Patrick Stewart On Gene Roddenberry & How Star Trek Changed His Life

Sir Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean Luc Picard, did a radio Q&A event in New York this week promoting his Broadway play but also talking about his career on the stage and also in Star Trek. Stewart talked about how Star Trek changed his life, his relationship with Gene Roddenberry, and more. Excerpts and video link below.

 

Patrick Stewart on Star Trek and Roddenberry

Sir Patrick Stewart talked to WQXR’s Elliot Forrest for over an hour, starting with a focus on his new Broadway play "A Life in the Theater" and also branching into his own earlier years as an actor, being recently knighted and more. There was also about ten minutes covering Star Trek. Here is a transcript of the interesting conversation.

How did Star Trek change your life?

It would be easier to say, were there any areas of my life that were not changed by it. There really were not. It changed everything – my status in the profession, my standard of living, how I felt about myself as a performer. I grew more confident. I had been very fearful in my earlier years as an actor. It wasn’t stage fright, I have never ever had stage fright. I was afraid of exposing Patrick Stewart, so I became really good at becoming other people, either physically or by assuming somebody else’s emotional feelings so I wouldn’t have to release any of my own. It is that simple and that stupid. Because if you are an artist it is about what is inside you coming out on the canvas, onto the blank sheet of paper, onto the empty music stage. It is all about what comes out of you. I read somewhere "if you want to know the artist, look at the work." It was another director that persuaded me that there was nothing to be afraid of, and it was in a play called "A Winter’s Tale" about one of the nastiest characters, and this director said "if you will find this man in yourself, and you are prepared to let him out, I will hold hand." And from that moment on everything changed for me. But the confidence that came from Star Trek was another thing. I could hold my head up in a different sort of way.

Did your theater work inform work in Star Trek?

Everything informed it. When we were doing the first press for Star Trek, I began to realize that behind a lot of the questions I was getting from the media was a sense that I was in some way, because of my past history with the Royal Shakespeare, slumming to be doing a syndicated science-fiction television show. That it ought to be below my dignity to do that work. I got very angry with one journalist and said "look, the fact is that all those sitting on thrones as kings in the Royal Shakespeare Company was nothing but preparation for sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise!" And it was absolutely true. There were so many aspects of acting in classical drama that were of use to me in Star Trek. Ranging from being able to sustain heightened language from long speeches, which as the captain I often had. And Star Trek dialog is heightened. I can recognize it. I hear it and say "that’s Star Trek." It is not totally naturalistic. It is not like watching NYPD Blue,
which is I mention because it was running alongside it. Right down to knowing what to do with your hands, because there are no pockets in space suits.

You overlap the life of Gene Roddenberry and you knew him.

Yes. I knew him for just three years. Tragically Gene died during our third or fourth year. He had not been well so his presence got thinner and thinner on stage. He didn’t want to cast me. He put a veto on my name in casting. He met me and I know Rick Berman was a champion for me as was the casting department as was Robert Justman, but Gene, quite sensibly, didn’t want a bald-headed English Shakespearean actor in his new series.

So how did you get it?

I have no idea. I got called back three times. My agent said it was between you and another guy. I never was told who was the other guy. I was never told who the other guy was. I have my own idea as he appeared in Star Trek, but I got it. A Trivial Pursuit detail. This past year actor/director Corey Allen died. Corey Allen directed the pilot of Star Trek The Next Generation "Encounter at Farpoint" and Corey Allen and on the day of my final reading for Paramount I had a call from the night before and he said "I want you to come in an hour earlier and I want nobody to know you are here and I will meet you in this place and you and I will rehearse together". Because he wanted it, and it was unprecedented and breaking all the rules. So we worked on the scenes I was going to read and when we got in with the studio executives he said to them "I am going to read with Patrick because I
think it would make more sense" and it made all the difference in the world. And I didn’t know until long after we shot the pilot episode that Corey Allen was one of the stars of Rebel Without A Cause…he was a great teacher and a great director.

