Time Out caught up with Sir Patrick Stewart recently at The Chivas Legends Dinner in Dubai to talk to the English actor about his distinguished career.
He is best known for his roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men film series, his prolific stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and his many voice-overs including for Family Guy. Here, the 74-year-old talks early inspirations, getting that iconic role and being lucky.
On becoming an actor
‘Back in the ’50s when I was 14, I went to the cinema to see an epic movie called Moby Dick starring the great Gregory Peck and Orson Wells. The film ended and I sat in my seat overwhelmed by the experience and by Gregory Peck’s performance. I found myself fantasising about the life that someone like him must lead, what would it feel like to be up there on the big screen? And to be an adored and appreciated actor and what it must feel like to be so handsome? Jump forward several decades, I am dressed in a 19th century captain’s costume, I have a wooden leg and I am stomping up and down the deck with a group of ghastly looking sailors, while a camera is rolling. Finally the director calls “cut” and I totter off to a chair. While I was sitting there getting my breath back, a hand touched my shoulder and a voice murmured in my ear, “You see Patrick, you have the voice. I never had the voice”. And I turned to my right and there was Gregory Peck looking over my shoulder.’
On being cast for Star Trek
‘I had to ask my children what Star Trek was, I never believed that I was a serious contender for the role. I was called back to LA three times. I did the final audition wearing a toupee because the studio thought they couldn’t possibly have a bald Captain of the Enterprise. When I finished the audition, the hairdresser was taking the hairpiece off when the executives of Paramount came in to say goodbye. She said to me after, “You know why they came don’t you? They wanted to see what you looked like without that silly thing on your head.”
On good fortune
‘My life has not been one of stars and celebrities. On the contrary, I only had one simple ambition and that was to be on a stage in front of a live audience. I had no interest in television and film was a fantasy. I was in California and I was staying with a friend who was a professor of English at UCLA and one night he said to me, “I’m giving a public lecture on Shakespeare, would you come in and read extracts and there is US$100 in it for you?” I didn’t hesitate, I snapped up the opportunity and did the performance and spent the dollars. What I didn’t know was that a man called Robert Justman who was a producer of the new series Star Trek: The next Generation was there. Years later his wife told me that at some point during that evening, he turned to her and said, “We’ve found the Captain”. So that was chance – if I had not been there in that lecture hall at that time, none of this would have happened. So you cannot underestimate the power of good fortune.’