Wil Wheaton entered the pop-culture pantheon with his childhood role in Stand by Me and then cemented a cult base with his teenage stint as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But he's been keeping plenty busy since then. In fact, between making regular appearances on The Big Bang Theory, hosting a hugely popular video web series about board games called TableTop, writing books, blogging, and doing voice-over work, he's managed to build a greater fan base than ever (he has over 2.6 million followers on Twitter). His new show on SyFy, The Wil Wheaton Project, is a geek version of The Soup, covering everything from superhero movies and supernatural TV series to Reddit memes and viral videos.
We caught up with Wheaton before he left for Comic-Con, and talked about finding Hollywood success in the Age of the Geek, his obsession with Game of Thrones and H.P. Lovecraft, why he'll never catch Bigfoot, and why his unrequited puppy love could have been requited.
DETAILS: Do you think this is the best time ever to be a nerd?
WIL WHEATON: I do. I feel like it's the best time ever to be a lot of things, particularly a creative person. People don't need corporations or networks or backers anymore to give them permission to make amazing things. Now, we have YouTube and Bandcamp and private Roku channels, and all of these tools available that are easy to use and affordable—a lot of them are even free.
I also think one of the things that's great for nerds right now is that a lot of the things we love are really popular right now, so we get to see so many of our favorite things being adapted and turned into shows. Of course, that means what we see isn't always going to match up with the perfect vision we have in our heads.
We're lucky that we don't have to appeal to the lowest common denominator [on The Wil Wheaton Project] because there are enough people out there who are into the same things we're into and who love sci-fi and fantasy and comic books. Audiences are more fragmented than ever. There's something for everyone.
DETAILS: Do you really watch all the shows and see all the movies you cover on The Wil Wheaton Project?
WIL WHEATON: Something that happens when people are really into shows is that they lose the ability to be objective about them. So on The Wil Wheaton Project, we have a rule where we don't assign shows to writers if they're really obsessed with them. I absolutely love Game of Thrones, love everything about it. I read all the books, and my wife hasn't read them, so I love just watching her watch the show and reacting to everything that happens. I also think they're doing a really good job of adapting The Walking Dead. I loved the book of The Strain so much, and I really, really wanted to like the show and I really, really didn't like it. So of course now I'm assigned to The Strain!
DETAILS: What else are you watching?
WIL WHEATON: One show I really loved and I kept trying to find excuses to cover was True Detective. By the end, I'd stopped caring so much about the story—what I really enjoyed was just watching these two characters develop over the course of the series. I can't remember the last show I watched where it was really all about character and the plot was just something for the characters to do.
I'm also really excited about Manhattan [on WGN]. The pilot script was the best pilot script I've read in a long time. Of course by the time the pilot was made, it was a little overly pilot-y, which is what happens with pilots because everybody involved wants their fingerprints on it. But I'm still really excited for the series. And The Americans is just amazing. That's appointment TV in my house, and I don't have appointment TV.
DETAILS: Are there any shows that you've soured on after covering it for the show?
WIL WHEATON: We hit our Finding Bigfoot saturation point on The Wil Wheaton Project when we realized they actually do find Bigfoot every episode—so it's like Finding Bigfoot is a catch-and-release program.
DETAILS: Vampires are done, werewolves are over, everybody's tired of zombies . . . what's the next big supernatural creature?
WIL WHEATON: Hmm. I think, honestly, we've reached peak zombie at this point. We're at the top of the bell curve for zombies. The thing is, with zombies, eventually everybody's going to end up trapped in a mall. I wouldn't say vampires are done just yet. Vampire lore is based in seduction and sex, and we're always going to have an appetite for that. I would say if we're talking about classic monsters . . . well, soon enough we're going to be rebooting those old movies with the big Gila monsters, if there isn't already something in production.
But in terms of monsters occupying the collective unconscious, I think it may be time to explore the Lovecraft mythos. What's really rad about Lovecraft is the culture of people that's sprung up around this mythology, like people wanting to go to Miskatonic University [the fictional home of a copy of the Necronomicon in H.P. Lovecraft's stories]. It's funny because the original writings aren't all that great, they're misogynistic and racist and xenophobic. But if you chip all that garbage away, the ideas are there. I think we're ready to get into [Lovecraft's short story] "The Hound" and [Lovecraft predecessor Robert W. Chambers's collection of supernatural short stories] The King in Yellow, all of that.
DETAILS: You recently made a decision not to care about the ratings of the TV show anymore, partly because audience members who would add to your ratings watch on YouTube. Has there been any progress promoting the show or making it easier to watch online?
WIL WHEATON: I just had a really long, satisfying conversation with the people at SyFy about all of this. Most of the problems are due to these really byzantine, outdated agreements cable providers have with the networks. I would love it if The Wil Wheaton Project got picked up for another season, and if we became one of their shows that got international distribution.
DETAILS: What's the line you wouldn't cross if it came to rejiggering the show to improve the Nielsen ratings?
WIL WHEATON: I wouldn't love making this show as much as I do if they weren't willing to let me be who I am and cover the things that are important to me. Like if I wanted to make a destination show with The Discovery Channel and they insisted I turn it into Finding Bigfoot, I wouldn't be able to deal with that.
DETAILS: What percentage of your fans do you imagine know you from your Star Trek: The Next Generation days?
WIL WHEATON: I would say maybe 35 to 40 percent of people who are interested in what I do now have been with me since the Star Trek days, but 100 percent of them pay attention to what I'm doing because they've followed my blog and read my books and watch my show TableTop.
The response to TableTop has been a really amazing thing. I get people who tell me their partner never played games before, but they showed them an episode and they saw how much fun it was, and now they can play games together. I get parents who tell me their relationships with their teens have never been better because they started having family game night as a result of watching my show. That's just a net positive for the world.
DETAILS: Speaking of those earlier career days, who was your first celebrity crush?
WIL WHEATON: I would have to say my first really "Oh my god, if she would just notice me and go out with me everything would be so magical" crush on another celebrity would have to be Deborah Gibson. I was 12, and she was 14, and we met at this Nickelodeon thing and actually got to be really good friends. We would hang out and goof off all the time. But I was too much of a geek to figure out how to ever say, [in a strangled voice] "Would you go out with me?" So it never happened, but I found out years later that it was very, very mutual back when we were young. We're still friends now. My 12-year-old self will probably always carry a torch for Debbie Gibson, though.
DETAILS: Between your books, your shows, your blog, and social media, you're certainly not lacking for creative outlets or a platform —but do you miss acting, in the more traditional sense?
WIL WHEATON: The fact is, for years the acting industry was not all that interested in me. Now, I love being an actor 40 percent of the time and a writer 60 percent of the time. I'm thankful for my work on The Big Bang Theory, because I learned how to act on a four-camera sitcom, which is a really specific skill, and I'm happy to have that in my toolbox. Occasionally I'll see a show that's so amazing I think, "I wish I could have been part of that world." I felt that way about Manhattan. I actually auditioned for that show and would have loved to be a part of it, but it didn't happen. Sometimes I miss being part of a feature film and becoming a character for three months or whatever.
But I have a great life. I have time for my family. It's like I have a full-time job split up into five part-time jobs, and that's a great thing. I would say I'm creatively fulfilled most of the time. Everything I have now, I've built myself, and that's a really good feeling.
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