Still op­er­at­ing at WARP SPEED

Star Trek alum busy with film, TV roles

SundayXtra - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Susan King

ABEMUSED grin flashed across Pa­trick Ste­wart’s face as he re­called a 1987 story that ran in the Los An­ge­les Times an­nounc­ing he had been cast to play Capt. Jean-Luc Pi­card in the sci-fi se­ries Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion.

“It said the cap­tain will be played by an un­known Bri­tish Shake­spearean ac­tor,” mused Ste­wart, 74. “I was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed by that. Then my friend, Brent Spiner, who was in the se­ries, had a sign made that he had somebody stick on the front door of my trailer which said, ‘Be­ware. Un­known Bri­tish Shake­spearean ac­tor.’ ”

More than 20 mil­lion peo­ple tuned in to the two-hour pi­lot of Next Gen­er­a­tion when the se­ries pre­mièred on Sept. 28, 1987. And faster than warp speed, Ste­wart be­came a sen­sa­tion at the age of 47.

Since that show went on its fi­nal voy­age in 1994, Ste­wart has starred as Prof. Charles Xavier in the block­buster X-Men film fran­chise and even nar­rated Seth MacFar­lane’s 2012 com­edy hit Ted.

He’s also been a sen­sa­tion on Twit­ter, es­pe­cially with a comedic photo se­ries show­ing him and Ian McKellen, his good friend and X-Men co-star, trav­el­ling to New York City land­marks in bowler hats to pro­mote their 2013-14 Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Wait­ing for Godot and No Man’s Land.

McKellen of­fi­ci­ated the wed­ding of Ste­wart and Sunny Ozell, 36, in 2013, and last Christ­mas, Ozell’s video of Ste­wart sheep­ishly wear­ing a singing, danc­ing elf’s hat be­came an In­ter­net trend­ing topic.

“She is re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery idea,” Ste­wart said of his singer-song­writer wife.

Ste­wart’s lat­est film, Match, in which he plays a bi­sex­ual bal­let in­struc­tor, opened last week. And he’s about to start film­ing a new com­edy se­ries for Starz called Blunt Talk, ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by MacFar­lane and cre­ated by Jonathan Ames.

“There has never been a year quite so in­ter­est­ing,” said Ste­wart, who was warm, charm­ing and funny in a re­cent in­ter­view in West Hol­ly­wood.

In Match, which was adapted by di­rec­tor Stephen Bel­ber from his 2004 Broad­way play, Ste­wart plays Tobi, a for­mer bal­let dancer and chore­og­ra­pher who is now an in­struc­tor. An ec­cen­tric loner out­side of class, Tobi smokes pot, knits sweaters and keeps his clipped fin­ger­nails in a bowl.

His life is turned up­side down when a cou­ple (Carla Gug­ino and Matthew Lil­lard) ar­rives to in­ter­view him about his sex­u­ally ac­tive and colour­ful life as a dancer in the swing­ing ’60s. He soon re­al­izes the real in­ten­tion of their visit.

Ste­wart didn’t know Match had been a play star­ring Tony-nom­i­nated Frank Lan­gella un­til after he com­mit­ted to the film. “The script was in­tel­li­gent and funny,” Ste­wart said. He knows peo­ple like Tobi. “As I get older, I have come to un­der­stand more and more how one can so eas­ily slip into a soli­tari­ness,” Ste­wart said. “I know two peo­ple very well who ac­tu­ally have no life out­side the re­hearsal room and stage. In the case of one of them, he has de­lib­er­ately iso­lated him­self with friend­ships and re­la­tion­ships. But Tobi is very con­tent. I think he says in one speech, ‘I have my knit­ting. I have my soaps. I have my mar­i­juana.’ ”

Ste­wart is also con­tent be­ing alone. “Luck­ily, my wife is the same way,” he said. “We are equally happy to be at home read­ing and watch­ing Game of Thrones.”

Bel­ber said by email Ste­wart brought a “mis­chievous­ness, rol­lick­ing wit, pathos” and “an ab­so­lute de­light in the ab­sur­dity of life” to the role of Tobi.

“I wish I could say that I se­duced Pa­trick into the huge and mer­cu­rial per­for­mance he gives... but alas, all I had to do was cast him,” Bel­ber said. “He’s a beau­ti­ful, pro­found, deeply heart­felt ac­tor.”

Tobi is based on Bel­ber’s friend, Alphonse Poulin, whom he de­scribed as “one of my favourite peo­ple on Earth. He and Pa­trick be­came com­plete bo­som bud­dies.”

“He’s a teacher,” said Ste­wart of Poulin. “He is my age. He is happy. All of the sweaters are his sweaters (in the movie). I went to his apart­ment and talked, and he in­vited me to at­tend one of his classes at Juil­liard. That is when I saw the up­side of his life — the joy, the cre­ativ­ity, the pas­sion and deep car­ing he had for dance and young peo­ple.”

Later this month, Ste­wart be­gins work in Los An­ge­les on Blunt Talk, in which he plays fic­tional Bri­tish me­dia per­son­al­ity Wal­ter Blunt. The first sea­son of 10 episodes is sched­uled to be­gin in Septem­ber, and Starz has com­mit­ted to a sec­ond sea­son of 10.

“Think David Frost, Jon Ste­wart, maybe Piers Mor­gan,” said Ste­wart, who is also a pro­ducer. “He has a talk show. It’s an in­ves­tiga­tive show, it’s a very po­lit­i­cal show, but the num­bers aren’t great when the se­ries be­gins. And our hero is go­ing through a se­ries of crises. Seth MacFar­lane crises!”

Ste­wart first be­gan work­ing with MacFar­lane nine years ago when he was of­fered the role of deputy di­rec­tor of the CIA on the an­i­mated se­ries Amer­i­can Dad!.

“I had al­ready been watch­ing Fam­ily Guy and loved it. Later on, Seth cast me in the role of Susie, the baby who can’t speak but thinks out loud, and she thinks out loud in my voice. I love that work and never en­coun­tered ma­te­rial quite of that com­plex­ity, am­biva­lence and bold­ness.”

‘There has never been a year quite so in­ter­est­ing’

JOHN SHEARER / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ste­wart, whose role on the sci-fi TV se­ries Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion pro­pelled him to fame, plays more down-to-earth roles th­ese days. His an­tics with his good friend and X-Men co- star Ian McKellen (right) have also made him a so­cial...

JEFF CHRIS­TENSEN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

MATT SAYLES / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pa­trick Ste­wart, 74, and Sunny Ozell, 36, were mar­ried in 2013.

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