Patrick Stewart On His “Lunatic” Casting As Picard [UPDATED w/ Bob Justman’s history of Stewart’s casting]

While his time on Star Trek sparked decades of Kirk v Picard debates, at the time of Patrick Stewart’s casting, many wondered why a middle-aged Shakespearean actor was going to be the new captain for a new generation. And in a new interview, Sir Stewart himself admits that he too thought the idea was lunacy at the time.

 

Patrick Stewart on his ‘lunatic’ casting as Picard

Deadline Hollywood’s Ray Richmond spoke to Sir Patrick Stewart about his Emmy nomination and more but the subject also got to Star Trek where Richmond admitted he was one of those critics who questioned Stewart’s casting as Jean Luc Picard, and Stewart admitted he too questioned the casting at the time:

It echoed my own feelings at the time as well. Why would they cast a middle-aged bald English Shakespearean actor in this iconic role as captain of the Enterprise? It made no sense. But I guess Gene Roddenberry had some sort of instinct for it, and his producer Rick Berman was a champion of mine. Even so, it all felt borderline lunatic back then. It took me a good while to grow comfortable in that role. I know that my experience with classic Shakespeare was a great help to me in finding this heightened language that was larger than life and utterly epic.

More from Stewart at deadline.com.

UPDATE: How Patrick Stewart was cast

Although it was ultimately Gene Roddenberry’s decision to cast Patrick Stewart, it was actually TOS and early TNG producer Robert Justman who brought Stewart to the attention of Roddenberry and Paramount.  Justman recalled the story in an interview with the BBC:

My wife and I were taking a course at UCLA on humour. In the arts. Tonight’s lecture was to be a reading by two people – one was Patrick Stewart.

He came out with the lady and they were – proceeded to do some Shakespeare. And he read his first line and I went crazy. I turned to my wife I said I think I’ve found our new captain.

We met at Gene Roddenberry’s house, Patrick pulled up in his rental car and we spent about 45 minutes together, talking. We watched Patrick drive away in his rental car to go to the airport and Gene closed the door, turned around, faced me and said, and I quote, ‘I won’t have him.’

He wouldn’t have him and he wouldn’t tell me why. But I know why. I knew why. I knew that he had conceived of a Frenchman. And, you know, who was masculine, virile, and had a lot of hair. And Patrick didn’t fit that at all. Patrick was not so handsome, he was distinctive, and he was quite bald. Quite bald.

I was hot to trot. I was very, very enthused about Patrick playing the role. And I kept after Gene and Gene kept fighting me off until one day we had a new producer come on the scene, and that was Rick [Berman]. Rick saw Patrick’s film and fell in love with him. As did our casting director. So the three of us were allied in the fight to get Patrick as the captain. And Gene was allied in his own fight not to have him at all. So finally I realised that the more I pushed, the more he dug his heels in.

I made an announcement, one day, in a meeting when the subject was brought up and I said I don’t want to hear the name Patrick Stewart ever again. It’s over with Patrick Stewart, forget him. I did that on purpose to make Gene think that I’d given up.

And every time anyone mentioned Patrick Stewart’s name to me, I would explode and say ‘I don’t want to hear that. Don’t tell me Patrick Stewart any more’. Finally our last possible candidate came to audition for us. And the guy, whoever he was, read for us and talked with us and he left the room, the door closed and we were all silent. There was not a sound to be heard. And finally Gene Roddenberry heaved a big sigh. He said ‘All right, I’ll go with Patrick’

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Cap'n Chris

Gene made a fine choice and not only gave us a great captain but also introduced a lot of people to Shakespeare because of him. Kudos to Gene, Rick and Sir Stewart for making such a memorable character.

ZEITGEIST

the play is the thing

Alex Prewitt

I believe it was Bob Justman that brought Stewart to Roddenberry’s attention. Initially Gene resisted, but Justman wore him down. Good thing, too–Gene was liking actor Stephen Macht for the role.

Barry Muntington

It was Stewart who really made TNG what it was. As Frakes admitted that the rest of the cast felt they had to up their game when they saw how well he was playing the part.

