Stewart Brings Childhood Fears To Stage and Public RolesBy Michelle
January 8, 2006 - 7:28 PM
Patrick Stewart (Picard), "known round the world and no doubt in outer space too", spoke to a British interviewer about leaving Hollywood, his involvement in politics and the background in theatre that drew him to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Speaking to Gavin Esler on the BBC programme HardTalk Extra on December 16th, Stewart explained that as happy as he is to be back in Britain, he hoped that he had not left Hollywood behind forever and "I hope they haven't left me behind either. It's been for the past 20 years a significant part of my career."
But Hollywood, he added, "could not provide me with a lot of other things...the work that had been a large part of my life in the theatre." Stewart had done plays in Los Angeles, but said that "there's always that feeling when you do a play in Hollywood that you're only doing it because you can't get any work in film or television." He considered relocating to New York, but realised, "I was also desperately homesick." Living outside Los Angeles, with hibiscus blooming outside his window and grapefruit and oranges growing in the yard in what he called "a magical part of the world" did not assuage his desire to be in the UK.
At the time of the interview, Stewart was finishing a "brave or foolhardy" run in his one-man version of A Christmas Carol and preparing to start rehearsals with the RSC. "I was 18 years younger when I first put this one man show together," he groaned, admitting that it was physically taxing, though "on the other hand, I get to tell one of the greatest stories ever written." Likening Dickens' fiction to Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, Stewart noted that he had had to find Scrooge within himself and related to the conversion "of this unloved and unloving person." He also appreciated Dickens' criticism of social conditions in Victorian London.
Though Stewart said his Yorkshire community was a wonderful place to grow up in that many people were involved in music and theatre - his town had12 fully active drama societies, each of which did a panto every year, plus glee clubs, choirs, brass bands and string quartets. But he grew up poor, and taking up performing as a career was thought odd. Stewart explained that his parents did their best, but added, "I had an unhappy, frustrated father who was a weekend alcoholic."
Stewart's first serious experience with acting was in a play his English teacher put him in with adults, where he discovered that he did not have stage fright and felt more at home than in the house where he grew up afraid of his father's violence and unpredictability. When he was asked to take on a role speaking about violence against women for Amnesty International, the organisation did not realise that he had personal testimony to offer. The figured, he noted, were shocking: one in five women in the U.K. had been a victim of physical mistreatment, and "that's too many." He also felt that his father was a victim of his own violence: "He didn't want to be a violent man…he was out of control."
A stage actor by training, Stewart said, "I never looked for film or television work" and explained that he was cast on Star Trek: The Next Generation almost by accident. A friend had asked him to help with a lecture at UCLA where he was spotted by producer Bob Justman, who suggested a meeting with Stewart to Gene Roddenberry - much to the surprise of Stewart's agent, who had not known that Stewart was doing any teaching. He had never watched the first Star Trek and received a primer from his children. Though he hesitated to sign a six-year contract, he was assured that the show would not last, because "You cannot revive an iconic series like Star Trek."
Now proud of being Chancellor of Huddersfield University, Stewart labelled his politics "socialist" and talked about his ties to Britain's Labour Party including his meetings with Tony Blair. He said that he was not at all sorry to be leaving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's California nor President George Bush's United States, explaining that he did not like paying state and federal taxes to support those administrations' policies.
Stewart said he was excited to be part of a Shakespeare celebration which will include all of the Bard's plays and poems. He will be appearing for the first time as the male lead in Antony and Cleopatra and for the fifth time as Prospero in The Tempest - a role he first played in West Yorkshire as a teenager. If his well-known roles as Captain Picard or Professor Xavier bring audiences into the theatre, he added, he will be very happy.
The full interview may be downloaded here.