Patrick Stewart – Taking a Stand
by Brad Balfour
Originally posted July 14, 2006.
From the moment Patrick Stewart steps into a room, it’s clear you have a great actor in your presence. There’s something so compelling about him that when you look up “actor” in the dictionary, Stewart’s picture (maybe together with Ian McKellan) could be next to the definition. Besides his many years of experience interpreting Shakespeare, he re-defined the role of Starship Captain when he assumed the bridge as Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek – The Next Generation.
Then when he was awarded the part of Charles Xavier, founder of the School for Mutants and mentor to the X-Men, he defined another keystone role. Ironically, as broad as these parts can be, it is Stewart’s dynamic presence, forged by years on stage that has made him–and several of his genre series colleagues – so brilliant in defining these characters.
Is it just by accident that you and so many classically trained actors end up doing science fiction and comic book movies?
I don’t think it’s [an] accident. I think producers and directors respond to something which, perhaps, they first of all identify in the material itself. I’ve said this – and you’ve probably heard me say it before over the years in connection with Next Generation – and certainly, it applies to X-Men, although we’re dealing with science fiction and fantasy. Technically, they are different genres, but they’re not real life. It’s not like watching Brokeback Mountain, or Hidden. This is heightened reality. It’s somewhat – in the very best sense – theatrical. It requires a physical and technical presence and expertise from the actors.
If you are going to believe it – certainly in the case of Xavier and Magneto, or perhaps even the captain… and Hugh [Jackman] has it to a terrific degree because he’s a magnificent stage performer – [it has to be about] whatever gets into our style as actors from years of blank verse and knowing that for three hours you have to carry an evening. [In theater] nobody’s going to call “cut.” You’re not going to go to your trailer and sleep for two hours. You have to be up there and sustain it. I think these are all qualities which directors and producers respond to – even though they may not be aware of them when they’re putting together casts – that can give a heightened naturalism.
Do you find that even with a playwright like Harold Pinter, when he is more naturalistic and grounded? I saw you in the play The Caretaker?
I do, and I think that it’s often a mistake. I’ve had a conversation with Harold about this. To think you can simply be naturalistic in these plays – you can’t. His style of writing requires something which is more than just ordinary everyday. Those massive speeches require huge technique which you cannot pick up as you go along. You’ve got to learn it. You’ve got to have technical tools to perform those roles. And I think the same thing applies to the kind of work some of us are doing in movies like The Last Stand.
You had quite a Shakespearean crew there, with you and Kelsey [Grammer as The Beast] and Ian [McKellan, Magneto]. Did you ever think of you [three] working together on a few Shakespearean productions?
Well, Ian and I are in the same season at Stratford. I’m now in the middle of this great “Complete Works” season. We opened Antony and Cleopatra three weeks ago. The [Royal Shakespeare Company] is presenting all 37 plays, all the attributed plays, all the poems, all the sonnets – everything that he wrote or might have written – in the next 12 months. I’m opening the season with Antony and Cleopatra, and Ian is closing it with King Lear. In the middle, I’m doing The Tempest as well. So I’m committed for the next twelve months to the company and to Shakespeare.
It would have been a true coup if we could have found Kelsey. Goodness, there are plenty of wonderful roles in Shakespeare that Kelsey could play, [that] I would love to see him play. But it is curious that Ian and I are playing the two opposite forces in this film and that we find ourselves once more under the same umbrella, which is the historic umbrella for us, because we’ve worked with [the RSC] over the years many times.