Phaser Guy

Patrick Stewart is a fine actor, and he and Kirk are my favorite Captains, but the Classic series had a lot of Shakespere references in it too. As well as the movies.

Vultan

Frakes may have been trying a little too hard to keep up with Stewart in the first season. Riker came off as being a bit too serious and—well, he seemed like a jerk most of the time. But by the second season the character had considerably mellowed. There wasn’t quite as much order-screaming going around the bridge (though he still maintained that crooked swagger). For the longest time I thought Frakes had back problems.

Jeff O'Connor

@4

I totally agree.

Simon

#6 – I think that’s more the writing and the writers figuring out how to have an active first officer doing things the captain normally did in TOS. Picard came off a bit too stiff, humorless, and impersonal that first season too (the whole “I hate kids” thing evaporated).

Stewart really classed up the joint, bringing gravitas to the most ridiculous situations where lesser actors would have hammed it up. When Picard said something, you believed it.

NX-17000

Well, I’m sure glad that he did get the part. Second favorite captain in the entire franchise (Sisko’s the first.) He sure did one heck of a job.

Vultan

#8

Yeah, you’ve got some good points there. The only two who seemed to get their characters right in the first season were Spiner and Burton. Though, La Forge seemed to get progressively duller over the course of the series. I don’t fault Burton for that; I think it was the writers. But I really missed the smart-alecky, “woo-wee!,” smiling as a Romulan warbird explodes (“Where Silence Has Lease”) Geordi from the first couple of seasons.

By picikng a Shakespearean actor, It just goes to show you that Gene wanted to make intelligent science fiction. You had a hero who used his mind to solve problems. Stewart had a classical background in his approach to acting that opened minds to the theater. Stewart also had a command of the english lanquage that made his delivery crisp and clear. There were other nods to the greater world of the fine arts. For example, you can also look at the choice of music used in the show. Classical tastes for Picard. Jazz for Riker. TNG was a show unafraid of exposing people to great art.

We might criticize Rick Berman for some of his decisions (firing Ron Jones, causing the Gulf Oil spill :) ), but his support of Stewart as Picard is obviously one of his best examples of his judgment.

Here’s the opening to “The Defector.” The scene that Spiner and Stewart are doing is from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”

Oops. I forgot to give you the link to “The Defector.’ It’s below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNr0XJ7jRzA

YARN

In retrospect, Stewart is the only bit of casting that they unarguably got right.

Chain of Command

Actually, he should really thank Robert H. Justman! :-)

Lt. Dakin

It would be nice if Stewart would correctly credit the late Bob Justman, who saw Patrick performing in a play and leaned over to his wife and said, “I think I’ve found our captain.”

Gary

I always felt that Gene was looking for a captain/explorer, much like Jacques Cousteau. Casting Patrick Stewart for the role was truly a stroke of genius.

Anthony Pascale

I added the thing about Justman

Desertrat

I’m curious…other than Macht, who else was considered?

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

I would love to see any and all test scenes of the ones who went for the role of Capt Picard. But SiR Stewart is and was the right choice.

TJ Trek

Unfortunately if this story is too be believed, then I can’t say Kudos to Gene for finding him, but can say Kudos for finally excepting him. Stewart is part of what made Next Gen. work. It showed that Kirk and company isn’t what Star Trek was all about (necessarily). Star Trek is about a family having adventures with their television audience, and both of them learning along the way about life, people, science, and everything. Next Gen showed that Star Trek could have both Kirk and Picard and be really damn good all around.

Thanks to Berman and Gene and company

Jamesb3

You know, one recurring thread I have heard from Star Trek II on has been Gene’s frequent disagreements with decisions that had been made by the studio, producers, and directors from Star Trek II on. And each case that I heard about, those things he disagreed with ended up being some of the most important and popular decisions made with the franchise. So while I appreciate the great bird of the galaxy, I am glad that there were other minds in the mix and that he didn’t always get his way.

Jamesb3

I repeated myself there a little bit; sorry, I should’ve taken one last look before posting.

Neal

@ 8.

I don’t know if the “hate kids” necessarily evaporated because while he was around for social functions and what not, he still came off as uncomfortable around kids even in the episode where he and the kicks got stuck in the turbolift. He basically change his normal demeanor to keep them calm.

