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Patrick Stewart - Jean Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise
How did you take on the role?
We had a very good pilot script which laid the foundations for all of the characters, particularly for Picard. Very clearly and very strongly. There were defining characteristics of the man in that pilot episode which remained in place and still do in fact.
I did have a meeting with Gene Roddenberry. He took me out to dinner to discuss Jean Luc Picard and we ended up not talking about Star Trek at all. The only thing he did say at the end of the dinner was that he wanted to give me some books to read because he thought they would be helpful perhaps, and it turned out that these were the Ė Hornblower books and he said that he had had Horatio Hornblower very much in mind when he was creating the character of Picard. But of course I was already very much familiar with these books because Iíd read them as a teenager.
Somebody asked me what it felt like to be stepping into Captain Kirkís shoes, but as I pointed out he was filling those shoes very satisfactorily still, because they made two feature films during the time that we were shooting the series and so the life of the original Star Trek was continuing.
What was it about the role that attracted you?
Crudely what attracted me was the fact that he was the captain. I had thought originally that I was being cast as some token Englishman on the crew. Nobody said anything to me about captain until I think I went back for my last audition interview at Paramount and that peeked my interest much more when I realised that it was the head guy on the ship.
Itís perfectly clear that as the captain I was going to be having the dominant role in most of the episodes and that was appealing too. I wasnít interested in coming to Hollywood to sit around, and in fact I had a rude awakening in that respect Ďcos I was unaware of how hard the work was going to be. How intense and Ė and all consuming, whereas if Iíd been playing one of the other characters it would have been very much less so.
Roddenberry had created quite a complex and at times mysterious character. Guarded, cautious, careful in showing his feelings in expressing his ideas about many things and I found that very interesting.
The reason that Iím struggling a little bit with this question is there actually werenít many good reasons for accepting it, and again Iím looking back over a big chunk of history now. I was just excited by the whole prospect of working in a television series in Hollywood. I had never anticipated that as an actor I would ever end up here. It may be some sort of fantasy Iíd thought about from time to time but it was completely unrealistic.
It was just something that I felt I couldnít pass up on. It was too unexpected, unusual and interesting, as well as remunerative too to ignore.
Nobody believed that the series would ever become the success that it did. In fact one of the reasons that I signed on was that I was assured that the six year contract that I was signing was meaningless, that this series would do one, perhaps two years at the most because nobody expected it to be successful.
Itís hard work being Picard
Did the decision had a very big impact on you personally?
The hours I was most unprepared for. The 12 to 16 hour days and the alarming speed with which episode followed episode and the amount of learning that I had to do, so we worked from Monday till Friday and often most weeks into the early hours of Saturday morning and then certainly in the first couple of years I spent my weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, preparing for the next week, because otherwise you would never catch up.
Also the fact that I was encouraged and I was also interested in contributing to the scripts as much as possible, engaged me much more than Iíd expected. But I was seven thousand miles away from home and I was often lonely and missed friends and family and aspects of my work too. I do remember once coming home quite late at night from the studio, driving along Beverly Boulevard and having to pull over because my eyes were so filled with tears because a piece of Elgar was playing on the radio.
It was a long time before any of us realised that we were very slowly becoming well known as actors. That was a very, very slow process, largely brought about by the fact that we were too busy working to lift up our heads and pay attention to what was happening. We knew that the series was doing well, but it really wasnít until the first season ended that I went to my first Star Trek convention.
It was in Denver and [I] had expected that I would be standing in front of a few hundred people and found that there were two and a half thousand people and that they already knew more about me than I could ever possibly have believed.
Did you know it would go on for so long?
We were well into our second season before all of us got that look in our eyes that maybe the predictions had been wrong and that it wasnít going to end after two years or three.Even then we used to think only about maybe four years or five. The fact that it was to go on for seven Ė if I had known that I would never have been part of it in the first place.
You wouldnít have been able to commit?
No, no. NO. And looking back now it still frightens me a little bit to think that so much of my life was totally devoted to Star Trek and almost nothing else.
Were you surprised in the way in which Star Trek fans accepted you as a new captain?
Well Iím not sure they did to begin with. I think there was a lot of resistance to the idea of a new Star Trek series from those who had been fans of the original series.
Kirk and Spock, McCoy and the rest had become such legendary figures that there was a sense that they were somehow going to be debased, devalued by having a new series.
Taking Star Trek seriously
When people started putting you on the front cover did you want to run and hide?
I could never quite make sense of it. There are several books that I have upstairs - the Physics of Star Trek, Star Trek and Business, there are manuals on command style and countless scholarly papers that have been written about the significance of Next Generation.
During my time we had two chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at different times of course, on the bridge, both of whom asked my permission to sit on the captainís chair.
Is the ship the real star of the show?
Well, the studio have always claimed that the ship is the star of the show, especially when theyíre renegotiating contracts.
The Enterprise is a very, very important symbol and itís interesting that the new series which is shooting its pilot as we speak, I believe is to be called Enterprise. Thatís how important it is.
Creating a believable world on the ship was very important, and technically they got better and better and better at showing the ship too.
The first movie that we did, Generations when Marina Sertis crashed it, do you remember that, and she never got to drive ever ever again. Itís the last time we ever gave her the key to the Enterprise. When the Enterprise nose dived into a planet, it was absolutely spectacular.
To me theyíre sets you see, and theyíre insubstantial. So insubstantial that Jonathan Frakes once went right through the wall of the bridge. He was just being particularly physical and lively and the whole side of the bridge set crashed over and Jonathan with it.
