So two months after I decided to hit the reset button on my life, I found myself falling into some of the old patterns of behavior that weren’t working for me, the very patterns that I’d vowed to change. There are lots of reasons that I just don’t feel comfortable talking about to the entire world, but one of the things that kept coming back to me was unresolved issues related to being a child actor.
As it turns out, this subreddit I like to read (nb: yes, a lot of Reddit is a cesspool, but because we can choose which subs to read and who we interact with, I view it like a mall of ideas, and I’m not required to shop at every store) called RedditDayOf. Every day, there’s a different topic, and readers submit stuff related to that topic. So I was sitting at my desk with my coffee, waking up and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my day, when I saw that the topic was Child Stars. Before I knew what I was doing, I typed, “I was a child star in the 80s. AMA.” and ended up spending the day talking about my life in and out of the spotlight, as a child star, a former child star, a failed child star, and a successful adult actor and human.
I’ve collected and organized some of the things that came up in that thread, because they ended up representing some Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re interested, and want to get to know me a little better, read on.
Mostly Big Bang Theory, and Some Other Roles
Q: Are you character acting on BBT, or are you mostly just being you? I hope you have as much fun acting on it as it is to watch it!!
A: It’s a little bit of both. It’s taken me years to get comfortable with the idea that I’m playing a character who looks like me, who shares much of my biography, and my name, but who is a work of fiction.
Q: How come most of your adult roles are asses?
A: I think that all actors have a particular type that we can play, a particular function in the dramatic experience that each of us is best suited to bring to life.
When I was a kid, it was the struggling idealist who was doing his best to gain approval from the adults around him. As an adult, I’ve settled into playing the guy you love to hate, who probably has some good in him, somewhere.
I’m not sure exactly why that is, because I work very hard to be a good person who leaves good things in the world, but it’s really fun to play those characters, so I’ll keep doing it as long as they keep hiring me.
Q: Stand By Me and Star Trek are great and all, but you know what I really loved as a kid – Toy Soldiers. I spent a lot of hours daydreaming about how I was going to deal with any Columbian terrorists who might invade my school. I loved that kind of thing. And Denholm Elliot was in it! Any particular memories of that one?
A: My fondest memory from that shoot was when we were filming in the quad, after our characters put all the dean’s furniture out on the lawn.
We were between takes, and Sean Astin asked the prop guy to give him a banana. The camera rolls, and Sean is standing there, eating a banana in the most contemptuous, surly way I think anyone ever could. Lou Gosset is talking to him, and Sean throws the banana peel into the trash.
Lou, keeping his anger and laughter under control, deliberately says, “Pick. Up. That. Banana.”
Sean rolls his eyes and picks it up. It’s one of the funniest moments in the film, tells you everything you need to know about the two characters’ relationship, and was entirely improvised by two great actors.
Q: I was crushed when the Wil Wheaton Project didn’t get renewed. Like, really let down. I can’t imagine what you thought. But we’re out here! Wheatenette, here!
A: It’s okay the TWWP didn’t get renewed. The network goons and I had very different ideas about what the show should and could be, and it wasn’t a fun experience for any of us.
I will always believe that if they’d given us a better chance, and let us make the show we wanted to make, it would have been successful, but since we didn’t want to make the show they wanted, they pulled the plug. I’m sure they’ll find a team to make that show, though, and they’ll be happy.
To be totally honest, though? I’m just glad that they’re finally doing real Sci-Fi on the network, again, and that it’s really good.
Mostly Star Trek Questions
Q: I personally always loved Wesley Crusher, but I know many didn’t. Was that hard to deal with?
A: Yeah. It sucked. Imagine being only good at one thing, and having people constantly attack you for that thing, even though you’re doing your best. It took me a long, long time and a lot of therapy to get over that.
Q: In 2001 you appeared on a special Stars of Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link.
In that episode Ann asked you why you spell your name with only one “L.”
You started your answer as “Leaving one L off the end of my name …”
Ann instantly interrupts you and says, “… is pretentious.”
So, my question is, why only one L, and was that moment scripted or just amazing timing on the part of Ann?
That episode you also were playing for a charity based on protecting the freedom of the internet. It proves you did not just hook your wagon to SOPA for fame. It shows you always cared about us. Thank you for all the work you put into this effort, and being our guardian.
A: That moment was not scripted, at least not by me. It may have been scripted by the writers and Ann.
It was really fun to play that character on that episode, and people still freak out at me for being such a dick, apparently not watching all the way to the end when I let them in on the joke.
I appreciate your kind words about my advocacy online. I’ve been online since the mid-80s, and protecting our rights and freedoms is very important to me.
Q: Did you drive any of the cast on TNG crazy? I know I probably would.
A: I’m sure I drove them crazy all the time, but it wasn’t intentional. LeVar once told me: You were a pain in the ass, but you were our pain in the ass.
Q: How did you feel about Wesley’s characterization when you were filming? Did you like the scripts when you got them or were you often disappointed? Did you have any input at all on the direction of the character?
A: I was frustrated that the writers kept Wesley as an idea, or a device, rather than as a real person. I don’t think that was entirely their fault, because the executive producer forbade them from talking with any of us actors, and getting to know us, so unless a particular writer really knew a smart, weird kid, they didn’t have a lot of experience to draw upon.
A few writers, though, like Melinda Snodgrass, Ron Moore, Tracy Torme, and Sandy Fries, did some pretty good stuff with the character, and I did my best not to mess up their words.
As far as being disappointed? Not that much, at least in the first two seasons. I was happy and excited to be on a series, thrilled to be part of a thing I’d loved my whole life, and too young to be cynical, so I just did my best to do my job and enjoy the experience. I didn’t start feeling that frustration and disappointment until later, when I felt like I knew the character better than the writers and producers did, but I wasn’t allowed to have any input on how he was written.