As for the choice of Stewart as Picard, I’m glad it happened. For me, the 3rd season is where we begin seeing the Picard that we would see the rest of the series and into the movies. Amazing actor.

Shatoupee

I think Gene was initially correct on his instincts—Stewart didn’t have the Star Trek captain “look,” being bald, not really handsome, etc. But Gene finally accepted Justman and other’s lobbying and made the best casting decision ever for TNG. Some of the other casting choices were awful, initially (most of the female casting…especially Sirtis–godawful the first several seasons), but later those actresses honed their craft and became easier to swallow and believable in their portrayals. I also give Gene great credit for casting Diana Muldaur as Pulaski–someone who could stand up to Picard and matched Stewart’s acting chops.

JohnWA

It is “Sir Patrick.”

It would be “Lord Stewart” if he was ever made a peer of the realm.

Although the chances of the title being offered are quite slim as peerages are usually handed out as rewards for political favors. And I doubt the Prime Minister is that much of a Star Trek fan.

Balok

An english guy playing a Frenchman, brilliant!

YARN

Well, kids on a starship was pretty stupid idea.

“Hey, we’re going to some of the most dangerous places imaginable! Great! Let’s take a boat load of kids with us.”

Remember Phantom Menace when they “free” Anakin only to drag him to a war on Naboo. “Uh, Anakin go hide somewhere while we fight this out.”

We’d have our kids taken away from us if we parented like these “advanced” sci-fi folks.

One of the early frustrations of TNG was that it seemed that the Enterprise had been turned into a cruise ship. I can’t blame Picard for being annoyed.

Moosonee

Don’t forget people, Bill Shatner was also a Shekespeare actor. He was Christopher Plummer’s understudy at the Stratford Festival in Startford, Ontario and also has appeared in a few Shakespeare plays.

Red Dead Ryan

#18

I believe Edward James Olmos, who was doing “Miami Vice” at the time, was also considered for the role of Jean-Luc Picard.

YARN

Olmos would have been a good, if not better choice (he is rather precious sometimes though) — but Stewart was still the best casting move they made with TNG.

StarFuryG7

So Roddenberry didn’t like the idea of Stewart at all. LOL. He wanted a Frenchman who looked like a cross between Jeffrey Hunter and Shatner, and he ended up having to go with Stewart because he never found one who satisfied him during the auditions.

I have a feeling that Justman probably did give up on Stewart but didn’t want to admit it, and when Gene came around to seeing things his way, it was probably a fluke.

But just think: we would have had a very different TNG series had a different actor reminiscent in some ways to the captains we had already seen in Trek been cast in the role instead.

Buzz Cagney

Patrick shone out like a beacon amongst that cast. Once he’d found his feet. He was as stiff as the rest of them for the longest time and he took a very long time for me to warm to.

As others have said, a vey different Captain to JTK, but that was just as well. Another larger than life, heroic, dive in head-first figure wouldn’t have worked. Picard’s far more considered and introspective character was a change of pace. Even if it became a bit ponderous for the audience at times. Well, certainly this member of the audience. ;-)

I will add my voice in praise of Patrick Stewart. What a fine actor and what a great choice for a Starfleet captain. I believe that he helped make TNG what it became, and TNG helped him immeasurably, as well. The two — Stewart and TNG — were a match made in heaven.

Star Trek has been truly blessed with some great creative people. Lest we forget, William Shatner was a Shakespearean actor, too (he once was an understudy for Christopher Plummer, I believe, who was later to play the implacable Klingon villain in Star Trek VI, and there is a story behind that).

It’s a beautiful thing when it all comes together the way it has repeatedly done with virtually all the Star Trek casts, to the benefit of all.

Cygnus-X1

Great story.

And a good illustration of how obstinance for the better is inevitably obstinance for the worse, and vice versa.

I never really warmed to TNG and didn’t stick with it, but I definitely love watching Stewart as Picard. He brings authenticity to scenes that would have absolutely none without him, and his performances are a delight to the eye and to the ear.

