William Shatner Getting Typecast From Star Trek Was Part Of The Plan

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

william shatner star trek

A common problem that many celebs face is getting typecast, which turns early successful roles into an acting albatross that threatens their careers. Few people understand this problem quite as much as the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series, but its most prominent actor didn’t mind when it happened to him. In an interview from decades ago, William Shatner revealed that if he got typecast as his Star Trek captain, “a man of action,” he would be perfectly fine with that.

Typecasting Haunted The Original Series

Shortly before Star Trek: The Motion Picture brought Kirk and his famous crew back for their first big screen adventure, a Playboy feature revealed (among other things) how the careers of different actors from The Original Series had been going.

While he didn’t specifically blame typecasting, Dr. McCoy actor De Forest Kelley (who had previously been typecast as a Western villain before his time on Star Trek) complained “the stuff offered to me after the series ended was crap,” causing him to more or less retire just as his Star Trek character tried to do. 

Leonard Nimoy Famously Fought Against It

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Conversely, Spock actor Leonard Nimoy had quite a bit of success as an actor, writer, and even musician in the years after The Original Series ended. Nonetheless, he worried quite a bit about being typecast, famously releasing a book called I Am Not Spock. On the subject of typecasting and how it could affect his career, William Shatner was (as so often happened on Star Trek) the opposite of Nimoy.

The Original Series Became Popular After The Cancelation

In an old interview, William Shatner was very philosophical about typecasting, noting that “there was less danger of being typecast the year after Star Trek was canceled than there is now, because of the increasing popularity of the series.”

What he is referring to is the ironic fact that The Original Series was originally canceled because the show had trouble finding much of a mainstream audience. In syndicated reruns, however, the show became a major hit among many audiences, including college students who enjoyed the social issues and other big ideas the show frequently explored. 

William Shatner Went On To Play Diverse Characters

Continuing his train of thought, William Shatner revealed why he didn’t necessarily mind the prospect of being typecast based on the growing success of Star Trek. “Captain Kirk is a leading man, a man of action,” he said. “So if I’m typecast as a man of action, that’s not such a bad way to go.”

Looking back at William Shatner’s career, it seems that he was only half-right about Star Trek typecasting affecting his career. On the one hand, he went on to have some very different, very successful leading roles, including as the title character on T.J. Hooker and as Denny Crane on Boston Legal, a performance which earned the veteran actor two Emmy awards and six nominations. 

Shatner And Kirk Became One In The Public Consciousness

On the other hand, the immense success of the Star Trek films really cemented the public’s idea that Shatner and Kirk were one and the same, and he increasingly popped up in smaller guest roles rather than leading roles. This includes great cameos in Dodgeball and Miss Congeniality, and he is captivatingly weird playing himself in the overlooked comedy Free Enterprise.

William Shatner Has Had An Incredible Career

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Regardless of whether the typecasting helped or hurt his career, we can definitively say that William Shatner has done an amazing job of leveraging his Star Trek success into a killer career. Sure, he may have stepped on a few (okay, more than a few) of his colleagues’ toes along the way. But can you really blame a guy who went to space for looking down on everyone?

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