SIR PATRICK STEWART
IS JEAN-LUC PICARD
How did you feel about the first season of Picard?
Oh, I was very, very pleased. Even though there had been a lot of preparation for season one, which included two long meetings between myself and the producers, in which I explained to them in detail why I was turning down their offer. Then I went away and thought about some of the things they said and said, “Could we have a second meeting? This may just be to reinforce my decision to turn you down. But let’s have another talk.”
We did, and by the time I finished talking with [the producers] I was persuaded that there was enough new, and quite revolutionary, thinking about Star Trek which would, in many respects, detach us from The Next Generation and bring in other elements.
That’s what I’ve always liked about, well, series in particular, when you can bring surprises in as often as possible. I thought that all in all, each episode was exactly what we wanted it to be, which was novel and new and unexpected.
How does season two raise the bar and continue to interest you in reprising the character?
[Laughs] Here’s the problem. Right now, when we go back to work on Monday, I will be shooting episode eight of season three, with only two more episodes to go. So we are weeks away from wrapping the series.
I have spent the last six months with my head immersed in season three. So now here I am talking about season two, which has all been pushed into the background. It’s going to be a little bit challenging. But I know that I am permitted to talk about… well, at least two of our guest artists, and some things that happen.
I enjoyed season two a great deal. It was actually quite different from season one. There have been cast changes and things moving about quite a lot. Some of which I was a little disappointed to see, losing the teamwork and the sense of continuity and the lovely people we had on the show in season one. Well, things changed in season two and that’s all I’m allowed to say, I’m afraid, otherwise I can get my knuckles wrapped severely.
But I enjoyed it immensely. But when we wrapped season two, we started season three the next morning. With Next Generation
I think we had a 10-week gap. I had one night’s sleep [laughs]. That was it and we were into season three. So I have to admit that while I am healthy, I’m a little bit weary, too.
There’s almost nothing I can tell you about season three. And there’s very little I can talk about, about season two. [Laughs] But I know that you wanted to talk about the time with de Lancie and with Whoopi, which I am more than happy to do because I adore them both and admire them both so much for the work they do.
What was it like being back opposite them? I kind of feel as if I have a love affair with both of them. So it was like coming back together again after you’ve broken up with someone, and realising that you were still good friends and the relationship wasn’t really damaged.
When I first saw Whoopi, she just opened her arms and I fell into them, and we embraced and hugged – and it was the same with John. They’re both extraordinary performers, and they have similarities too. They have a way of balancing a very vivid naturalism in their work with heightened language sometimes and
heightened responses. I kind of group the two of them together in that respect. We got into situations that were quite novel for the three of us. And that’s what I was looking for when I first met with Alex and Akiva and Kirsten. I didn’t want to just repeat Next Generation with all of those elements. The writers, in every way, respected that wish on my part.
So I found myself saying things and allowing feelings to come out of Jean-luc that I had never done in that way before. Not during the seven years of shooting TNG and the, what, six years of filming, and the four movies following that. Also, I got to put my hands in my pockets as well from time to time. [Laughs]
In fact, in season one, I was so excited about having pockets in my clothing that I put my hands in my pockets way too much and it looked like I was kind of not that interested and just strolling around the sets. When I saw it I was horrified, so I’ve stopped putting my hands in my pockets. [Laughs] Unless it was a very, very good reason to do it.
So I am hoping that our followers, our fans, our audience worldwide, will open their arms to the new developments that are happening in season two. There are some extraordinary scenes in it. I’ve only seen one episode of season two so far. But it was so exciting to see my character and other characters expressing themselves in ways that were unique and original to the show and I hope that that is going to excite our audience, stimulate them and make them want to see more.
Did the time-travel aspects give you new options with Jean-luc?
