William Shatner Explains The UnXplained

Science fiction icon William Shatner offers plausible reasoning for the phenomena behind The UnXplained.

William Shatner The UnXPlained
Photo: History Channel

The UnXplained will premiere on History on July 11, confounding viewers with impossible tales improbably told. But the most inexplicable thing about the paranormal-and-beyond series is its host. William Shatner is not just an actor or a star, he is almost public domain. His breakthrough character, Captain James T. Kirk, was recognized and claimed by popular culture, the counterculture, and the subculture of Star Trek aficionados. 

Shatner started his career as a workaholic actor who never said no. He took big and small parts on great TV shows and movies, and awful ones. He’d go on to continue his work in popular TV series with appearances in indie and B-movie films which have become cult classics. Who can forget his creepy crawl up the basement stairs in Kingdom of the Spiders or his pentagram brand and dis-gouged eyes in Devil’s Rain? In their own way, they are as influential as Star Trek on a generation of low budget filmmakers. 

As a recording artist, he defied odds. Even Spock, with his ultrasensitive Vulcan ears, would be hard pressed to find a logical correlation between Shatner’s first album, The Transformed Man, and his persistent appearances in pop charts. There is no explanation.

History’s The UnXplained explores mysteries with eerily familiar coincidences. An escape from Havana, Cuba, carried out by a man hiding in the frozen wheel retraction compartment on an intercontinental flight, feels like classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” A survivor of a scuttled World War II era submarine survived an equal measure of chance as the crew members of Star Trek‘s “Balance of Terror,” itself based on the WWII naval suspense film The Enemy Below

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Shatner has spent much of his career in the outer limits of entertainment but maintains, in interviews, he’s never actually experienced a paranormal incident. But this is the man who found the strength to walk away from the cursed fortune teller machine on The Twilight Zone. When he performed on Broadway, he dared do it in a show called Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It, and he did it as a solo act.

William Shatner took the com in an interview with Den of Geek. His ever-inquisitive mind offered more questions for each answer on things which remain unexplained.

Den of Geek: I really enjoyed the three episodes of The UnXplained I got for the season. I didn’t get “The Truth About UFOs” yet. Do they at all discuss the 1967 incident where the Enterprise was picked up on radar?

William Shatner: There is a phenomenon that I read about and suggested it since I didn’t know about it until I stumbled across it. I suggested it to the producers of the show, Kevin Burns, of The UnXplained, but I also put together an autobiographical album. During this coronavirus time, I worked with a composer in upstate New York, with a lyricist in New York City. I recorded a good number of the songs on my iPhone, here. It’s autobiographical. There is a phenomena that I suggested to both those people. To the lyricist, we discussed what the song would be, and to the producer of The UnXplained, what the magic of this phenomenon is. It’s called Fata Morgana. There’s a song we wrote called “Fata Morgana” and there is some activity on whether it’ll make an episode of The UnXplained.

Fata Morgana is the phenomenon of a layer of hot air inversion over cold air. In Los Angeles here, we get heat inversion quite often. That is where hot air traps the cold air underneath it. As a result, like it does in the ocean where different currents of different temperatures overlay each other, that sound and, in this case, sight, are reflected off these currents so that that layer of hot air acts like a mirror. Things that are going on on Earth a thousand miles away might be reflected, like a mirror, to someplace near you. You think you’re seeing something but it’s actually happening a thousand miles away or a hundred or next door. It is a phenomenon that has not been recognized until recently. It’s the explanation of mirage in the desert.

So, when you and I talk about UFOs and we see cameras taking pictures of entities that are going at speeds unknown by man, what in heaven’s name is that? Fata Morgana is a possible explanation. The song is about trying to explain things that we see that have no explanation: Ghosts, objects, things that are mysterious to us that might have a scientific explanation.

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When will this song come out?

Well, it’s an album that we’ve finished. I’ve got two albums. I’ve got a blues album which will be released by the end of the summer and then we’ll bring the other album out after that. We think it’s going to be accompanied by a book. So, it’ll be a book and an album together. It’s an autobiographical album. I don’t think it’s ever been done before. These are stories that happened in my life that the lyricist and I have talked about and made.

