This interview was originally presented on forcesofgood 1.0, October 2004

With his new book, the autobiographical Just a Geek, Wil Wheaton has managed to put his life into perspective. An actor, a writer, a husband, a father, a webmaster and a geek, Wheaton was gracious enough to take some time away from his own site and life to talk to forcesofgood about his past, present and future.

You just released your autobiography, Just A Geek. Did you find it to be a cathartic experience?

Yeah, I did. Just A Geek is all about examining your life, identifying the things you can change, and accepting the things that you can't. I've heard from hundreds of people who've read it, and they consistently tell me that even though a lot of the story takes place on film sets and in auditions, they could relate to the struggle.

Most audiences first saw you in the role of Gordie in Stand By Me. How did you get the part?

The story goes that Rob saw just about every young actor in the country, in a casting process that took several months. I believe that the process of casting the film may have taken longer than actually making the movie. My mom tells this story — and you have to keep in mind that this is my mom telling it, okay? My mom tells this story that Rob saw me early in the casting process, turned to one of the writers and said, “It can't be this easy.” About three months later, I was brought in for call backs, and eventually booked the job. I didn't know it until years later, but I was against Sean Astin for the part of Gordie. Whenever I tell him how envious I am of his work in Rudy, or Lord Of The Rings, he always tells me, “Hey, shut up. You got Stand By Me.”

Describe the experience of working with director Rob Reiner and co-stars River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Keifer Sutherland and John Cusack.

Well, my clearest (and fondest) memory associated with Rob is how he always made me feel like I *deserved* to be there on his set. He never made me feel like a stupid kid, and I didn't know how rare that was until I worked with different directors each week on Star Trek. As far as the main cast goes, I was the sensitive and geeky kid in a group of 13 year-old boys, so I was nailed as “the weak one,” who got picked on. It didn't happen all the time, but since it's almost 20 years later and I can remember feeling like I was going to cry on more than one occasion when Corey was teasing me about something, it clearly made an impression.

I didn't hang out with the older kids at all, but I remember that Jerry was *terrified* of Keifer, and I didn't understand why. Keifer seemed kind and professional to me, and I remember that I respected him. Casey Siemaszko was the most friendly and approachable of all the “big kids” on the movie, and I remember that I really thought he was cool. John treated me *exactly* the way I think Denny treated Gordie, which is exactly the way the Big Brother I Never Had treated me in my imagination.

While in your early teens you joined the cast of the very first Star Trek spin-off, The Next Generation. How did you get involved with the series?

I auditioned for the part, just like I did with Stand By Me, and I was lucky enough to get the job. I saw a memo that David Gerrold sent to Bob Justman way back in 1986, where he said that I was a good actor who was currently popular with “teeny-bopper fans,” and suggested that they see me for the role of Wesley, who at that time was supposed to be a girl called “Leslie.” I guess I did something right, because I didn't have to wear a dress when I flew the spaceship.

Was it awkward on The Next Generation being the only teenager on an adult set?

Extremely. I could totally relate to my fellow cast members on a professional level, but on a personal level, I was a kid and they were adults. Because I was around them more than any other people, I did pick up some cool things: Patrick introduced me to classical theatre, Jonathan introduced me to Jazz, and Brent introduced me to some of the great comedians of all time . . . but when I tried to return the favor, I couldn't get my Depeche Mode tapes across the generation gap.

What precipitated your departure from the series?

This is covered in great detail in my book Just A Geek, but the short version is: after they'd made him the one-dimensional ubergenius, the writers didn't do much with my character beyond, “Aye, sir, course laid in.” As an adult, I wouldn't mind that, because it's a nice paycheck for not a lot of work . . . but I was young, and convinced that I had what it took to continue the film career I'd begun with Stand By Me. When the producers blocked me from taking a major role in a major film, apparently because they could, I decided that I needed to get off the show.

Of course, once I was released from my contract, I made a series of decisions that were good for my life, but bad for my career . . . and here I am.

It seems like many fans didn't care for your character Wesley Crusher and Trek fans are notorious for being very vocal. Did the fans disdain bother you?

Well, the number of fans who were vehemently anti-Wesley (and therefore anti-me) were statistically insignificant . . . but I *did* listen to their criticism, and it *did* bother me, a lot. I was already an insecure teenager, and it was very tough when people directed their dislike of a fictional character onto the actor who played him. Shortly after I started my blog, someone gave me a bunch of shit about TNG, and I just blew up about it. In the ensuing explosion, I pointed out that it was just a little bit unfair and unreasonable for these fans to attack *me* for the *character* they didn't like. I remember I said something like, “I was fifteen. Do you actually think that I had *any* input into how my character was written? I just did my best with the material I was given.”

What did you do after you left the series?

I realized that I'd never had a childhood, and that I was dangerously close to becoming everything I hated about Hollywood. So I ran as far away from it as I could: Topeka, Kansas. I spent some time working for a technology company called NewTek, and when I felt like I'd put myself back together emotionally, I came back to Los Angeles and enrolled in a five year acting school to develop my acting abilities. I am a MUCH better and more competent actor now, because of those years, but unfortunately taking that time off really dropped me off the Hollywood radar, and I've been struggling to make it back ever since.