But you ended up having a great relationship with Gene?

I did yeah. We didn’t talk very much. I don’t think we had much in common. I like him. I liked hearing his stories. You know he was a Pan Am pilot, and his plane went down in the desert. He is thought to have saved the lives and basically got everybody out. But I don’t play golf and am not interested in country clubs and that was very much Gene’s life. But, he was inside Jean Luc Picard. Picard was his creation and I never forgot that.  

To this day, does it still surprise you – the worldwide recognition for this series and for this role?

Not anymore. I have encountered people all around the world. I have thought to myself "here I am safe, nobody is going to say to me ‘in episode 137…’" [laughs]. I remember getting off a little private boat on an island somewhere off the coast of Fiji and the place has been more or less abandoned and then I heard somebody on the dock "Oh my god! I can’t believe it, it is Captain Picard!" So I have got used to that.

I’ll share something with you. Next week I am going to the book launch of Frank De Winne, the only European commander of the space station, they have all been either Russian or American. He did two visits to the space station, and the long visit guys get to choose somebody to talk to on Earth. And my first question to him when Houston actually connected him by a live video feed at University College London and my first question when the space station came up and there was Frank De Winne was "please tell me why would a real astronaut want to talk to a fake astronaut?" And he said "because as a child I used to watch the original series and when I was at the academy I watched The Next Generation and I am on the space station today because of Star Trek: The Next Generation." …We were supposed to talk for half an hour and we ended up talking for an hour and twenty minutes and in that time he actually circled the Earth. It was amazing. He took me on a tour of the station, uncircling the camera and off we went. It was a great, great privilege and that wouldn’t have happened to me if it weren’t for Star Trek. 

Watch the full interview:


Click to see at WNYC.com

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The paragon of a Starfleet captain. Also, one of the most consummate, intelligent actors of stage and screen!

I love what Patrick Stewart said in this interview. I am struck by the contrast between his statements here and his appearance at the convention in Las Vegas in August. At that con, he hardly spoke about Star Trek and focused on auctioning off a soccer jacket to raise money for a soccer team. I was very disappointed.
It seems he really appreciates Star Trek. I wish he spoke more about that when I saw him in person in Las Vegas. But it’s good to hear him in this interview.

I always liked the Picard from the TV series. Once they went to the movies, he was less cerebral and more of a typical action figure. Not good!

In ST:Generations, the Picard from the TV series would never have made the ridiculous blunder of leaving the Nexus to return to the planet. The TV Picard would have known to exit earlier onto the Enterprise and arrest Soran’s sorry ass in Ten Forward! Gawd, I hate BAD WRITING!!!

What, no whining that you have to be in Trek 11? What, no letting yourself go and getting past 300 lbs? What, no belittling of the supporting cast members you use to work with? What, no sense of entitlement that the franchise owes you something? What is wrong with the former actor of the Captain of the Enterprise? Doesn’t he know how he is suppose to behave at this stage in his life an career?

#4.

Uh, oh……………………………this ought to be good! :>)

HEY! No one asked him what he thought of new Trek movie.

Patrick Stewart is the paragon of a classy actor. I am always delighted to read that he has such a pronounced fondness for and strong association with Trek, since I think that most fans think similarly positively of his contributions.

What must be realized is that Patrick Stewart is more then Star Trek, and that like many actors, he wants to use the convention stage, in part, to champion some of his other causes. I think this is great, as long as the actors who do this are even handed with presenting there causes, knowing that Trek fans are a lot that will get involved in things if they are given a good reason to.

#5 as i said yesterday, Harry, you are slipping. #4 Is in danger of stealing your act, buddy!
Picard is the 3rd best Captain. I’ll leave it there i think. lol

#9.

Nah, I just don’t see any reason to bash the Shat on a Stewart thread!

All in good time, my friend!

LOL Harry, there is hope for you yet!

(by the by, Harry, did you ever get that manuscript to Mr Orci?)

