Wil Wheaton on Star Trek: TNG Blu-rays, and Wesley the Time Lord?

We chat with Wil Wheaton about the remastery of Star Trek: TNG for Blu-ray, being a geek on the set of a sci-fi show, and the one way he would want to play Wesley Crusher again.

Seamus Byrne Editor, Australia & Asia
Seamus Byrne is CNET's Editor for Australia and Asia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Preferably all at the same time.
Seamus Byrne
6 min read

CNET Australia spoke to actor and all-round geek Wil Wheaton about the Blu-ray release of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Wil Wheaton at San Diego ComicCon, California.(CominCon 2010 image by Cameron Yee, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wil Wheaton is a geek cultural icon. The child star of cult classic films, including Stand By Me and Toy Soldiers, and even a cameo in The Last Starfighter, he is best remembered as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. More recently, he's been found playing himself in Big Bang Theory and in the cult web series The Guild. He's also known as a passionate gamer and advocate for all things science and geek culture.

With the recent painstaking remastery and release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray, we had a chat with Wheaton about his memories of being a geek on the set of a sci-fi show, his thoughts on the remastery and his dream of appearing on Doctor Who.

So, how did you feel when you discovered that in this Blu-ray edition, Q would shoot first and Picard would scream "Noooo!" at the end of "All Good Things"?

[Laughs] In an interview I gave earlier, I was asked about that dividing line between Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans, and I said that the line doesn't exist in my mind, and that we're all fans of nerdy stuff that we love. But I would like very much to believe, and in fact, I'm fairly positive that if Gene Roddenberry were alive today, he would not be doing to Star Trek what George Lucas has done to Star Wars.

[We spoke before Disney had bought Lucasfilm.]

What has been the hardest part in being a geek who just happens to be an actor, and who just happened to be in a sci-fi series?

I grew up in an era when being a geek was really hard, because we didn't have the ability to reach out to other people like us like we do today. I was weak and weird and awkward and uncomfortable and really nerdy. One of the reasons I try real hard as an adult to encourage kids who like nerdy stuff — who like math, engineering, science and reading, and all those kinds of things that were discouraged by popular culture in the '70s and '80s — is because I would very much like to help make a world where the things that I think make the world better, are celebrated. Every chance I get to talk about all the reasons it's great to be a geek, I take it!

Wesley drinks a non-synthaholic beverage.
(Credit: CBS; Paramount)

These days, when someone is on set, it's easy to grab a phone and shoot the breeze with friends and fans. How would you geek out on set back in the day, apart from reading some books?

When I was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I had a Game Boy, but I didn't take it with me to the set, and I don't know why. What I did have were board games. They were nerdy board games, tabletop hobby board games. I had Illuminati and Car Wars and Diplomacy, and games like that. I actually spent a lot of time painting Warhammer 40K 40mm miniatures because it was something I could do. I didn't want to be reading a book because I needed to keep my lines and scenes in my head, but painting was a thing that I could pick up and put down quickly and easily, and I could just walk into the set and the scene, and then walk out and keep painting and not get distracted by a book or movie, or something, so that's how I passed the time. I would play board games, paint minis, and make Dungeons and Dragons [D&D] and GURPS characters. Things like that.

There is actually nothing quite like just rolling up characters sometimes, is there?

I am so happy when I am sitting on the floor — and this is hilarious, I am a 40-year-old father of two — I will still sit on the floor with my dice and notebook paper and sourcebooks, and I will make first edition D&D characters. I will roll them up, I will make them, I will give them back stories, but for whatever reason, I have to do it sitting on the floor like I did when I was a kid. If I'm at a desk, it just doesn't feel right.

Have you found many fans out there who actually haven't kept up with your more recent roles and geek exploits?

I did have a really entertaining experience with a guy. I was up in San Francisco [California], and I was waiting at a cable car with my wife and a friend. A fellow jogged past us and he came past, then stopped, then jogged backwards, and said, "You're on The Big Bang Theory". I said "Yeah, I am". And he said "I love The Big Bang Theory", so I said, "Yeah, me too". He said "I love you on that show, you're so just evil and I love when you mess with Sheldon, and that's great". We talked about it for a little bit, and I told him how much I love Jim and what a great cast it is. He said "Listen, this is embarrassing for me, and I'm sorry, please don't take this the wrong way; I know you play Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory, but I don't even know what your real name is". That was really fun for me.

You must be pretty pleased that remastery of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is a proper transfer to Blu-ray. I see that they have gone right back to the original film negatives to pay real love to the show?

I think it says a lot about how much people love Star Trek and how much Star Trek matters to audiences. And also to the studio that owns Star Trek; they want to treat it well. I think they also know — from a practical matter — they've released so many DVD sets where they say "Really, this is the last time we're doing it", and there's just no reason for people to go and get them anymore. Boy is there a reason to get the Blu-ray! It is very much like watching it for the first time.

The future is made of jumpsuits.(Credit: CBS; Paramount)

It is so beautiful, and the behind the scenes features and the extra footage in there is so unbelievably, lovingly done. I'm just so happy that Star Trek is being treated the way I think it has earned the right to be treated by the studio. I think that says a lot about the fans. That it is not just something that is thrown together and redone with "Greedo shoots first". It's not like that at all. It's great, and I'm really proud to be part of it.

Are there any classic moments that you feel will get that extra "wow" factor?

I was at the Mars Curiosity landing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [California], and I saw Seth McFarlane [creator of Family Guy] when I was there. We were talking about the Blu-Ray and Seth said that there are episodes that he didn't really like very much the first time around — and let's be honest, the first season is uneven, and there are some episodes that are really awful — but he said that they just look so amazing and they sound so great, that these episodes that he didn't like at all, he found himself being able to enjoy and found himself being drawn into. Sort of like your suspension of disbelief, you're maybe getting a sort of 2D6 suspension of disbelief bonus, and it makes these really fun to watch. I thought he was really right. "Farpoint" — which, you know, it's a pilot and pilots are exposition and everything — as far as pilots go, is not bad. But the space jellyfish things are so beautiful now. They look like these incredible, beautiful beasts, and it's never occurred to me before that the way these look now is the way they were always intended to look. We just didn't have the technology to do it back then.

What was it that Wesley turned into in the end?

Well, he becomes a Traveller. But in my mind, Wesley actually becomes a Time Lord.

I like it. Now that is where we need a crossover.

Right! Oh, boy. My dream is to be on Doctor Who, and I hope — oh, how I hope — it happens someday.

We need to spread that idea until Steven Moffat hears, so he can work out an angle where Wesley Crusher the Traveller comes in for a special.

That's probably the only way I would want to play Wesley Crusher again.