I am not in the habit of reading actor memoirs. In fact, I think the only actor memoirs I’ve read are from Star Trek actors: Shatner’s, one of Nimoy’s (I think I Am Spock as opposed to the more bitter predecessor volume), and now Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek. I added this to my to-read list years back, when Wil Wheaton first surfaced on my social networking radar on Twitter and here on Goodreads. While I don’t regularly read his blog, I dip in here and there when one of his posts comes to my attention.
Just a Geek is different from the other memoirs in that this book doesn’t actually focus much on Wheaton’s time in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Rather, it’s the story of his struggle with life after TNG, the stark and steady decline in his acting career, and his battles with the voice of Prove to Everyone that Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t a Big Mistake. The book consists of a series of posts from his blog interspersed with additional context and commentary, as well as confessions about how much of the blog material—at least in the early days—was exaggeration and fluff while Wheaton was in the thrall of Prove to Everyone.
The subtitle of this book is Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise, and this isn’t false advertising. Wheaton comes across as the type of actor who is incredibly grounded and self-aware—in other words, the majority of actors who are not massive A-list celebrities. The struggles he shares with us are the struggles of an everyday person, the major difference being that most everyday people meet these struggles while working a steady job.
The first section of the book chronicles Wheaton’s failure to get work after TNG, and the simultaneous birth of his blog. Thus emerges the two major, polarized themes of the book: Wheaton’s declining career as an actor and rising career as a writer. The journey he depicts here is his realization and acceptance of these two truths.
The subsequent sections show Wheaton’s struggle to find a balance between Wesley Crusher’s legacy and his own attempts to find a future for himself. He vacillates between wanting to do Star Trek conventions and events—for the money, for the fans, for the business it brings his comedy group—and wanting to avoid such events because of his desire to distance himself from Wesley. He shares the conflicting emotions he had around portraying Wesley one last time in Star Trek: Nemesis, only for his role to be cut entirely from the finished product.
It’s 2013, and I’m writing this the day after the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I’m still tingling with my enjoyment of the 50th-anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, and I’m eagerly anticipating the Christmas special, when Matt Smith’s Doctor will regenerate. But I’m not eagerly anticipating Matt Smith’s departure. As with David Tennant, I’m not ready to see Matt Smith leave. But clearly he is ready to leave; he has a career on the rise and a desire to act in other movies, to take on other roles.
What I’m trying to say is that I think that we, as intense fans of shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who, often have trouble empathizing with the more mundane aspects of these actors’ lives. I’m not referring to the tendency of a minority of diehard fans to conflate the actor with the character (which is just … awkward, I think). It’s just difficult for us to understand the actor’s experience of portraying that character when all we see is the finished product, and not all the hours of rehearsal, makeup, travel, and standing around on set.
Just a Geek, then, provides a tiny glimpse into this flipside of the actor’s world. It’s a reminder that, except for the small upper echelon of actors, celebrity is a less constant thing. And for Wheaton, it’s a brave and honest reflection on the choices he has made since that first choice, the one that changed everything, quitting Star Trek. It’s a great privilege to be let in on the conversations he shares here, to peek behind the curtain for a moment and see things from the actor’s perspective. I hope this book provided the closure he seemed to be seeking.