Patrick Stewart’s arduous journey to becoming Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation is legendary—and it’s no secret that it took a lot of convincing to get show creator Gene Roddenberry on board with the casting choice. Now in a newly released video of a panel interview conducted earlier this summer, Sir Patrick Stewart speaks more candidly about how Gene made him feel on set and more.
“What the f–k is this guy doing in my show?”
In June, The Hollywood Reporter released a partial transcript from a virtual roundtable discussion with television drama actors Kieran Culkin (Succession), Daveed Diggs (Snowpiercer), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen), Tobias Menzies (The Crown), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), and Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard). The original report included some comments from Stewart about Roddenberry, but a video released this week (which you can see below) shows the full discussion, including more specifics from Stewart about being cast as Picard.
Stewart recalls that his audition with Roddenberry didn’t go well:
It was very odd with Gene because I was dragged in to audition for him in his living room the morning after I’d been seen doing something at UCLA. My meeting lasted about six minutes, and then it was perfectly clear I was not wanted in that room any time longer. It was Gene who said, “What the hell? I don’t want a bald, middle-aged Englishman.”
According to Star Trek: The Next Generation executive producer Rick Berman, the top runner-up for the role of Picard was American actor Stephen Macht, who says he turned Gene Roddenberry down when offered the role. A 1987 Paramount casting memo lists Stewart along with a handful of other actors being considered for Picard. It notes that Belgian actor Patrick Bauchau had recently auditioned for Roddenberry and the audition went well. He and Stewart were considered the top contenders for the role at the time. Apparently Gene preferred the Belgian, feeling he was a better fit for a French-born character.
It was producer Robert Justman who brought Stewart in, having seen him perform at UCLA. Both Justman and Berman campaigned for Stewart to get the role, but Roddenberry continued to resist. Stewart recalls, “There is somewhere in the cellars of Paramount Pictures, a Post-it note which says, ‘I do not want to hear Patrick Stewart’s name mentioned again, ever! signed Gene Roddenberry.'”
Obviously, Roddenberry was eventually convinced, but Stewart recalls that he still didn’t feel Gene’s warm embrace when he visited the set:
Gene used to come on the set once a week, maybe twice… it depends on who the cast were. And I would catch him looking at me with an expression on his face which said, ‘What the f*** is this guy doing in my show?’ It was clear he couldn’t understand why I was there.
Stewart told the THR Roundtable that Gene’s opinion made him “a little uncomfortable.” He went on to describe his one and only lunch with Roddenberry:
I had lunch with him only once, just the two of us and I said, “So Gene, to help me: Where did the idea for the character spring from? Can you give me any connections that I could use and build on for this?” And he said, “Oh yeah I’ve got it here with me,” and he pulled out a beaten-up paperback copy of one of the Horatio Hornblower books, and said, “It’s all there.” So the character, it turns out, was based on Horatio Hornblower, but as I was in a spaceship and not an ocean-going ship, I felt that I never really satisfied Gene the way he wanted to be satisfied.
Due to deteriorating health, Roddenberry’s operational involvement in TNG ended in 1989 after the second season. He passed away in 1991, never able to see the full success his series and Stewart achieved.
Watch the full roundtable
See more Star Trek history here at TrekMovie.com.