Hold on. Gene Roddenberry didn’t want Patrick Stewart for Picard? And Rick Berman was Stewart’s champion? Geez. You guys that dislike Rick Berman might want to rethink your hatred for him. And yes, Berman shouldn’t have fired composer Ron Jones.

#11.

Not yet…..I’ll keep you……pardon the expression……posted! :>)

Cool.

James Cannon - Runcorn Trekkie UK

Wasn’t the other guy “Stephen Macht”?!

Patrick Stewart, still a class act.

Patrick Stwart is the best. He made me a Star Trek fan back in 89 and he will always be one of my Star Trek heroes and the best Captain of the fleet.
Shatner can learn A LOT from him

Partick Stewart, always a class act…

I too would be humbled if I were an actor who was told that I had inspired someone to be an astronaut; that would really bring it home, that acting isn’t just “meaningless entertainment” but actually makes a difference in people’s lives.

Fascinating video, didn’t expect to watch the whole thing but was sucked in and couldn’t turn it off for the duration. Wonderful to watch someone who knows and cares about his craft discuss it with such obvious respect and love.

This interview is one of many reasons, both real-life and fictional that Patrick Stewart is the best captain.

Whoever above wondered about his reaction to the new film, an article two year ago claimed he took his grandkids and he seemed to think he enjoyed it more than they did.

Amen for Stewart, Frakes, and Burton embracing the shows and the fans. Dorn is on the fence. Spiner and Sirtis seem perpetually fed up and Gates hardly goes to these things.

Thank you, a million thank yous, for posting this exquisite interview. Patrick Stewart is human royalty, and it’s wonderful to hear his upbeat take on Star Trek in his life. And WOW, the chat with the astronaut! That’s as cool as sitting in the captain’s chair all those years, and you can tell that Patrick Stewart feels that way.

Thank you!

Well said on everything Sir Pat! For the most part on everyone exposed to Trek, you are not the same. I believe because of its recurring themes of optimisiom and Hope for better things and ways. A code of conduct for civilized for starters,and so much more. That a lot of good will result from hard work,soft caring,teamwork. And loving thy nieghbors Pats homelife as a kid was a lot like mine. I an tell you that the grass is greener on the otherside but only with a lot of effort. Dreams come true. Trek speaks these things and Ideas. In a sense. One will reinvents themselvies to become the person you can be.

Star Trek: TNG has a permanent spot in history because of the absolutely amazing talent of Sir Patrick Stewart. Only a Shakespearean actor, and possibly only HE, could have possibly given the role the dignity that he did. I’m glad to know that it has affected him positively even if he would prefer to be better known in his non-ST roles. Regardless, thanks to him, I also have some wonderful memories of ST:TNG.

I saw “A Life in the Theater” last weekend. Patrick, as expected, was amazing, as was T.R. Knight. He played the comedy of the piece beautifully. Well worth seeing if you have the chance!

“Gene Roddenberry was a Pan Am pilot, and his plane went down in the desert,He is thought to have saved the lives and basically got everybody out.”

Alot of the “Star Trek” people have soooo many interesting storys behind their real lives,,being war heros,, police men, Pan Am polits,,etc

Dam thats interesting,,,

Isn’t it nice how some of us have been able to rate the Captains without others jumping down our throats for our choice?
For example, #20 had me rolling my eyes at the nonsense choice of Picard* as Best Captain, but in the spirit of the posts i’ll keep my opinion firmly to myself. Oh yes i will. I won’t be shaking that hornets nest- not just as we are all getting on so famously.
I will just say this, I rate Janeway at No2. As a massive Kirk fan I don’t think it fair to say any more than that. Sisko was good, but not as good as Picard. And you won’t draw me any further on it. No point really as I didn’t like Enterprise at all and don’t consider it proper Trek.
There, i’m sure that won’t have ruffled any feathers. I used to work as a Diplomat in the Foreign Office. It still shows doesn’t it.
(*I do like Sir Patrick very much though)

John stewart just referenced The Corbomite Maneuver at his rally!