For example, I was in England approaching the Apollo Theater. I was there in London. I had a sold out audience on a Monday night at the Apollo Theater, 3,500 people. That afternoon, I’m in the hotel room resting, waiting to go on. In the hotel room, on television comes Boris Johnson who says, “What we had thought was herd immunity, we’re rescinding that and now no more than 10 or 15 people,” I forgot what he said, “can meet at one time.” That’s Monday afternoon and I have this theater filled with people in four or five hours.

Several hours later, I get in the car that takes me to the theater and I don’t know whether there’ll be anybody there or whether there’ll be 3,500 people there. I get in front of the curtain and I’m hearing a voice. When I stepped out, almost everybody who’d decided to come was there. A large number of people risked their lives to come and see me. We wrote a song called “Monday Night in London.”

I can’t wait to hear it. You’re Shakespearean trained. Do you think that William Shakespeare was as influential on how we see things like the paranormal and witchcraft as mystical writers?

What a fascinating thought. You just asked me something unique. What a great question. “Is this a dagger I see before me?” The concept of ghosts and visions and tears running down a painting and tears running down a statue, what is that phenomenon? It brings up the nature of reality. What is reality? Where are you right now?

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I’m in front of a computer.

You’re in front of the computer in an area in your house?


Do you know how a computer works? I mean, really works. I don’t mean you speak into it and you see an image and you can access knowledge. Do you know the mechanics of a computer? Could you make a computer?

No, I could not.

Nor could I. Nor could anybody but 10 people. It’s magical. You know this one, right? You slice a crystal and that crystal that vibrates here and another piece of the same crystal is vibrating 1,000 miles away at the same intensity. It’s the beginning of radio. Are you aware of that? Okay. Nobody’s ever explained how, faster than the speed of light, two crystals vibrate all that distance apart, but that’s radio. What is the magic? What is the fucking magic that a computer is issuing? And the crystal. Right in front of us, every day, right now, an unexplained miracle is happening right now that we have no explanation for. Why is the universe expanding and not contracting? We don’t even know what gravity is. There’s a law of gravity. It’s a basic law of nature, gravity. It doesn’t work in the universe. Why?

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These are fundamental mysteries. It’s as big a mystery, really, as is there a God and is there life after death. It’s inexplicable, so in some minor way we examine phenomena that have no explanation. How did this guy in a coma, as he comes out of the coma, become a piano player? What the hell is that? The mystery of the human brain, it’s as big a mystery as a vibrating crystal. It may very well be a vibrating crystal in that we’re electrically charged, anyway.

These profound things are exemplified by what is reality. What is your reality and my reality, they’re different. They may not be greatly different. We see the same object. But you’re seeing it differently than I am, colored by your filters. Literally colored by your eyes and figuratively colored by your experience. All our realities are different. Then, the question is how different can the extreme differences be in reality? Does that conjure up ghosts? Or, is that a Fata Morgana?

Has anyone ever asked you to hit them in the head so they could play the piano?

No. I’ve hit people on the head. They didn’t ask me to play the piano. They hit me back. Very strange behavior. 

Along those lines, I’ve asked everybody who can do it to hypnotize me and I’ve never been hypnotized. I’ve tried to have people hypnotize me again and again and I’ve never had it happen. You see these guys go snap their finger and five people go to sleep onstage? How is that possible? And yet, I have no explanation for that. That’s unexplained, as far as I’m concerned. 

Are all those five people playing a role? And why would they do that? Why wouldn’t one of them poke their head up and say, “See, I was only kidding! He paid us 50 bucks to act like this.” What a sensation that would be. And if the hypnotist is paying them off, he’s got to live in fear that somebody’s going to do that. So, he wouldn’t risk it. I want to fall asleep like those guys and go through the manifestations of the sensation of burning and acting in a peculiar fashion because he or she suggests it. That’s never happened.

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I agree with you and I envy people that are able to let it all go like that.

That’s the same with me. I envy, and yet part of me says, “It’s unreal. Why can’t they do it to me? Those people are faking,” the way you did and the way I would.

I loved the Houdini episode.