The sets rather than the ship became of real significance to us and um, and things that went with it. When ever, as they did from time to time, the lion fish in the fish tank in the captainís ready room died it was always a sad moment.
I came to feel very, very sentimental about those sets, yes, which is ludicrous isnít it, because they represent everything which is transitory and insubstantial and itís absurd that one should feel sentimental about timber and canvas.
Whatís so good about playing a character for such a long time?
To be connected with a role for over a period of years, continuously connected, meant that you had a choice really, either the character stood still and you kind of stagnated and repeated the same things, or as all of us determined we would try to let these characters develop and grow.
I made a promise to myself, I donít know, round about year two or three, that I would try to introduce something unexpected in every single episode of the series. It was largely to amuse myself as much as anything in thinking of these things,but I didnít ever want the audience to feel that they knew everything.
I certainly wanted to maintain some sense of mystery about Picard and thatís why we never allowed certain situations to fully evolve, like the relationship between Picard and Beverly Crusher. That was never allowed to evolve in the way that many of the fans wanted it to, simply because it was far more interesting for it not to. For the tension to remain there about all of that.
Itís a novel experience for an actor, very few of us get the opportunity to develop someone over many many years and Ė and itís still happening now. This morning I was at a meeting discussing the script for the next Star Trek movie, Star Trek 10, and because we have a new writer, a non Star Trek writer this time, John Logan, a wonderful writer, I find myself talking a lot about Picard and one of the things that Iíve come to understand is that as I talk a lot about Picard what I find is Iím talking about myself.
There was a sort of double action that occurred. In one sense Picard was expanding like this and at the same time he was also growing closer and closer to me as well and in some respect I suppose even had some influence on me. I became a better listener than I ever had been as a result of playing Jean Luc Picard because it was one of the things that he does terrifically well.
Taking it seriously
Whatís really challenging about playing a science-fiction role?
Encouraging people to believe in it was the most important thing of all. Itís one of the reasons why I was always uncomfortable whenever film crews came on the set to shoot things. I didnít want our make believe to be exposed.
I got into trouble once with the studio for walking off a set when I think it was Good Morning America was going to shoot their segment from our sets and I had been very reluctant to participate in this and in fact I thought it was a bad idea.
I didnít want to have newsreaders and people sitting around on our sets, but they were all together interviewing the cast and it was thought to be good promotion for the show and I got a promise from them that they would be serious about it.
Then when I arrived I found that theyíd worked out stunts with guys in funny heads - and I objected to it because I thought that it was undignified.
Talking to oil slicks
Were there things you had to do that were really challenging for an actor?
There were interesting challenges about suspending oneís disbelief when talking to aliens or scenes with people on the view screen and so forth. During the course of the seven years I played scenes with an oil slick, I played a scene with a grain of riceÖ Sometimes with indescribable creatures. I remember having a conversation with, something which was simply a smell, thatís all. It was part of our job.
How did you cope with delivering some of the lines?
I just remember how when I used to turn over a page of a new script and see that Iíd got a speech about dilithium crystals or some kind of communication, my spirits used to sink.
A music hall comic in England who told me that one of the things that all stand up comics used to do was to write their lines on the insides of their fingers like this, because thatís the part the audience never see. So you can do this and you can just read these things, and several times some of that stuff I actually wrote on the inside of my fingers and I read it inÖ simply because I couldnít remember it.
Do you have a favourite technical line?
Yes. I always loved saying, space time condominium. Ö Space time continuum, yes sorry. Well you see the problems that are raised you know when you have to deal with this kind of dialogue.
Star Trek school
What effect has Star Trek had on education?
I am told that there have been over the years a number of experiments taking place in places like Massachusetts Institute of Technology that have been entirely based on concepts raised by Star Trek.
So far as education is concerned it has had a significant impact on a lot of young people who turn to science as a much more exciting and um, and interesting study than they otherwise might have found, entirely as a result of becoming involved with Star Trek, and weíve heard from many teachers that they used episodes of Star Trek and concepts of Star Trek in their science classrooms in order to engage the students.
There are Klingon grammar books and so forth, though it always seemed to me that Worf never really understood much about grammar anyway, but that particular obsession with aspects of Star Trek was always something of a mystery to me.
What did you think of Galaxy Quest?
I had originally not wanted to see [Galaxy Quest] because I heard that it was making fun of Star Trek and then Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said ĎYou must not miss this movie! See it on a Saturday night in a full theatre.í And I did and of course I found it was brilliant. Brilliant.
No one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did, but the idea that the ship was saved and all of our heroes in that movie were saved simply by the fact that there were fans who did understand the scientific principles on which the ship worked was absolutely wonderful. And it was both funny and also touching in that it paid tribute to the dedication of these fans.
Is it true that you got back ache from your costume?
The costumes were redesigned after the first or second seasonÖ we were taken out of the spandex and put into wool and one of the reasons was that we were all of us beginning to suffer skeletal problems from the pressures of the spandex.
The suits we wore were actually made a couple of sizes too small so that they would be very, very form fitting, but what they did was to put pressure like this on you everywhere so you were continually having to push against the pressure of the spandex. And I was told by my chiropractor that if I didnít get out of this costume I would do permanent lasting damage to my body, so we told this to the studio and that was all they needed to redesign the costumes and then we got sensible two piece costumes that moved with you, instead of costumes that you had to fight on a daily basis.