#27

Oh, c’mon, Buzz you know you hate Picard just because he’s French—one of those tea-drinking, Shakespeare-loving Frenchman you hear so much about! ;)

How ST changed his life? One word….cash.

Oddly enough Vults, I’m one of a very few Brits that actually admires our chums across la manche.
As for Jean Luc, I do kind of like him, but i mostly find him a bit ponderous. I do, however, recognise Patricks, mostly, fine job of portraying him. Though he could ham it up a bit at times as much as any other Captain that may or may not have come before him. lol
But among the other actors on TNG he was in a class of his own. I think even they recognise that.

#28 yay John Stewart. He’s so funny. Hows that Rally going?

26, here’s an excerpt from the Star Trek database about Gene Roddenberry ( http://startrek.com/database_article/roddenberry ) : “Gene Roddenberry led a life as colorful and exciting as almost any high-adventure fiction. He was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 19, 1921, spent his boyhood in Los Angeles, studied three years of policemanship and then transferred his academic interest to aeronautical engineering and qualified for a pilot’s license. He volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the fall of 1941 and was ordered into training as a flying cadet when the United States entered World War II. “Emerging from Kelly Field, Texas, as a Second Lieutenant, Roddenberry was sent to the South Pacific where he entered combat at Guadalcanal, flying B-17 bombers out of the newly-captured Japanese airstrip, which became Henderson Field. He flew missions against enemy strongholds at Bougainville and participated in the Munda invasion. In all, he took part in approximately 89 missions and sorties. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. “While in the South Pacific, he also began to write. He sold stories to flying magazines, and later poetry to publications, including The New York Times. Upon his return from combat, he became a trouble-shooter for the Air Force working out of Washington, D.C., investigating the causes of air crashes. At war’s end, he joined Pan American World Airways. During this time, he also studied literature at Columbia University. “It was on a flight from Calcutta that his plane lost two… Read more »
Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

Hey any chance that John Stewart and Patrick Stewart are related. Hmm. Have John Stewart play Capt Picard. That would be cool.

Jon Stewart’s real name is Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, according to the Wikipedia.

#33

Thanks for that info, Hat Rick. Roddenberry had an extraordinary life.

You’re welcome, Vultan. Any time.

Patrick Stewart is the Man. I’ve always though Captain Picard was the Best Captain, and this validated that.

27.

Smooth! :>)

The older Patrick gets, the better his interviews are. It felt like his previous attitude was “yeah, yeah, I was in Star Trek. Huzzah.” Either he has learned how NOT to aggravate the fans or he has smartened up and actually realized just how privileged he was to be in the business AND to be in Star Trek. He also seems more willing to discuss it. Whatever it is, really enjoyed this interview. Thanks, TM staff!

ktg

Just watched Measure of a Man, Stewart is great in that one too.

@29: You know, it kind of makes sense though — where else would a french guy go to study english than right next door to England? Maybe Picard spent a few semesters abroad in the UK polishing his second language before he went to Starfleet Academy and fell in love with the culture?

“I just don’t see any reason to bash the Shat on a Stewart thread!”

Yet I knew someone was going to do so before the 10th post. Bingo.

Happy Halloween, vitriolic Trekkie.

I watched all of it. Rivited the entire time. I love him.

#35. Neither Jon, native of the United States, nor Sir Patrick, native of the United Kingdom, are related.

@3: Harry, can’t agree with you more! but then, we wouldn’t have had the new Enterprise-E in FC, but that’s just me.

Re :33. Hat Rick – October 30, 2010

Thanks for the info !

:oD

#42

Yeah, you have a point there. He is a man of the world… and universe.

But I’ve always wondered if Stewart was responsible for Picard’s “British-ness” or if it was the TNG writers. Perhaps both….

@45 Well, we’re all cousins through Mitochondrial Eve. The real one, not the BSG one.

#46.

Doug,

I just need to see the Enterprise, no bloody E, F, G….well, you get the idea! :>)

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