Don’t hate him because he played a supergenius. After all, it wasn’t actor Wil Wheaton’s fault that, as Ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he was the youngest, most annoying person ever to work the bridge of the starship Enterprise, a goody two-shoes who seemed to be constantly saving the universe while wearing the galaxy’s geekiest gray space outfit.
But for the three-plus seasons that Wheaton served, his precocious teenage character grated on many Trek fans, some of whom sported ”Nuke Wesley” buttons. (”There was probably envy and resentment,” notes Patrick Stewart, TNG‘s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. ”In the early episodes you often saw a child being smarter than the senior crew members.”) So at 18, frustrated by Wesley’s limitations and afraid of spending his life recalling Star Trek glory, Wheaton asked to be released from the show. ”Achieving escape velocity can be extremely difficult,” he says, but he managed to get Crusher shipped off to the Starfleet Academy in 1990.
Returning to earth has definitely cost him. He’s been conspicuously absent from the Next Generation movies: 1994’s Generations and the latest, First Contact, which opens Nov. 22. ”The folks in charge gave me the feeling I turned my back on them,” says Wheaton. ”They had me back a couple of times, then shipped me off to the Island of Misfit Toys.”
A fourth-generation Californian who grew up outside Pasadena, Wheaton began acting at age 7 when he accompanied his mom, Debbie, on an audition for a commercial; both got parts. By 13, he had three features under his belt and had landed a costarring role in Rob Reiner’s 1986 Stand By Me. He achieved warp speed a year later.
After his Trek departure, Wheaton tried to escape Wesley by moving to Kansas and ”getting a real job” at a computer company. He even dyed his hair white for a few months last year. ”Star Trek follows you like a disease,” he says, but he’s striving to enter a new dimension. Now 24 and living in L.A. with his girlfriend, Anne Prince, 27, a receptionist, and her two children, Wheaton has recently done TV movies (1996’s Mr. Stitch) and an obscure feature (1995’s Pie in the Sky). ”I was scared I was gonna go from the Star Trek guy to the straight-to-video guy,” jokes Wheaton.
Of course, with a role in next year’s remake of The Absent-Minded Professor starring Robin Williams, he can laugh about it now. ”I play a really nasty, arrogant college kid,” he says, adding triumphantly, ”and he’s dumb as a post.”
Time Capsule: November 29, 1990
As Wil Wheaton was breaking away from TNG, moviegoers screamed for Home Alone, fiction lovers inhabited Jean Auel’s The Plains of Passage, and music fans grooved to ”Love Takes Time” by Mariah Carey.