Q: because the executive producer forbade them from talking with any of us actors
Why was that?
A: We (actors) all think it’s because he wanted to isolate us, and somehow disempower us.
It was a really stupid thing to do, because it just pushed us together, made us a stronger group of people who still love each other almost 30 years later, and undercut the show’s ability to be even better than it was.
Q: I’ve heard a theory recently that your character in TNG was actually Q. A Q? The Q? Whatever, that theory seems so amazingly appropriate…..did you have any idea/thoughts about that plot-line?
A: My headcanon for Wesley is that he’s a Time Lord.
Q: After years of starring on Next Gen and then having your character progress from the show, was it odd playing the character again for Nemisis after so much time had passed? I personally thought you looked awesome in that dress uniform.
A: It wasn’t odd as much as it was awesome, and it represented a significant transition for me from child star to adult actor.
I spent over a decade after I quit Star Trek regretting it and wondering what could have been. I created a demon called Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake who controlled my life. It was really tough. A large part of the narrative spine of my autobiography Just A Geek
is about that.
But getting to put on Wesley’s face and hair and sideburns and uniform, and getting to go back to the set, surrounded by people I loved, but felt ashamed to be around, and actually appreciate it, was a huge huge huge thing for me.
I haven’t seen the thing Mac did where he plays an adult Kevin, but I wonder if he experienced a similar catharsis, being able to own that character and let it go on his own terms, the way I did with Wesley.
Q: If you could write a Star Trek movie with no content restrictions, how would it go?
A: It would be a porn parody. My friend April plays Troi in the TNG porn parody and that is both hilarious and unsettling to me.
Mostly Child Actor Questions
Q: Has there ever been a time you wished you hadn’t been a child actor?
A: I wished I wasn’t a child actor all the time, but the thing is, it’s part of the tapestry of my life, and if I pulled a that thread too much, the whole thing would unravel.
Q: What do you feel was the difference between you and other child stars who happened to have some problems transitioning to adulthood?
A: I can only speak for myself, but I think a big part of it was identifying, at a very young age, the difference between my peers who wanted to be creative people, the ones who wanted to be famous, and the ones who were doing it because their parents were cashing in.
I felt like my parents were pushing me, and while it was really important to me that I please them, part of me enjoyed being on the set. I enjoyed playing make believe. Even though I never got the satisfaction of feeling a scene come together as a child (I do now, as an adult), I felt like I was good at something. Feeling like that was important to me, because the things that kids usually feel good about, like doing well in school or being coordinated and athletic, were things I was not good at, even a little bit.
So as I got older, and I saw those three groups of kids become teenagers, I saw that the ones who weren’t in it for the art were going to parties, drinking and using drugs, and doing everything they could to get in front of paparazzi, so people would pay attention to them. I wasn’t the most sophisticated person in the world, but I found that stuff to be really boring, and I felt like I didn’t have anything in common with them, anyway.
So, in a way, being weird and nerdy and awkward and shy helped save me from those pitfalls, because I never felt like I fit in there, and I felt like it was all fake.
I give a lot of credit to my group of friends from high school, who were not in the film industry, for being a positive influence on me (having 9 mothers in the cast of TNG didn’t hurt, either). While a lot of people who ended up being True Hollywood Stories were on their way to reality TV, I was playing D&D and painting 40K figures and going to comic book conventions.
I was just as unhappy and confused as a lot of my peers were, but I was just different enough from them to avoid their self-destructive behavior.
When I was in my 20s, and I was ready to give up, I met the woman who would become my wife, fell in love, started raising a family, and knew that I had to do something if we were going to survive. Luckily for me, the Internet was starting to be a mainstream thing, and I was able to start my blog, which gave me the opportunity to be a writer, which lead to me writing books and columns and creating a second act in my life.
Q: Do you have any “normal kid” stuff that you think you missed out on by having an acting career so early in life?
A: Oh yeah. I think the biggest thing I missed out on was learning how to be a regular person around other normal people. I was surrounded by industry douchebags all the time, and that’s how I thought normal people behaved. Luckily for me, I managed to figure out around the time we did Stand By Me that those people were not that awesome, and that I shouldn’t emulate them. Unfortunately, it took me about five years to properly put that into practice, but I think that has more to do with being a teenager than it does with being an actor.
Q: Do you think your lives would have been different if twitter had been around when TNG and Dougie Houser were on the air?
A: Yes, and it would not have been good. I would have made Jaden Smith look like Steven Hawking.
Q: Could you talk about how education went for you? How well did you balance it while working on TNG? To what extent do you feel like you had to make up for lost time or learn more on your own?
A: I had to spend 3 hours a day in school while I was on the set, at a minimum of 20 minutes at a time.
When I was a kid, that seemed like forever, but as an adult I can’t believe we’re allowed to get away with it, because it’s impossible to do any serious and meaningful learning in 20 minute blocks, and such short days make education feel like an afterthought, instead of the foundation of a successful life.
I have a lot of empathy for those athletes who are in their early 20s and who seem like total douchebags, throwing money around and acting like idiots, because in a lot of ways I was similar to them: nobody every taught me how to be a person, everything I did was about the job, and everyone who had a financial stake in my success told me that I was the greatest thing in the world. Because education wasn’t treated as something important and fundamental, because I didn’t really feel like I had to work and earn good grades, I took it all for granted … until I started TNG. My teacher, Marian, was magnificent. She worked really hard to ensure that I actually learned, she challenged me to earn my grades, and she held me accountable for everything I did while I was in school.
