LA People: Wil Wheaton Child Star, Adult Geek
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It’s three o’ clock on a weekday afternoon and I’m in an Old Town Pasadena bar having drinks with a former child star. Were this person a faded pop tartlet, or perhaps named Corey, we might be planning a trip to a nudie bar or recollecting days spent riding the silver bullet. But this star is Wil Wheaton, and instead of strippers and blow, we’re talking science fiction with the bartender — a squirrelly looking but pleasant British fellow who looks as if he’s been playing this moment on loop in his head for a decade, waiting for it to finally come true.
“I’d have to say the past two seasons of DSN [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine] are as good as anything I’ve seen on television,” he tells Wheaton provocatively. “The storyline with the Cardassian war is unparalleled.”
For many former Star Trek actors — Wheaton played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, or TNG in today’s parlance — I imagine this is the kind of conversation they dread getting sucked into. Out for a quiet afternoon drink when suddenly a nerdy fan-boy wants to talk phasers and Cardassians, the stuff of Galaxy Quest parody. But for Wheaton, such a statement can’t go unchallenged.
“No way!” he responds with genuine incredulity, jumping to his Chuck Taylor–clad feet to lean over the bar. “Better than Battlestar Gallactica?”
Wheaton, you see, is an unabashed geek. “It’s like high school,” he tells me later, “you’re either one of the cool kids or you’re not — and I am definitely not.”
Twenty years ago, while many of his adolescent acting peers were capitalizing on their celebrity to develop healthy doses of drug addiction and venereal disease, the star of Stand by Me was gaming and reading comic books in his hometown of Pasadena. And while several of those same peers have recently tried to rekindle their failed acting careers by humiliating themselves on the The Surreal Life, Wheaton has no need. “I was asked to be on the show, but I had absolutely no interest.”
Geekdom, it seems, is its own reward.
When Wheaton’s acting well largely dried up around 2001, he turned to writing, starting up a surprisingly successful blog — “Where’s My Burrito?” — named after one of his favorite episodes of The Simpsons. Crafting lengthy autobiographical narrative posts, juxtaposed with shorter, hyperlink-laden entries about geek culture, Wheaton immediately revealed a Judd Apatow–like gift for combining the awkward with the poignant, the irreverent with the painful.
“I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself,” he says. “I’d been looking to start an online presence anyway and was just being honest and writing candidly about the things that were going on in my life.”
His Star Trek tenure also happened to bless him with post after post of hilarious material about William Shatner, whom Wheaton often refers to as William Fucking Shatner — or WFS.
“I have a feeling that every time I meet him, William Shatner forgets who I am the second he turns his back,” Wheaton laughs. “I get a lot of mileage out of the William Fucking Shatner thing, but he’s Captain Kirk, for God’s sake. Patrick Stewart likes him, and Patrick suffers no fools.”
Though Wheaton’s blog may have gained its initial popularity due to celebrity tales and Wheaton’s modicum of fame, any attempt to dismiss him as a novelty act is severely misguided. Wheaton is a writer. He recently published his third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, a lighthearted memoir about growing up geek in Pasadena, to warm reviews. He’s a frequent contributor to Los Angeles Metblogs, and who last week began contributing to L.A. Weekly’s LA Daily blog every Tuesday. Plus, he already has a fourth book on the way, a collection of snarky write-ups and behind-the-scenes tales of each episode of TNG.
And of course there’s still his own blog, now at wilwheaton.typepad.com, which he’s maintained and updated almost daily since 2001. Wheaton has even added politics to his writing arsenal. His thoughtful endorsement of Barack Obama, written shortly before the California primary, drew widespread attention and praise across the Internet for its clarity and eloquence.
“When you write about politics it’s easy for things to devolve into a rant. And sometimes that’s necessary, but most of the time it just makes your head explode. I felt it was important to come out in support of Obama. I really respect him because he talks to us like we’re adults.”
An ironic criteria, considering the amount of time we’ve just spent arguing the relative merits of various warring space creatures.
Just as we’re on the verge of settling the tab, our garrulous bartender plunkspints of ale in front us. “On the house, mates.”
Wheaton looks hesitant at first but grabs his glass after a pause.
“I guess I can’t turn down a free beer,” he says. “They’d kick me out of the professional writers club.”
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