For Patrick Stewart, his most famous role was both a blessing and a curse. As the first British actor, he was part of a “Star Trek” crew. The part as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the TV series “Spaceship Enterprise: The Next Century” made him world famous. But for a long time he also limited the roles that were offered to him, because everyone saw him only as Picard.
After the end of the popular series and several Star Trek films, this chapter seemed to be over for Stewart once and for all. But now that the actor celebrates his 80th birthday this Monday, the second season of his new TV series “Star Trek: Picard” is in production with him as the title hero.
The first day on the set of the series felt strange, “as if I had the wrong underwear on,” Stewart recently joked in an interview with the US magazine “Variety”. No wonder he’d said for years that he’d graduated from Picard and had no interest in reviving the character. He had enough to do anyway.
Initial skepticism about the Star Trek role
In general, it was initially a very unusual role for him when it was offered to him in the mid-1980s. And Stewart, who was born on July 13, 1940 in the English village of Mirfield in West Yorkshire, was skeptical about the success of the series “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. He is said to have lived out of his suitcase in Los Angeles.
When the series started, the 47-year-old was unfamiliar with most viewers in the United States. At that time he had only two appearances in well-known films in his résumé, in John Boorman’s fantasy film “Excalibur” (1981) and David Lynch’s science fiction epic “Dune – The Desert Planet” (1984), he played supporting characters.
“If you didn’t turn on BBC2 occasionally (the TV station), you had never heard of me,” he told the “Mirror”. The face of guest appearances in series and smaller productions could at least appear familiar to the British TV audience. In 1967, for example, Stewart played a firefighter in an episode of the long-standing soap opera “Coronation Street”, which continues on British television to this day.
The actor’s main occupation was then on the theater stage. From 1966 to 1982 he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His teacher had woken up to love for the theater when Stewart was eleven or twelve years old. “He gave me a copy of Shakespeare and said,” Now stand up and present it, “Sir Patrick said gratefully when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010. “None of this would have happened without this man.”
Even after his time at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stewart kept appearing in the theater. At the beginning of the 90s and ever since, he took over all roles in a solo performance of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Story (“A Christmas Carol”). At London’s West End, he last shone in 2016 in Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” with his close friend Sir Ian McKellen. Sir Patrick’s cult status as a sincere, reliable and sometimes somewhat stiff Captain Picard has also attracted many “Star Trek” fans to the theater over the past three decades.
The time after “TNG”: From “X-Men” to “Picard”
From 2000, Stewart expanded his fan base as Professor Charles Xavier with the Marvel comic book adaptation “X-Men”, which he also played in three sequels and three “Wolverine” films based on them. With “Logan”, he said goodbye to Professor X in 2017. A comeback shouldn’t be ruled out completely, after all, Sir Patrick changed his mind about his leading role.
For 15 years, Stewart was seen as a French spaceship captain with a fine English accent in seven TV seasons and four films – the last one was “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002). “If I had known that beforehand, I would not have participated in the first place,” he said in an interview with BBC in 2013. “And when I think back, it scares me a little that such a large part of my life was completely dedicated to” Star Trek “and almost nothing else.”
Nevertheless, after initial hesitation, he made a comeback as Picard in 2017 because he liked the modern approach. The world of the old TV series was “too perfect and too protected,” Stewart explained in the “Variety” interview, “It was an ideal world full of respect, communication and care – and sometimes fun.” On the other hand, “Star Trek: Picard “grim and pessimistic, which not all fans like. For Stewart, on the other hand, it makes perfect sense. “That was my answer to the world of Brexit and Trump,” he said.
Since the corona virus pandemic has also slowed down the film and television industry, it will probably take a while before the new episodes can be seen. Stewart, who lives in a third marriage with the musician Sunny Ozell in the New York borough of Brooklyn, meanwhile passes the time with challenging puzzles and writes his memoirs. And he continues to pursue the passion that has accompanied him for almost 70 years. In short videos that he publishes on social media, he recites poems by William Shakespeare.
“He plays very strong characters and he looks impressive,” said buddy, best man and “X-Men” co-star Ian McKellen about Patrick Stewart recently. “It looks reliable. He is the type you want to have with you in a difficult situation. Captain Picard is here, so don’t worry. “