4 8 15 16 23 42

The stroke of genius in casting Stewart as Picard was to, in a sense, reverse the role of captain and first officer from the TOS paradigm, at least initially. Instead of the captain constantly getting in harm’s way and consulting the first officer on the finer points, in TNG, the captain is doing the lion’s share of the deliberating, while delegating a lot of the action. (In later seasons, this distinction diminished somewhat). If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense for the captain to take a more considered approach to command, and let others take more of the physical risks. Please note, I am not making a Picard vs Kirk argument, but the concept of Picard as a more “thinking man’s captain” was astute, and certainly explains why, with that concept already in mind, Stewart’s Shakespearean acting style lent itself so readily to the part.

Harry Ballz

Patrick Stewart elevated the material with his fine acting style.

He is a superb actor and we were lucky to have him in Star Trek.

Mattybuk

Patrick is a fine example of how great west yorkshire folk are

captain_neill

I think Patrick was an inspired choice and he was excellent in the role. He is also one of my favourite actors of all time.

Captain Picard is a fav of mine.

HMS Enterprise

Sorry to come over all British here, but if your going to use his title please get it right.

Sir Patrick NOT Sir Stewart.

Back to topic, I think it was brave casting. Inspired casting. It was a risk, a gamble that paid off handsomely. I like to think it could still happen today I have my doubts.

Shatoupee

There was a huge controversy in Hollywood after TNG was cast—many in Hollywood objected to the hiring of two Brits in the cast. Also trying out for the part of Capt. Picard was William Campbell (“Trelane” and “Koloth” in TOS).

moauvian waoul

Yarn – “One of the early frustrations of TNG was that it seemed that the Enterprise had been turned into a cruise ship.”

The love boat actually. One vote for Srewart as Capt. Stubing.

moauvian waoul

Maybe be Spiner as Gofer.
Dorn as the bartender.

Steve-o

Gene sounds like a real douche. I absolutely love how everyone before the update is all “oh gene what a smart decision for hiring Patrick. Gene must have had an eye for success”.

and the whole time gene wanted nothing to do with him hahahaha.

data476

On casting Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard; It was probably one of the best decisions that were ever made in the history of Star Trek.

Seriously, I couldn’t imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation without Patrick Stewart playing that role, personally.. it was a fantastic decision from the producers to cast Stewart.

Patrick Stewart, in my opinion, was one of the reasons that “The Next Generation” survived those first couple of seasons. He owned that role from the very beginning and you could tell that by the second season the whole cast really did step up a gear, in part, thanks to the fantastic acting skill that is produced naturally from Patrick Stewart.

By the seventh season the whole cast were worlds ahead in terms of acting skill and I think a lot of them would agree, in part, that Patrick Stewart helped make all of them better actors, especially Jonathan Frakes and Beverly Crusher in my opinion.

He’s a trully great actor, and I really look up to the guy as an example of success, because he’s got everything. He definately deserved that knighthood as well from the Queen!

data476

45 [EDIT]

“especially Jonathan Frakes and Gates McFadden (played Beverly Crusher)”.

Sorry, lol.

Jay Acksberg

Stephen Macht, who was/is also a Shakespearean actor – played all the young leading male roles in the Stratford Shakespeare Theatre in Canada in 1975 – was Roddenberry’s choice.

MikeTen

I liked the character of Picard until they tried to make him a action figure in the movies. Picard to me was a Captain that spent time thinking about a situation before acting, sometimes thinking too much with his ready room meetings.
That’s what to me made the Kirk vs. Picard argument more valid, the differences in the way they commanded their ships.

DS9 IN PRIME TIME

THANK YOU BOB JUSTMAN! With out you we would not have the great star trek that we have.

Disinvited

#43 & 44

You are aware that Sir Patrick did do an SNL skit featuring precisely that: His starring as a space captain of a star cruising “loveboat”. It was classic and hilarious. I was even lucky enough to be at the location where he personally auctioned-off the SFX “loveboat” model from that SNL skit. The costumed couple that won the bid were clearly so over their heads that Sir Patrick, discerning that, took it upon himself to personally increase the item’s value after the auction closed and the dust settled by getting the entire TNG cast to autograph the thing before he gave it to them.