Like most fans of my generation, I knew Wil Wheaton as the terrific star of Stand by Me, and was encouraged when he was announced in 1987 among the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
And like most other fans, I quickly found the early episodes’ Wesley storylines to be so cloying and unbelievable, it made me groan whenever the character showed his face. (It turns out that Gene Roddenberry was running on, let’s just say, some seriously depleted dilithium crystals, and was trying to write Wesley as an idealized version of a human child, maybe even himself—“Wesley” was Gene’s middle name.)
But I do remember, even as a kid, feeling bad for the actor. I mean, he didn’t write this crap, right?
In time, the character got straightened out and I quite liked many of his episodes, particularly “The Dauphin” (I guess I’m a softie) and his series-regular farewell, “Final Mission.” And I really liked the eventual twist of him going off with the Traveler.
A couple of years ago I read something that made me feel really old. Wil Wheaton (49) is now older than Patrick Stewart at the time of “Encounter at Farpoint” (47). Yikes!
Wheaton stepped back from acting in the early 1990s—although checking imdb, he has a ton of credits, particularly as a voice actor. In recent years, I’ve been aware of him as a blogger, part-time actor (playing “Wil Wheaton” on The Big Bang Theory) and author.
He’s also hosted a new-Star Trek after show, The Ready Room, and made a welcome cameo as Wesley the Traveler in the second-season finale of Picard.
Long story short, Wheaton’s mom was a “Stage Mom from Hell” and his father an alcoholic, his entire career was basically forced upon him, and all he wanted was to be a normal kid. He is estranged from his parents, but happily married himself, with two adopted stepchildren.
It certainly makes me see those early Wesley episodes in a new light, knowing that the actor was so depressed, the only reason he didn’t kill himself is that he didn’t know how (to paraphrase—seriously).
I’m really not doing justice to his story or how eloquently and emotionally he tells it. Check it out, above. And bravo to him for speaking out.
It did make me proud of one thing: My wife and I are parents of identical twin girls, and being identical twins—and living in L.A.—they might have had opportunities in acting. (Identical twins are often used to portray a single character, to maximize filming time with underage performers.)
We talked to some families that had made some good money that way; for some, it was a positive experience, and they gave us the pros and cons in a pretty rational way. Obviously, there are lots of child actors, and they can’t all be miserable, I hope?
But we decided that it was not a healthy lifestyle—there’s a ton of auditioning and hustling involved—and that we would only do it if the kids asked for it, when they were old enough to be reasonably informed.
I mentioned it once, mostly out of curiosity for their reaction, and they said, “No!”
So there you have it.
Still can’t say I love those early Wesley episodes—but I am definitely a Wil Wheaton fan!