Houdini is incredible! I saw something on television last night. A magician doing something and there’s no explanation. It isn’t occupying your attention one way, disguising your eye and varying your attention so you don’t see the magic trick. This had nothing to do with that and there’s no explanation of how it happened. I’m sure there is, but I don’t know what it is.

What does the child in you want to believe is true? That he was an expert in his craft, he was really magic, or that he had a transporter?

Everything that you can imagine is real. You can make it real. You mentioned transporter. Can you take an entity and beam it somewhere? Well, yes, you can. They’ve done it already. On two electrical posts, they’ve beamed a molecule. But of course, we’re composed of billions upon billions of molecules. And what is it you’re transporting? Are you physically transporting the molecule? Or, do you bring its qualities, as well? I don’t know. Everything that you can imagine, that we, little insecure bereft human beings, everything we can imagine we can bring into being if we just apply ourselves long enough.

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You’re a performer. Houdini was a performer. Could you give that kind of a performance if you studied and mastered those tricks?

I would love to be able to do magic tricks, plural, and especially, I don’t even want to call it a trick, an event in which the explanation is paranormal.

After hosting the episode on bizarre rituals, how much research do you think went into The Devil’s Rain?

A lot. In my mind, it’s the mind/body connection. We know that it exists. We don’t quite know why it exists. I’ve been reading about the vagus nerve. Do you know about the vagus nerve? Behind your throat. It’s a means of communication. The means of communication between your brain and your body is many-fold.

We know about the central nervous system. What has not been talked about a lot is the vagus nerve behind your throat and these little nerves that extend all through your body, connecting every organ. It’s a whole other system that seems to work on vibration. With vibration, you activate this part of your body. You never hear about it. I’ve just been reading about it recently. What’s the explanation behind that? I don’t know.

Do you ever use sense memory?

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Absolutely. Sense memory exists because your whole body has memory. We know each cell has the intelligence of the other cells so that the cells of your brain, I believe, have the same information as the cells in your left toe. All your cells have the same intelligence. And so, you have emotional memory, you have physical memory, because the body remembers more, better, than the brain. We know that the sense of smell evokes memory better than any other cells. So, why not sense of touch and sense of sight? “I’ve seen this before. I’ve been here,” and you have, somewhere, some time. Something like it. Sense memory is absolute.

But sometimes we get a sense memory and déjà vu, which you think, “Wait a minute. Was this in another life?” because something, the color of the sky, the sound of something, or you’re next to somebody, some cue has given your body a reason to think this has happened before. It did, but you’re just not aware of it.

Have you ever gotten a sense memory from an earlier performance? And is a performance just as real as something that you’ve done in action as a person?

There are times in a performance in front of an audience, in front of an audience is the key, when I have been absolutely at one with the audience. Some mysterious connection happens between me and an audience. In a one man show that I was doing, prior to the coronavirus, I would sometimes experiment with the audience and work up a moment in which I send my entertainment spirit, my being, out into the audience and want theirs back. The audience and I work at it to when the moment of this connection is palpable.

The audience feels it. I asked them, “Do you feel it? Do you know what I mean?” In that moment, that spiritual thing happens. That can happen in a performance where the lines, the words, the intention, the emotional meaning, the joke, we’re absolutely one. That’s the best. And then I’ve done that enough to recognize it in myself. Something I’ve done, I don’t know what it is, is able to make a connection with the audience. It’s magical. For example, you’re listening intently. Over these phone wires, I can hear you intrigued as hell. I’ve captured you as my audience.

Oh, yes, absolutely. Leonard Nimoy and Zach Quinto both hosted In Search Of, but they’re out of their Vulcan minds. What do you bring to a show like this that a science officer doesn’t?

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What I bring to it, and what I’ve attempted to do with my wraparounds, is two things. One is my total involvement in it, so that I’m looking askance and yet I’m believing. I’m trying to tread, at different times, the audiences’ feelings. Like, “Oh, shit. This can’t be true. Oh, my God. Maybe it is true, or, “You’ve got to listen to this, because I’ve had…” I’m sort of in between that. I’m not just saying, “And a strange thing happened. People believe. It’s not academic.” I’m trying to actually involve you in it.