Yes. The time travel, which at some point becomes a big journey, a big jump in years, I really enjoyed. To be on the streets, the recognisable streets of Los Angeles, shooting Star Trek was a real boost for all of us. I did enjoy that. It’s not just novelty that I’m looking for, it’s a different kind of originality in the work that we do. The unexpected, the surprises. Picard goes through quite a number of them in season one. And that number is, I think, magnified in season two and three, which I have certainly enjoyed. My hope is that it’s not just giving me pleasure, that it will be giving pleasure to our audience as well.
Did you ever consider when you first took the role that it would become one that many would associate with you forever?
[Laughs] The timing of that question is extraordinary, because I am writing an autobiography. It’s a memoir. I actually finished page 280 last night. This is how, until we went back to work six months ago, I have been spending my lockdown time. I was reluctant and truculent to begin with, because I’m not a writer. I mean, I’ve written 300-word
introductions, that kind of thing. But the idea of a book was a little bit intimidating. Some of the happiest times I’ve spent as an adult have been spent in the last year/18 months, just sitting right where I’m sitting now, tap, tap, tap tap, tap, tapping away.
So I have just completed my section on the first season of The Next Generation. That’s where I’m at. I’m in 1987/88. I also, of course, wrote about my [laughs] somewhat legendary auditions for Gene, and how Robert Justman supported me and Gene said that he never wanted to hear my name mentioned again in the office. Gene Roddenberry is quoted as saying that.
Then finding myself actually cast, or at least offered the role. It was not what I had planned for my career. I only wanted to be a stage actor. I did little bits of television, and I did little appearances in movies. Famously, which I was just so excited to write about, my first time ever in front of a film camera was to play a scene in the back of a car with Rod Steiger.
That was my first ever film experience. This wasn’t, to me, that important. So to be offered a whopping great historic American, Hollywood TV series was totally unexpected. I never took it seriously until my agent called me up and said, “It’s you, they want you.” I simply couldn’t believe it. It was so improbable. I think, actually, that was a good way to go into playing Jean-luc Picard because I was open to everything.
I watched the opening episode quite recently, two or three weeks ago. I didn’t intend to watch the whole episode, I was just going to watch the first five minutes [laughs] and I ended up watching it all. How grim and grumpy I was as Jean-luc Picard in the early parts of that episode. Stern! And not warm, not friendly. I think, actually, that was me being scared, and the fear that I had about having taken on this job made me act differently.
However, that passed and I became more and more comfortable, more and more comfortable and realised I was working with a group of absolutely extraordinary people. I’m not just talking about the actors, but the producers, the cinematographers, the designers, the costume designers and so forth, and then the realisation which came only after about two years, that this was a phenomenon that went further than Hollywood and Vine, and further than London.
It was a world project that we were involved in, thanks to Bill Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley and all those guys who… to say they did the groundwork would seem patronising, but they launched us and that was something that I’ve expressed to them that I was always grateful for.
If there was a prequel series, who would you like to play a younger Picard?
Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict is so good and I’d love to see him with a shaved head. I knew him originally when he was a stage actor, which I’m sure he will be again. He’s wonderful. He looks pretty youthful. But maybe it should be somebody younger. Because we know enough about Picard, his time at Starfleet and a little before that.
And, of course, we have done – and I must be careful what I say about this – explored Picard’s family life, his background, his parents. (Spoilers! – Ed) We’ve done a lot of that. And it’s going to be very, very startling, I think. So I would be intrigued by that. I might make a request to put in a guest appearance. [Laughs] If we can somehow move ourselves about 60 or 70 years it would be good.
Do you have any desire to follow William Shatner into space for real?
I have reflected on this quite a lot, actually. Because I was at first astonished that Bill was going to do this. And then delighted and proud of him, of the way he handled it all. I thought, “Well, maybe next time they’ll ask me.” I think I would settle for what I have is enough.
I don’t want to retire. Slow it down a little bit, maybe. So the idea of sitting on top of a rocket and shooting out into space… I think I will leave that for my life on Star Trek.
Star Trek: Picard is on Prime Video from 4 March.