Still, that only went so far. As an adult, I feel like there are enormous gaps in my education. I don’t know basic chemistry. I can’t remember a single thing from algebra onward. A lot of my science and history knowledge comes from independent learning I’ve done as an adult, and it feels profoundly incomplete.
I’ve made a commitment to myself to do more in 2016 for myself than I have in years past. I’ve spent the last ten years or so working really, really hard to be a financially successful adult human, and in that effort I have neglected things that are important to me, personally. Luckily, we are living in a moment that allows online university and self-directed learning, and I feel like that’s something I can embrace and do well.
Q: Was that school time built into your shooting schedule, or did they just squeeze it in willy-nilly when they could?
A: A little bit of both. Sometimes, I’d come in 3 or so hours before they needed me to film, to go to school. I liked that because I could just focus on schoolwork and learning. Other times, I’d be in school while scenes were set up, while coverage that I wasn’t in was filmed, etc.
As far as getting it in, hurr hurr hurr, the law is that I had to do 3 hours of school, and couldn’t work more than 10 hours in a day. Production knows this, and the first AD makes the schedule to accommodate that.
Q: Were you ever treated as “just a kid” and excluded on that basis? It sounds like your TNG co-stars were very sociable with each other; did they include you in that, or did you feel isolated?
A: Nearly every director we had treated me like I was an idiot who had no idea what I was doing. One of them even dragged me around by my elbow, instead of just telling me where he wanted me to stand, and almost all of them just called me “the boy” or “the kid”, even if I was standing right there. That was really upsetting, and the other actors often corrected the directors and admonished them to use my name.
I mean, how does that even happen? How can a director be so dehumanizing to a kid?
I felt isolated, but not because anyone made me feel that way. I felt isolated because, while I could relate to the cast on the set as fellow professional actors, at the end of the day I was a kid and they were adults, so we couldn’t hang out. That’s something I regretted and missed for all of my adult life until recently, when I started getting invited to dinners with the rest of the cast whenever we were in the same place.
Q: That’s unbelievable. Did you ever receive any sort of explanation (or indeed any apologies) for that behaviour?
A: No. When I work on a set with kids now, though, I work really hard to treat them with dignity and respect, and if someone is treating them the way I was treated, I’ll call them out on it.
Q: hello wil. i am a huge fan of yours, not because of your acting, but for the man you grew to be. you have strong moral fiber.
you never went full miley.
i read a blog you had written about a woman who had done some therapy to walk again, focused on your picture. that’s where i became a fan of yours. if you can provide the link to that story here that would be awesome, since i lost it somewhere.
A: I wouldn’t be too hard on Miley. None of us knows what her childhood was like, what her parents were like, or what sorts of struggles she has.
I think she does her best to express herself in a way that she feels is meaningful to her, and even though that can make those of us on the outside feel uncomfortable, without knowing exactly what she’s dealing with on a day to day basis, I do my best not to judge her.
The story you’re looking for is here.
Q: How does modern internet fame compare to 80s Hollywood fame for you?
A: That’s a really good question, and it isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.
I guess it’s more real? Like, nobody gave a shit about me (except as a punchline or a vagrant thought wondering whatever happened to me) before I started writing my blog 16 years ago. Holy crap that’s a long time ago. But I’ve worked so hard to achieve something entirely on my own, and it happened on the Internet, mostly, so I guess it feels more earned than the stuff that happened when I was a kid.
It’s also less intense, because I can walk away from the Internet if I want or need to, and when I was that strange level of Teen Magazine Famous in the 80s, I couldn’t just easily walk away from the mall or wherever I was.
Q: I was in junior high when TNG premiered, and it was your face, ripped from the pages of teen magazines, that decorated my locker for a few years.
What was it like for you at that age, doing those photo shoots? How aware were you that you were a teen heartthrob and how did you feel about it? Looking back on it now, do you feel any differently?
Also, regarding Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”), how fun/liberating is it to play an evil version of yourself on The Big Bang Theory?
A: What was it like for you at that age, doing those photo shoots? How aware were you that you were a teen heartthrob and how did you feel about it? Looking back on it now, do you feel any differently?
I hated it. It made me feel self-conscious and weird and fake, and I couldn’t understand why girls wanted to have pictures of me, when I couldn’t even bring myself to find the courage to talk to a single girl on my own.
Also, regarding Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”), how fun/liberating is it to play an evil version of yourself on The Big Bang Theory?
It’s pretty great. The villain is the hero of his own story, so getting to be the kind of troll that I am not at all in real life is a lot of fun.
Mostly Stand By Me Questions
Q: Do you ever keep up with the other legendary stars of the eighties and early 90s you worked with on Stand By Me?
A: For a long, long time, I felt like I couldn’t. I felt ashamed of myself for not being more successful after I quit Star Trek, and I felt like I couldn’t show my face around the people I was close to and admired. When I finally got the courage to approach them, when I was in my 30s, they all said some version of, “you have nothing to be ashamed about, and I’m glad you’re back in my life.” That was hard to accept, because it made me feel like I’d wasted a lot of time.
I have a few friends today who I grew up with, like Seth Green and Alyssa Milano, and I follow the careers of people I knew back then, because it always makes me happy when I see that one of us managed to avoid reality TV.
Q: It’s funny. I didn’t even realize you were in Stand By Me. How was it working on that film? If you could go back in time armed with the knowledge you have now, would you have avoided some of the roles you’ve played or do you think they are part of what’s made you who you are today?
A: I wish I hadn’t done the shitty movie The Curse. I got bad advice from people who were supposed to look out for me, but couldn’t say no to a significant payday. It was a terrible experience, seriously hurt the trajectory of my career, and is the biggest regret I have in my professional life.
