Shatner wary of Oscar host backlash

William Shatner says he’s excited to be hosting the Genie Awards, which he regards as Canada’s version of the Oscars.

TORONTO — William Shatner says he’s excited to be hosting the Genie Awards, which he regards as Canada’s version of the Oscars.

But the Star Trek star admits to being a bit unsure about taking the reins of the televised gala, noting that the widely panned Academy Awards show last month was largely blamed on lacklustre MCs Anne Hathaway and James Franco.

Shatner says he hopes to do a better job of setting the pace for Canada’s most prestigious film awards today.

“They tried the very young. Now they’re trying the very old,” Shatner, 79, joked before heading to Ottawa on Wednesday to prepare for the show.

The leading nominees include the sprawling romantic dramedy Barney’s Version and the wrenching war saga Incendies, both up for best film, best director and best adapted screenplay.

Splice, 10 1/2 and Heartbeats round out the best film race, while celebrities in line for acting trophies include Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Timothy Olyphant, Jay Baruchel, Molly Parker and the late Tracy Wright.

Shatner said he’s keen to put on an entertaining show. He blamed the dismal performances by Hathaway and Franco at the Oscar bash on “lack of material, lack of delivery.”

“Ever since they offered me the job I’ve been going around saying, ‘What’s the secret (to hosting)?’ and nobody will tell me,” said Shatner, whose previous hosting duties have included the Just for Laughs comedy festival and the Annies, which celebrate the best in animated film.

“I think the secret first of all is good material. Then, as for the delivery, you’re stuck with yourself. But I’ve been in front of audiences for a long time, with varying levels of success. Never, to my mind, (have I been) an abject failure.”

The Montreal-born actor says he’s not above resorting to a well-worn tactic in order to engage the studio audience at the National Arts Centre, even if it’s a little cheesy.

“I’ll be scanning the audience and waving, ‘Hello,’ the way (people) do — (I’ll) point and wave,” deadpans Shatner, whose lengthy career spans more than six decades on stage, film and TV.

Celebrities slated to appear at the bash include actors Gordon Pinsent, Jay Baruchel and Bruce Greenwood.

Shatner said he’s not familiar with the night’s two biggest films, but he had high praise for Canadian fare in general.

“Canadian films have really advanced in excellence over the years. I truly am proud to be the host of Thursday night’s show. It keeps me in touch with Canada.”

Not that Canada has ever forgotten Shatner.

Shatner credited a lifelong passion for his work with keeping him motivated and enthusiastic about show business, and marvelled at the downward spiral of tabloid sensation Charlie Sheen.

Last week, Shatner defended Sheen’s bizarre behaviour after the Two and a Half Men star lashed out at the creators of his hit CBS show. Sheen was later fired and embarked on a public campaign against his critics while championing his hard-living antics.

Shatner said he felt differently now, but didn’t know enough about Sheen’s situation to weigh in on the star’s disturbing conduct.

“In the beginning I thought he was fine, but now he’s gone off the edge,” Shatner says.

The Genie Awards air on CBC-TV at 6 p.m. across the country, and at 6:30 p.m. in Newfoundland.

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