The second thing is that I did the first time I got onstage with this background. This background is giant screens. They’re 20 feet high and 10 feet wide. There are three of them. They’re giant screens playing film. As a performer, I’m sitting in front. As a performer, when I first started, I looked behind me and I saw something happening in the screen. That giant screen is what is used in movies for trick things so that the actors in front of the screen, they’ve already filmed what’s happening on the screen and then the actor reacts to what’s happening on the screen. I started reacting to what was happening on the screen, like, “Oh, shit. I hope it’s not coming towards me,” sort of thing and got a laugh from the crew. I realized I was on to something.

So now I’m taking into account, and we’re beginning to film for it, what’s happening behind me. So, if there’s a curse and there’s a dance and I’m looking back a little apprehensively, I’m in the scene and I’m telling you, “My God, there’s a curse.” So, I’m totally involved and I’m hoping that I’m involving you. It seems to be successful.

Everyone knows about the historic interracial TV kiss on Star Trek‘s “Plato’s Stepchildren”, but I recently re-watched the 1962 Roger Corman movie The Intruder. At the time you were doing it, and I know that you said you would have done it for free, did you know you were taking that kind of stand?

Oh, yeah. We went down South. We were in Cairo, Illinois. They pronounce it Care-oh. At the time, it was the toughest city, the most dangerous city, in the United States at that time. It’s right on the Mississippi River. It was at the time of integration. A large segment of the population didn’t want the white kids to go to school with the Black kids. I don’t have to tell you there was murder and mayhem and we were in the midst of it. 

It was well known that we were there to make a movie about integration. I had escape paths. I knew that if something happened at the motel we were all staying at, I was out this window in the bathroom and into the cornfields that surrounded us. We had police protection all the time. We knew what we were doing.

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By the way, that is one of the scariest performances I’ve ever seen. You’re so smiley in that movie.

It was an interesting role to do.

The show covers the unexplained and one of the most inexplicable things in recent years is conspiracy theories. Do you think it’s possible we can really be ruled by some sort of congregation of extraterrestrial reptilian overlords or Gorns?

Well, there are two elements to that question. One is conspiracy and the other is aliens of some kind guiding in our destiny. The conspiracies: We seem to need to be able to relate things that are a little weird to humans, a little different than are naturally in our ken, like people wanting freedom who say they haven’t got freedom, and the people who do have the freedom can’t imagine they don’t have the freedom, and therefore disbelieve it.

We in the States here, we white people, can’t really imagine. We can pretend we imagine “Black lives matter,” but we can’t put ourselves… And I’m Jewish. I know what anti-Semitism is. I lived with anti-Semitism as part of my upbringing. So, I know what it is to see a sign saying, “No Jews allowed,” which is the equivalent of no Blacks allowed, and feel the shame of: “There’s something wrong with me because I’m not allowed there.” 

That’s diminished a lot, anti-Semitism in Canada and in the States. You don’t see signs like that anymore, although in the boardroom it may be the same. But African Americans live with that 24 hours a day. We can’t imagine what it’s like. So, we spin conspiracy theories to explain it because otherwise, there’s no explanation.

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People think that the coronavirus pandemic, which has happened all through mankind, now you’re getting people who say, “Oh, it’s part of a plot.” You say, “A plot by whom?” “Oh, the overlords. The people who are guiding all our destiny. They’re doing it either part of an untold plot or it’s part of a plot to disparage Trump.” I mean, the bizarreness of the conspiracy theories is only equaled by the bizarreness of people willing to believe it.

And yet, it’s an explanation for something in their lives that is less than wonderful. Something in their lives needs an explanation. They need an explanation why things aren’t going better in their life. They need an explanation why they’re homeless. They need an explanation why they don’t have the riches they see on the ads on television. 

People are saying, “Oh, yeah, I need a shade on my house so I’ve got this shade,” or, “You need this furniture. You need this bed in your house,” and these 40 million people barely have a bed or a room to put the bed in. They’re wondering why the rest of the people, the 300 million, have a reason to buy that bed, put it in that room, and we 40 million, we don’t have it. There must be an explanation and the explanation’s got to be, “It’s not my fault.”

The UnXplained season 3, episode 1, “The Greatest Escapes,” premieres July 11 at 9 p.m. on History.