Mostly General Acting Questions
Q: Are we ever going to see you in a long running role again?
A: I hope so. I honestly feel like I’m at a point in my life where most of Hollywood isn’t that into me, though, so I’m feeling like that’s very unlikely.
I’m doing my best, though, and maybe something will come my way.
Q: What is the most frustrating part of being an actor, or a well known person?
A: Probably people who feel they are entitled to something from me, and who can’t see that I’m a person.
Mostly Life Questions
Q: My 16-year old’s all-time favorite movie is Stand By Me. We’ll rewatch it a couple times a year, a magical film indeed. But my question is more related to my 13-year-old. He seems to be struggling a bit finding his place in life, you know, feeling comfortable in his own skin as he starts leaving childhood behind. It strikes me that he shares some similarities with you, based on what you’ve written regarding your upbringing: feeling out of place, being a sensitive and talented kid, being more interested in games than socializing, etc.
What words of advice would you have for this sweet and talented kid who sometimes feels like a fish out of water? What helped you reach a place where you felt comfortable being, well, you?
A: There is no easy answer to this question, because the answer is different for every person, and the answer can even change for every person, as that person changes.
When I was his age, I was not comfortable in my own skin, at all. It’s so tough being 13, because your body hates you, your brain is confused about everything, and you want to be a kid while also wanting to be an adult while trying to trick all the other equally confused kids around you that you’re the only one who has it all figured out.
Probably the hardest thing to do is to accept that, at 13 and probably all the way to 25 or so, you’re constantly changing. What works for you one week may not work at all the next week, and you have to give yourself permission to make mistakes. You have to be kind and gentle with yourself, and just do your best to be the kind of person you want to be around.
The bullet point advice I’ve given in to kids in the past, which has seemed to work more often than not is:
- Be kind
- Be honest
- Be honorable
- Work hard
- Always do your best and accept that “your best” varies from day to day
- Be the kind of person you want to be around
- Stand up for yourself
- Stand up for people who are unable to stand up for themselves
I don’t know if any of this is helpful, but I’ve spent a lot of time sitting here looking at a blinking cursor, and this is the best I can do right now.
Q: Once you grew up and got married, you became a writer, and then an actor again.
If you hadn’t done that, what would you have done? And do you think being a child star would’ve dictated that choice?
A: I probably would have ended up on reality TV and then dead. In fact, I may have just skipped the reality TV part.
Mostly Mental Health Questions
Q: You’ve talked in the past about your struggles with depression and mental illness. How did you address and overcome those in order to be successful and continue your career? Was that a significant roadblock?
A: I didn’t accept that I have depression and anxiety until I was in my 30s, so the whole time I was a child actor, I was living with it and not knowing what it was. I tried talking to people about the chest-crushing panic attacks I had, but I don’t recall anyone taking me seriously or listening to me.
Before I got treatment for my mental illness, it was definitely holding me back in my career and in my life, but because I was living in the center of it, I didn’t realize how much it hurt.
One of the reasons I speak so openly about it now, and encourage people to get help, is because I probably spent 30 years suffering needlessly, just because I didn’t know how to be an advocate on my own behalf, and didn’t have anyone in my life (before my wife) who was willing to recognize my symptoms and encourage me to get help.
This is a serious problem in entertainment, especially relating to children: a child actor can be a license to print money, and the entertainment industry is overflowing with people who will wring every dollar they can out of a child actor before throwing him away and moving on to the next one. Those people, who we often trust and rely upon to look out for us and help us navigate around people like them take advantage of our naivete, and don’t do anything that risks us walking away from them or our work. It’s very rare for someone who is supposed to be looking out for a child actor to actually do that, especially where mental health is concerned. Like, if I saw a kid who was clearly struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, I’d do everything I could to help that kid get better, even if it meant getting that kid out of the industry for a short or long time. That sort of thing, while really good for a kid, hurts the bottom line of a person who is making money off that kid, so that person isn’t going to do anything about it.
I believe that one of the reasons River Phoenix died is that he was surrounded by people who were riding the gravy train, and didn’t want to risk getting thrown off, so the people closest to him, the ones who had the best chance of getting through to him, didn’t look out for him.
Q: A video of yours was actually one of the biggest motivators for me in dealing with my own mental illness issues, so thank you for being so open about it.
A: That’s awesome. I’m glad I was able to help. Remember: you are not alone in this fight.
Q: What video? This thread might be a good place for a link to it.
A: Here it is at Project UROK.
Q: How did you feel reactions were when you started being open about your problems? Did you have any negative backlash in any way or was it mostly supportive?
A: The only thing I was afraid of was saying the wrong thing, or unintentionally messing someone up. I spoke and continue to speak with professionals, so I learn how to help people seek out their own care, and take care of themselves.
The only people who have ever said anything shitty are the gamergaters, but I don’t have a fuck to give about anything those jerks think.
Q: What are some ways you’ve found to pull yourself up after particularly bad dip in mood?
A: Everything is temporary. That’s a challenge to remember when I’m in the middle of a bad time, but I have to remember it and repeat it to myself. I also use CBT to help break the cycle of Depressed thinking, and I give myself a break when it’s shitty, because I know it’s not my fault that my brain chemistry is wonky.
57 thoughts on “I guess this is sort of a partial FAQ”
Your comment about feeling ashamed about not being more successful was really helpful. I commented on reddit, but thought I’d post here as well.
I suffer from depression and anxiety, doing the meds/counselling thing, but being almost 40 I have zero of the same accomplishments as others my age. I always feel like I can’t hang out with old friends because I am not successful like they are. I feel like a fraud.
