It might have been tricky to take an alien that was really an oil slick seriously, but that was exactly what Patrick Stewart had to do as an actor in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Stewart came to Trek with loads of Shakespearean experience, and in summing up what that experience brought to his role of Jean-Luc Picard, Stewart said, “I would say it brought gravitas maybe.”
“[Gravitas and more seriousness] is what we tried to bring,” said Stewart. “I mean, we had a lot of fun, too. Of course, fantastic fun. But yeah, we took it seriously. And so if I’m standing there talking to, you know, some alien on the view screen, or an oil slick, which I did once have a conversation with, or a grain of rice that I talked to once, you know, you better take that seriously.”
Although he took his work seriously, Stewart didn’t think that the show would last beyond a season. “I was told we wouldn’t make it through the first season,” he said. “Everybody I went to ask, ‘What should I do, I’ve been offered this job, what should I do?’ A few people I knew in Hollywood, their opinions ranged from, ‘You’ll be lucky to do all 26 episodes,’ through to ‘Eh, a couple years maximum.’ Nobody… nobody… banked on it.”
One of Stewart’s fellow actors, Wil Wheaton, is now known as a “geek.” According to Stewart, Wheaton “always was” a geek. “He set up my first computer,” Stewart explained. “I got the then-head of Apple, Jean-Louis Gassée (was a) big ‘Star Trek’ fan. And one day, all these boxes arrived. I didn’t have a computer, (just) an electric typewriter. All these boxes arrived and Wil saw them there. And I don’t know, somewhere said (high pitched and excited) ‘Wow! Man! You’ve got all this cool stuff!’ I mean, literally, that was the dialogue. And he said, ‘You gotta let me set it up!’ So he came around with another friend of ours during the production, and he set up my first computer.”
Stewart will be seen in the role of Claudius in PBS’s production of Hamlet on Great Performances on April 28. Later this year, he will perform in the title role of Hamlet, also for PBS.