Tell me about the genesis of www.wilwheaton.net.

In June 2000, I joined my best friend Darin for lunch at a Hooters in Old Town Pasadena.

As we were taking our seats, she came over to our table: a cute-but-not-beautiful girl in her early 20s. Bleached-blond, fake tan, long legs. Hooters. Her name tag said “Destiny.” She flirted with us as she took our order, all smiles and giggles.

After taking our order she stopped suddenly, turned around, and came back to our table. She looked at me, lustily. “Can I ask you something?”

She drew a nervous breath, bit down on the corner of her mouth, and asked, breathlessly,"Didn't you used to be an actor?”

“WHAT?! USED TO BE?! I STILL AM!” I hollered, as images of a hot Hooters threesome were replaced with images of myself on Celebrity Boxing.

She immediately knew that she made a mistake. “Oh, I mean, weren't you an actor when you were a kid?”

All I could do was numbly answer,"Yeah, when I was a kid,” as I hung my head and ordered the first of many pints of Guinness.

But the truth was, this simple, scantily clad waitress had driven home with painful acuity my deepest fear: I was a has-been. I “used to be” an actor, when I was a kid. That weekend, my wife was out of town and I found myself in front of my computer, surfing the Internet. And was hit with an inspiration: I would make a website and let the world know that I was still alive and still working.

I wanted to do the whole thing myself, for better or for worse. I didn't want just another lame celebrity website, existing only as a clever promotional tool. I wanted a website that looked more like one of your friend's sites and less like some Big Hollywood Jackass. I had absolutely no idea how to write HTML. I knew nothing of tables, CSS, RSS feeds, and the W3C, so I went to Yahoo! Geocities and created
an account called “tvswilwheaton.” I spent the next few hours using the Yahoo! Pagebuilder, doing a sort of WYSIWYG page design. The result was incredibly lame, but it was mine. I looked at it, edited it, then edited it some more. I was proud of what I'd created and I posted a link to it in a small Wil Wheaton on line fan club and wondered if anyone would care.

People cared. Lots of them. They came by the hundreds, and then by the thousands. They laughed with and at me, and I began to keep a weblog. Just six weeks after I built the lamest web page ever, I opened the site www.wilwheaton.net

Do you now think of yourself as an actor who writes or as a writer who acts?

It depends on what I'm doing on a given day. When I have worked on shows recently, I have to consciously focus myself on acting, because I when I am A Writer, I am constantly recording things: what a room looks, feels, and smells like; how I react to something someone said and how they said it, etc. It's vital for actors to live moment to moment, and react to everything naturally. As a writer, I am constantly looking at the bigger picture, and mentally filing away important details so I can recall them later. Right now, I am a writer who acts. Ask me in a year, and I may have a different answer.

You returned to Trek, filming an ultimately dropped cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis. What was the experience like to return and reunite with your past?

I thought I was very lucky to work on that movie, because it gave me a chance to appreciate everything that I took for granted as a teenager. I know this sounds totally lame, but it was a healing experience.

Have you ever considered combining your talents by writing a Trek novel?

I've thought about it, but I don't have the same passion to write about Star Trek as I do to write about other things. Since I have a finite amount of creative energy, I'd rather put it someplace else.

You're happily married with a family, perform with a comedy troupe and run an extremely successful website. What's next for Wil Wheaton?

I'm a writer and performer in the main sketch comedy company at ACME in Hollywood, and I also perform in the main improv company. I'm fiercely proud of my work with the ACME players, and I'm really excited for two upcoming shows: a sketch comedy show that starts in about two months, and and Improv show that starts a couple of weeks after that.

I'm also working very hard to promote my current book, Just A Geek. I'm a little frustrated, because it's been treated as “Yet Another Celebrity Bio” or “Yet Another Star Trek Book.” That bothers me, because I worked very hard to write a book that was neither of those things. But perception is reality, and as a result, a lot of people who would relate to and enjoy the stories I tell are missing it, so I'm doing everything I can to take it beyond the “Sci-Fi” audience it's been directed toward and get it to the “This American Life” audience where I hope it will be well received.

I still do a little bit of acting work, though that's not my primary focus right now. When I do work, it's mostly on animated shows (I'm the voice of Aqualad on Teen Titans, among other things) or in video games (I'm in the new Ghost Recon 2 game, and another incredibly cool game that I can't talk about until November.)

When I'm not goofing off with my wife, or putting on my Big Boy Pants and being a parent to my stepkids, I spend most of my time writing. Today, I'm about a third of the way finished with the first draft of a novella that I hope to release next Spring. It's fun as hell to work on, because it's fiction, and I can do anything I want with it. I am having the time of my life sitting down at my desk every morning, getting these characters get into trouble, and watching them work their way out of it.

Since this interview was conducted, Wil has revamped his site and is now posting at http://wilwheaton.typepad.com. In addition, Wil currently portrays Cosmic Boy on the animated Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes and has appeared as himself on various VH-1 pop culture programs. He will also be contributing a Star Trek story to the second Star Trek manga book.

He continues to be a just a geek.