It’s nice to hear that despite your fears, they had none of those thoughts … maybe that can be true for me too. Thanks for sharing, Wil. You’re so open and I appreciate that.
Jennifer, I’m in my 30s and I feel the same way. I actually feel ashamed spending time around people who are more successful than myself, like my presence will somehow bring them down. It stinks and it’s the wrong way of thinking, but little by little I’ve been trying to do better.
Although you may feel like you haven’t accomplished anything, there has never been a better time to start than “now”. =)
I don’t know if this will help, but my life went drastically off the rails early (18). Whenever I feel not good enough because of direction my life has taken rather than where it was going I remind myself that all of that stuff made me, me. And while I also suffer from depression and anxiety, when my brain isn’t trying to kill me, I LIKE me. Some of my old friends are professors and becoming renowned scholars. I am just a housewife. This is my Path and That was theirs. we all gave up things to get where we are. I might not have all the credentials or a book deal or anything like that, but I am still a person, just like them. I hope you can find something in that to help negate that feeling of shame.
“I am just a housewife…” Please don’t say that; there is worth to be had in an ordinary life well lived. I am doing it, too, and we are all cogs in the machine of the universe!!
And I sincerely hope that doesn’t sound like a chastisement. worried I meant it as an encouragement and a cyber hug. I’m shutting up now before I really put my foot in my gob…
I wanted to say thank you for calling me out on that! It is a bad verbal tick I get into that I need to break. Thanks. 🙂
You inspire me so much. Thank you for sharing your successes and struggles. I think you do some really good things in this world.
That was a great AMA, and I’m sorry I missed it. Whose turn is it in P.S. Wars? I have forgotten, but we should play soon. 🙂
🙂 I want to say I started reading your blog sometime in 2003, but I’ve always enjoyed reading the good, bad, ugly, and whatever else you have had to say! I know you have worked really hard to be where you are at today, and that’s awesome! You rock!
Thanks for putting this together, Wil. It was very insightful.
Thanks for sharing Wil. I wish you all the best in your pursuits. I came to your blog through watching you on BBT, the WWP, and also your Twitter shenanigans with Scalzi. I just want to say thanks for being you. Keep on keepin’ on.
Oh, and I noticed, thanks to Twitter, you are a hockey fan (I didn’t know before). Fantastic. I was a fan of the Kings when I was living there and was a fan while Gretzky played there. If you are ever in Minnesota, and want to give the sport a shot, give me a shout.
Wil plays goalie! It’s rumored he’ll be in a Kevin Smith movie at some point. He has said before that people used to try to forbid him from playing when he was a kid because of potential facial injury!
Wil power 🙂
kinda freakin awesome – and just watched the video.
what an inspiration! <3
Thank you for sharing all of this.
I’ve not been following you actively, yet, though I will be now. A little late to the show, I realize! I’ve seen some of your writing shared here and there, and I did share your UROK video to a facebook page about emotional health when it was first published, and loved how you were using open vulnerability to help the rest of us.
Your willingness to be open about many of these topics is so important toward others feeling less alone. ( I know you already know that but…I know many things that I don’t mind being reminded of! ) The first half of your journey seems like it was pretty painful and while I don’t subscribe to “Everything happens for a reason” (unless its in a physics sense) I do think that we can recognize the ways in which we can share and teach and help others that might not have been possible without the knowledge we gained during our dark times. Not only did you experience these things but you have such an insight and understanding regarding our internal struggles.
I have had curiosity regarding how stardom messes with people’s sense of self and identity, and I feel like your insights into this are invaluable, though probably the people who need to see that insight the most are the ones currently experiencing a tribe of sycophants. For any who are able to read it, it will help. Much respect.
There are a variety of definitions for success, and most are relevant to the defining person. For me, it is all about love, and the rewards of having a family and friends. But I realize that many need success in different aspects of life such as career, fulfilling experiences and the impact a person leaves on society. I believe in every way, your life has been a road map for success. You have an abundance of love, from family, friends, co-workers and strangers. Your careers have been noteworthy, admirable and eclectic, with countless memorable experiences. But your impact on others has been more extraordinary than you realize. You continue to be creative in several different directions, give back to humanity in your daily life, and despite debilitating depressive events, reach out to help others deal with similar challenges. By sharing your vulnerabilities, you give permission for others to do the same and receive help. That is life changing, my friend. I’m proud to have met you.
“a child actor can be a license to print money, and the entertainment industry is overflowing with people who will wring every dollar they can out of a child actor before throwing him away and moving on to the next one.”
This really bothered the heck out of me. At what point do you need to be where exploiting a kid seems acceptable?
Wil, I’m really glad that you got past all that, and are happy and healthy and doing life !
My girlfriend and I saw “The Curse” at the drive-in. It wasn’t a great movie, but the one thing that struck both of us==and which has stuck with me all these years–is you carrying your sister Amy around when you’re running from…whatever you were running from. (Sorry, it’s been a long time and I’ve seen a lot of movies since then.) There was something so genuine in your concern for her, as though not only did your character want to protect her character, but you wanted to protect her from being too scared.
It really saddens me to think about how lonely and isolating some aspects of your life were as a child actor. But when I read your brave and insightful writing it strikes me over and over again how much you learned as a result of those experiences. (Not to mention the fact that you’re one damned fine writer, period.) Thank you for having the courage to be vulnerable and authentic. You’ll probably never know how many people you’re helping and encouraging, but you are.
Wil, you are an inspiration to me with everything that you have done to help others. I heartily enjoy watching you act or just be yourself, and I hope that we will meet some day so I can thank you in person for being one of my favorite people in the world.
