Interview with Actor Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton is not like most of the rest of the actors. He admits that he is a true geek, running Linux, enjoying programming, playing lots of computer games. Many of you will remember Wil portraying “Wesley Crusher” in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series some years ago. Wil will reprise his role as Wesley in the “Star Trek X: Nemesis” movie, the tenth installment of the Star Trek movies, which is set to be released two days after the second “Lord of the Rings” movie, at the end of this year. In the interview following, Wil talks about his favorite computer games, the computers used on TNG, the future of computing in AI, his favorite Linux distros, PHP and more.1. Wil, tell us what is your choice of operating systems and which applications you are mostly using?

Wil Wheaton: Well, my choice of Operating systems would be Linux, probably something easy to install and configure like Red Hat or Mandrake…I realize that it’s not the “coolest” flavor, but I’ve installed and run both of those in the past, so that’s what I’d use. I’m currently reading “Rebel Code”, and with the turn of each page my sense of guilt and shame over using Win2K grows…but the sad, sad truth is that most of the things I rely upon only run on Windows, so that’s what I’m using.

2. I know that you learn web programming just a few months ago. What web technologies are you studying lately in your free time?

Wil Wheaton: I’m learning more and more about PHP, specifically using PHP with MySQL to build a database-driven website. My site is built using the same table, repeated over and over, with php includes for the content. What I’m working on is getting it optimized, and building my own content management system. I really like PHP, because it makes sense, and is really easy to understand. I’m also always working on making sure my site doesn’t suck, so I’m finally learning the actual W3C guidelines for CSS1 and CSS2, so I can get rid of all the font tags and other uglies in my source.

3. Have you ever used alternative operating systems? What were your experiences with them?

Wil Wheaton: The Mac 128 was the first “real” computer that I owned, and, unfortunately, it really arrested my programming development at an early age. Up until I got that, in 1984 or 1985, I had been using computers like the TI 99/4A, and the Atari 400…they weren’t powerhouses, by any means, but, in order to make them do cool things I really had to at least understand some flavor of BASIC. Once I got that Mac, though, it was all point and click from there on out. I had various types of Macs up until I got my first PC in 1996, running Windows 95. Until recently, I dual booted Linux and 2K on this machine, and, as soon as I can spare the hard drive space, I will be doing that again.

It will probably warm the hearts of nerds everywhere to know that the super genius from Star Trek has a really shitty computer: a Pentium 233.

Wil in 1988 Wil in 1992 Wil today
Wil in 1988 Wil in 1992 Wil today

4. Starting with TNG, the computer interface used in Starfleet’s starships was L-CARS and it has since inspired lots of artists and User Interface designers. Tell us, were these screens/monitors we see on TNG real computer screens that could somewhat interact with the user, or were completely “dumb”? Do you think that an L-CARS display system would practically work as a user interface in today’s operating systems?

Wil Wheaton: Well, I know that this is going to shatter some people’s lives…but they were just colored gels, lit from behind by incandescent lights. We tried to have some interactivity, using touch-sensitive sensors, especially in the transporter room, but we could never quite make it work. The cool thing about the computer graphics, though, was that they were designed by guys who really cared about the logic of the layout, as opposed to people who just wanted to make something look cool. As soon as Wesley was promoted to driving the ship, I sat down with those guys, and asked them what button did what, and how the computers worked, because I wanted to honor their ideas. They told me what their ideas were, and I did my best to use the LCARS system in a consistent, logical way.

Yeah, I’m a dork.

5. What is the configuration of your current computer(s)? (CPU, graphics card, memory etc)

Wil Wheaton: Oh, yeah. Well, you see, the thing about that is, I’m so embarrassed about how crappy my computer is, I’ll just say that it was so bleeding edge in 1998, it was scary. If not for the generosity and help of my smarter-than-me brother, it wouldn’t even be able to run Eudora. I’m working on getting a new one, but it’s strange how having a wife and children takes precedence over upgrading the computer. Of course, now I can’t even play Unreal Tournament, so “get new, faster computer” just moved way up on the priority list. 🙂

6, Do you think that someday computers will actually have the horse power (holograms) and capabilities (artificial intelligence) that we see on Star Trek?

Wil Wheaton: Yes. I think that if, as a society, we put as much time, energy and funding into education as we do into bailing out corrupt corporations, we’d be seeing them already.

7. I read on your web site that you recently started presenting a new TV show, reviewing computer games. You get to play games all day and then write & present them. Sounds cool. Tell us about your experience with the show so far.

Wil Wheaton: I can’t. It’s all top secret.

8. What is your favourite game these days? Do you prefer playing games on a console (which console?) or on a PC?

Wil Wheaton: Well, the experience on the PC is really different than the experience on a console. Working for G4 Media, I get to play all the newest games, on PCs and on consoles, and they are completely different experiences. The main difference is that the PC games tend to be more complex, and cerebral, while the action games on the consoles are really amazing. I think that Microsoft is really bridging that gap with the Xbox, mostly because it’s little more than a PC dedicated to gaming, complete with it’s own Green Screen of Death. My favorite console games are Tony Hawk 3, and Grand Theft Auto 3, both on PS2. My favorite PC game is currently Day of Defeat, with Nethack running a close second (hey, I like the classics).

9. After almost 10 years away from Star Trek’s cast, you will now return as Wesley Crusher at the ‘Star Trek X: Nemesis’ movie, the 10th installment of the Star Trek movie series. How did it feel to get back with the old gang? Are you still in touch with the rest of the TNG fellow actors?

Wil Wheaton: It was just amazing. I am working on an in-depth report about my experiences working on Trek X, which I’ll be posting soon on my website at One of the best things about working with the old gang again was that I was able to relate to them as an adult for the first time. I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like, but each time we do find the time to get together, it’s always like no time has passed, at all. I adore

10. What did you think about the new series, Enterprise? Berman seems to try to present, in contrast to TNG, DS9 & Voy, a non-utopian quadrant, don’t you think?

Wil Wheaton: I love Enterprise. I think it’s the best Star Trek since the 4th season of TNG. The thing I love the most about it is how the crew is in *real* danger each week, and there’s this sense of wonder and discovery in all of the characters. And the captain has a freakin’ *beagle* for crying out loud. I don’t think it gets much cooler than that. I’m really hoping that I’ll get to do some sort of cool guest shot on Enterprise, maybe as Wesley’s great, great, great, great grandfather, who nails T’Pol.

11. Which is the one role you would like to play at some point in your career? Is there a specific character that you would go into great effort to secure the role?

Wil Wheaton: I’d like to play a role that would break me out of the types I’ve always played: the nice guy, the too-smart kid, the earnest young idealist…I mean, that’s who I am in real life. I’d like to play a really, really bad guy, or someone who is very tortured and agonized. I would camp out on the director’s lawn to be in The Watchmen, if they ever make it into a movie.


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