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Full Speed Ahead

From Captain Kirk on "Star Trek" to Denny Crane on "Boston Legal," William Shatner has played the macho man role with no regrets.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 1)

It's the ultimate on-screen example of not only an ego-driven, self-loving boor wanting to hear his own voice, but to hear his own name as well and Shatner offers up the "Denny Crane" name gag as a great example of how he and Kelley feed off each other.

"[David] will see something I do and write to that. An example of that is using my name, Denny Crane. I began to use [the utterance of the name] 'Denny Crane' as an exclamation point, an everything, a flicker of a taste of what's in store. A probe for approval. Name the emotion and it's like a card, a 'how do you feel about this?' It's a litmus test. So [as] I began to do that, he began to write for it. It became something between us.

"I read," Shatner continues, "what he's written and see where he's pointing the character and try and invest the things he writes with a solidarity, an anchoring point, so that the buffoonery is serious and the serious parts are buffoonery...there is a continuity within my contribution to this thing."

Certainly, two of the things that Shatner's contributed to "Boston Legal" are additional Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Shatner took home the Emmy award last year for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series—he was nominated for the award again this year—and he also snagged the 2005 Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The role of Denny Crane was good to him previously as well; in 2004, while still guest-starring in "The Practice," Shatner won the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for the role he was to keep making his own in "Boston Legal."

Shatner gives much of the award credit back to Kelley and D'Elia for the writing and direction, but also offers that he's having fun on the set, something he's rarely said about prior productions.

And, according to a few of his co-stars, he's right; the ensemble cast is having some fun. Mark Valley, the actor who plays the uptight, square-jawed (square, period) attorney Brad Chase, and Rene Auberjonois, the veteran actor who plays the oft-exasperated senior partner Paul Lewiston, both describe Shatner as a "professional" on the set, with the younger Valley referring to Shatner (and Shatner's role as Captain Kirk) as "iconic."

Shatner claims that at least part of the fun he's experiencing on-set is simply due to playing off co-star James Spader. While Kelley has written their characters as polar opposites in many ways—Spader's Alan Shore is a left-leaning Democrat, opposed to the death penalty who, often to his own dismay, takes on the problems of the little guy who can't always afford to pay; while Shatner's Crane is a money-motivated, beef-eating, gun-toting Republican who, when he can't catch a fish via normal means, shoots it—the two male characters share a common love of the law, beautiful women and closing the day out with a stiff drink and a fine cigar.

In what is now the traditional ending to each episode, Shore and Crane wander out to the spacious balcony off of Crane's office and, Scotch and cigar in hand, rehash the high points or lessons learned of the previous 60 minutes.

The wrapping up of each show this way, insists Shatner, just evolved naturally after the first episode aired. A lot of cigars have been lit since then, including a couple—or 10—that Shatner would like to forget.

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