Thanks for reposting the highlights! I always enjoy AMAs, but I find them much easier to read in a format like this.
I have to say that I admire your guts and your openness in discussing the problems you’ve been grappling with all these years. Let me offer you this bit of encouragement from the poet, Robert Browning: “Come along, grow old with me; The best is yet to be!” Take care
No one else is gonna ask about that sweetass matryoshka doll?
All of the people I admire most are strong humans and better artists because they’ve dealt with true adversity and come through the other side. Now I’m adding you to that list.
Forgive me for posting medical advice when I’m not your doctor, but this has helped me so much that now I want to tell everyone with anxiety and depression: if you haven’t already, get your neurotransmitters tested. Simple saliva test. They have such an impact on mental health, and if your levels are off they’re generally treatable with OTC supplements. (In addition to therapy, SSRIs, and all the other good treatments. More tools are better than fewer tools.)
Thanks for being you and for sharing yourself with us!
Hey Wil! I wanted to let you know that I’m struggling with anxiety, and I find you really inspirational. Hearing you say, very directly, “you are okay” on the ProjectUROK video was really meaningful.
Thank you for sharing! I appreciate your openness and ability to be real. I found your reference of ‘Learning to human’ from Project UROK particularly insightful and a reminder of how important it is to be present enjoy the people and beauty around us.
Thanks for your honesty and openness, Wil. Love your the work you do and can definitely consider myself a fan. Trying to get all my friends back home in South Africa to watch your shows on Geek & Sundry. You ,sir are awesome and a very literal inspiration for me in the work I’m trying to turn from a hobby into a career. Being in my early 30s and looking back on all the years I’ve wasted, I get depressed by the mountain of barriers I need to climb to attain my goals (the obvious result being that I start to give up). Your heartfelt words were truly moving and will be a source of strength for me as I push through.
Once again, thank you and keep up the great work you’re doing!
I know this is patently not the point, but while I can’t undo the badness of being a child star for anyone, I can teach people chemistry. It’s my job (I tutor people in chemistry etc to take the US Med School Application Test). If you decide you want someone to teach you some chemistry, just for fun (and for free or I could violate my noncompete), you have my email address linked with this comment.
I know you don’t really like to talk about your time at Newtek much–you pretty much gloss over it in the FAQ–but I just wanted to let you know that I thought it was badass that you could go from being in front of the camera to behind it, and it clued 13-year-old me into the possibility that I could and probably would change careers in my life and that would be a perfectly OK thing to do.
It’s not that I don’t like to talk about it, as much as there just isn’t that much to talk about. I grew a lot as a person when I worked there, and I am proud as hell of the things I helped bring into the world as part of the team. I often joke that if high-speed Internet had existed in the early 90s, I’d be having this conversation on my yacht, because while we made the tools to create professional videos affordable, there was no way to actually get those videos to people like there is today. We were literally years ahead of our time.
You are loved. Always know that.
I just wanted to share one of the many ways that you have impacted my life. About eight months ago I was struggling with anxiety and depression due to a negative work environment. Despite loving my job, my supervisor had extremely unrealistic expectations (as I later found out by talking to a former employee in my same position as well as the former manager). I struggled with feeling worthless and the deep dark of depression really crept up on me. After being suspended without pay, I finally discussed using my ADHD (diagnosed in first grade) to fight back from a disability standpoint with my counselor. We did think my ADHD was contributing to my issues at work … a self-fulfilling prophecy effect had started to take place. My manager would blow even minor mistakes out of proportion, which would create anxiety and tension for me, which would trigger my ADHD, which would lead to more mistakes, which lead to more berating and therefore more depression. Anyways, a part of our plan to get things back to square one was to go on medicine for ADHD, something I hadn’t done since junior high. I really struggled with this decision and was very hard on myself for needing to go that route. In the midst of this, at the perfect moment, your Project UROK video appeared in my Facebook feed. Seeing that video at that particular time and hearing someone whom I really respect, from the industry I would like to someday work in gave me the strength to try medication again. In the end the medication helped for a short while, but the side-effects were too aggressive so I choose to try a different route, starting with a change of diet, etc. And, more importantly I found a better, healthier work environment.
Anyways, I just wanted to share this with you and say thank you.
Hope you don’t mind Wil…I quoted your 8 points for becoming a person on my blog.
Please tell @annewheaton we miss her
Really nice summary of stuff. Keep up the positive stuff – I think your real fans appreciate that you are on the end of a lot of crap from a vocal minority, but a lot of the work that you are doing is helping other people understand where they are in life and how they can move on.
Your words have more than made a difference to a handful of people. Your profile has allowed it to make a difference to a lot of people, young and older…
First, I want to say I hate when you play a mean person. You do it well, but I just can’t see you being mean. I wanted to smack you when you beat Sheldon in that card game. It was just plan mean. I’m glad that you and Sheldon are now friends.
With that said, your blog it great! You beautifully put in to words what everyone feels at some time in their life. I’m glad you found your wife. The two of you look so happy. It’s great when you marry someone who supports you no mater what. I too, have found a great friend in my husband.
Continue to write, knowing that you give support and hope to others going through similar issues. I’m glad you never fell into the drugs and party scene. While you may have felt like you didn’t fit in, you were true to yourself and are the better for it!
I think your advice for a 13 year old kid is awesome. I’m seriously going to write it down and save it for when my now 2 year old needs it down the road, because I can’t think of anything better. Those things perfectly describe the person I want her to become some day.
Thank you for your continued honesty and openness about your life. There are a lot of douchebags out there, but some of us do really listen and appreciate it.
