocks, a California location where they were filming Star Trek. He had asked the director if he could take his uniform home and wear it to the set in the morning so it would save time. He’d be dressed and ready when he got there. Well on the way to work, he got pulled over for speeding. He described the imposing California Highway Patrol officer who asked for his license and then asked him to get out of the car. Of course, he was dressed as Capt. Kirk. Without a word, the officer returned his license and just walked away. Shatner says with the cop wearing his sunglasses, he couldn’t see his eyes or read what he was thinking. He had no idea what was about to happen. Suddenly the officer threw his hand up in the Vulcan salute and uttered Mr. Spock’s famous words, “Live long and prosper.”
Told in Shatner’s inimitable style, it was a funny anecdote that capped a thoroughly entertaining evening. Shatner and Paisley exited the stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.