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’