In my country they often say: the higher you fly, the worse it is when you fall. Pain is horrible. But. Sometimes for me. Pain is a friend. A reaction not to be avoided. My Scars show how much I’ve been through. And still alive. And so are you.
Struggling for your space, for your universe.
I can’t say that I hate pain. Of course I don’t like it. But, looking back. Pain makes me move (or other people give me a magical kick-ass, no?). Pain is to be treated and not deleted as a function. I want to believe that it is pain that has led you to the positive decisions in your life.
Pain seemes to be a result of the society and patterns you are living in.
It is so strange to me. Really. This problem- pushing kids to loose their childhood and making them ‘stars’ seems to be so far from just a family I grew in.
I can’t put myself into your skin and understand completely. Honestly. But I feel a big compassion to you when they addressed you “kid” and showed no respect. It can’t but hurt so much. Especially a man. And boy is a man too- but far more vulnerable. And what is more, it suppresses every talent.
I remember a situation from my life when a very powerful and power greedy and older and sophisticated tried to ideologically suppress me and other kids in front of our class. Tried to show that we are very bad people. And we were 13 or so. Just because we studied worse or our parents worked in ‘wrong’ places or I couldn’t go to school at the day I should have. It was a big trauma. But for me it was just the time. And people. And hobby. And books. To overcome and forgive. It was so important to leave ALL parts of that accident behind. All of them. And I managed to see I won. I wasn’t destroyed. I survived. And even cried at the funeral of this teacher. Because I was free.
Wil. Your story is far longer. And your flight is bigger. And you have to fight your past and depression. I am ordinary. But with my little scars. Looking back I see myself moving. And loving this life. I sinserely hope that you love yours and find strengths inside to always stand up. For kind people it is always harder. So what?)
I don’t follow you regularly, but I am always happy when I happen to catch you on Nerdist or wherever. I realized listening to your last appearance on Nerdist that we are practically the same age (I’m 3 weeks younger than you.)
I’ve never been a child actor but I have dealt with depression and I totally related with your feelings (on the podcast) of not being worthy of your accomplishments, not realizing the value in what you’ve done. Again, I’m not, nor have I ever been famous, but listening to you talk about those feelings made me realize that even though nobody knows who I am (which I actually like, mostly), even though nothing I’ve done professionally has shaken the world, I have survived some things that not a lot of other people have had to go through, that I came through to the other side in one piece, (hopefully wiser), and that’s something I can be proud of.
Anyway, I’m a fan… I couldn’t stand Wesley Crusher (I recently re-watched all of TNG and realized that was unfair), but I was converted when you hosted Arena (stopped watching when you left) and then when I found your blog. You’re a good guy, you’re empathetic, and you’re nice to people. And those are some good things to be, or aspire to be. Keep on being you, which shouldn’t be too hard because really, what other choice do you have?
I will join the general thank you for this post. It was really fascinating. It’s really helpful the way you are so honest about your past and current struggles. I wanted to say a few things in response:
First, as someone who found school really easy and did well, in many ways I stopped learning when I stopped being in school. I got way too comfortable with the environment and don’t have great tools for learning on my own. Both my brothers struggled in various ways in school and are two of the best life long learners I know. I don’t want to romanticize having your education so throughly back burnered, but like many mixed circumstances, if you’re still curious instead of going “yay, I got this because I did it in school” even though you just learned it for the test and quickly forgot it, that may be the silver lining.
As a TNG fan, I think I shared some of your frustrations. At least I felt the problems with your character had little to do with your performance, and everything to do with how the writers used the character. Wesley sometimes seemed like a swiss army knife, and they’d have you do whatever a particular episode or season demanded without regard to how they’d written the character in the past. A lot of the characters changed over the ark of the show, but most of them were allowed to develop in ways that at least had something to do with who’d they’d been and had reasons for how they got there. Whereas you seemed to get stuck with “Hey, even though we said you were a genius last season, we need you to be really stupid here. Even though you had a really close relationship with your mother, now we want you to voluntarily to leave her.” How anyone could imagine that a kid could be responsible for that, is beyond me.
Lastly, is just plain fan girling. Your performance in Stand By Me was so deeply touching. I know it’s generally considered an ensemble piece, but you were the heart of it for me. It was a performance of such dazzling vulnerability and strength. You could have a really long acting career beyond your wildest dreams and still have that as your best performance without shame, I admire many things you’ve done as an adult, but I would still like to have done anything as well as you did that.
Thank you for the detailed, full-scale story of your film-related life. It is totally new for me. And I’ve been in your story for several days. It makes me think much. Thank you for sharing. It is something very important! Especially to me. When I watch your films- like Toy Soldiers or Star Trek TNG and love your work or enjoy watching your characters- it is one side. But you give also a completely different side of the story to be read. I see not just a handsome boy with wonderful and very beautiful soul. I see his life behind the screen. Behind cinema. And behind all those posters. And the sacrifice youve given. The, you know, other side. And something turns in me. It seems so strange and silly that people want a piece of you just based on the films you’ve been in. Sure it pisses you off- the object of their desire is a fiction.
What you show me- and I am thankful for that- is the reality. The real story. The real picture. The price of that.
I wonder if it is actually worthy- creating a work of art by taking someone’s childhood forever. It reminds me of the words by MyChemicalRomance: Will you destroy something perfect in order to create something beautiful. I understand that the answer in our world is never the same. Cause things are way too relevant.
One more thing.
I’ve read the interview and you answers at the Reddit. And couldn’t find one of my favorite roles of yours. I may seem strange, but the first film I’ve seen with you was Mr.Stitch. And it was amazing! I love your work there. I’ve also found several articles about the re-written script. And it became so interesting for me, whether there’s anywhere information about the I initial idea. If you could share, it would be, you know, beyond expectations!
Anyway thank you for sharing so much with us. It creates a different universe of perception of films.
A note on backsliding for anyone who’s interested. One of the biggest ahas I ever had was being introduced to the notion of the Learning Curve. We like to think of change as some kind of Personal revolution. Graph it and it would be a straight line up to 100% success that simply plateaus there. Well, I did at least. But the graph that characterizes observable behavioral change is not this plateau, nor is it a smooth upward climb. Successful change is like climbing foothills up to a mountain. One should expect dips and backsliding, whatever. Perceiving the natural backslide as failure is part of my pathology. When I learned to identify it as the natural process of learning something new and unlearning old behaviors, I started to free myself from the thoughts that spin me completely off course.
I have even learned to build backslide into my expectations, to own it and celebrate the event as the milestone it is. I stop and really think about it. If it is worth doing, I give it everything I got. If it isn’t, I quit and cut my losses in wasted time and effort.
You got this.
Will I met you in Calgary and your talks and blogs have always inspired me. Thanks for taking from the heart.
I just laughed so hard at your Jaden Smith comment my co-worker asked me if I was okay. Thank God my 13-year-old diaries aren’t on-line for everyone to read.
I always enjoy whatever you write. But today the part I found most impressive/noteworthy is the advice for 13 year old boys. Because I have NEVER been one, and because I have one that I worry about constantly. While, biologically he has a father, my son has never met the man who is 1/2 of his genetic code. That man wasn’t ready to be a grown up ever, and still isn’t from the little I hear about him. When I got pregnant, he didn’t want to be responsible and I wasn’t going to raise two kids at the same time, so we parted ways. While a part of me flat out hates him, the rest of me knows that it was the best decision either of us could have made, because he would have truly sucked at being a father. Especially since he had no desire to even try. I don’t think you can succeed at something even a little if you don’t even want to try.
Because of this though – he’s different. He’s also 13 years old and 6’1″ (and he’s not done growing). and I’m a geek and he’s a partial geek, and he’s not into sports for the most part, and all of these things conspire against him – which I hate because being 13 is rough enough. So, it’s always helpful & hopeful to hear from men who I see and admire what advice they have. and I always pass it along to him.
So, thank you again, for your honesty and openness.
Q: In that episode Ann asked you why you spell your name with only one “L.” You started your answer as “Leaving one L off the end of my name …” Ann instantly interrupts you and says, “… is pretentious.” Big laugh. So, my question is, why only one L, and was that moment scripted or just amazing timing on the part of Ann?
A: That moment was not scripted, at least not by me. It may have been scripted by the writers and Ann.
GAH!! So if it wasn’t scripted, that means you were about to say . . . . WHAT?!?
The Internet needs to know…why one ‘L’?
That was so long ago, I don’t remember.
OK, in that case, I’m going to have to blame it on Willliam (three L’s) F. Shatner. He stole one of your L’s! And made you look pretentious on a game show! Works for me. You? 😉
I had meant to ask if you were ever going to expand on Volume One of Memories Of The Future? I’m rewatching the show at present and reading the episode section form your book after I’ve watched each one.
It’s in my queue, but it doesn’t have top priority at the moment.
That’s good to know, thanks!
Hey Wil. Or whatever. It MIGHT interest you, but really maybe not; Me, an artist and gamer and my partners, chosen and bankrolled by me at least, will try to make a virtual Mafia-game based on biometric data-collecting – really. On f.ex. I-phone.
Wanna think with us or just wait?
John Eirik Sandli, truthfully haha:D Why not try. Maybe you’d like to playtest!:D I think that could be even more fun for me.
Q: If you could write a Star Trek movie with no content restrictions, how would it go?
Ha! I know what my dream-Trek movie would be: Captain Robyn Lefler and Wesley Crusher in a rom com, solving a mystery or having an adventure, with lots of snappy banter. You and Ashley Judd had ridiculous amounts of chemistry together. Back when I saw that episode, I wanted a Next Gen Young Adult TV series spin-off.
I appreciate and understand your openness Wil. I was an odd one when i was young and believe your advise is spot on, creating a self adjudicated moral guideline. I guess its nice to hear others carry offset perceptions of them selves in their youth. I personally felt myself as being a lowly monster, and did anything to please others to appologize for my indicretion of existing. Heh, even turned people from my life to protect them from backlash of being arround my monstrosity. Anyhow what im trying to articulate is that it feels oddly comforting that there are others out there… Thank you all for Being.
Wil, thank you for being you. I have loved watching you in all your childhood roles especially Star Trek TNG and now in the Big Bang! I was one of those girls with your poster on the wall like you said in the opening line of you Wil Wheaton Project so I laughed. I’m so honoured that now as an adult you are doing what you love because my son who is 12 with Autism watches you in everything you do especially Table Top and it has been so amazing to see him want to get involved with playing games. It’s helped him develop his life skills and he wants to communicate and involve others which is a huge thing. From the girl crush to total admiration as a parent I thank you . I don’t have enough words to say , thank you for not becoming a major celeb too big for your boots. Good to know your still human at the end of the day and being open and honest and your journey and your struggles. We live in Australia so I will worship you from a far (and of course from the computer screen on the constant reruns of Table Top and I still smile when reruns of Star Trek TNG come on and my son screams Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton. Thank You x
It took me a few seconds on that last question to realize that CBT meant cognitive behavioral therapy and not cock and ball torture.
Not sure whether anyone has pointed this out, but to me “playing the character we all love to hate” feels like it might actually be related to Wesley Crusher as well. Only now in the adult more angry version with more control over the love and the hate.
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