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Patrick Stewart is suffering from vertigo.
The actor has been dealing with it for the past eight months, though it’s not expected to last. “I am permanently dizzy,” he said earlier this month. “I’ve seen seven doctors and I am now in the hands of a professor of neurology in London. And they have all said that it will go away.”
The precise cause of the vertigo is unclear, said Stewart, who noted: “We are trying to literally reprogram certain little aspects of my brain, [which] receive signals from my eyes and my ears and my body. It doesn’t make sense. And quite why it’s come about, they don’t know. But it’s unpleasant. The only good thing is that it goes away when I’m horizontal, so I sleep beautifully. And when I drive — and I love driving, I’m a passionate driver — I can get in my car and I’m no longer dizzy. I can drive anywhere at any speed. I have even been on a racetrack driving, and the doctors are fascinated.”
Stewart was speaking to students at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where he took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series. He said he wished he had been able to draw on the feeling of fragility the vertigo has caused when he was filming Logan, the 20th Century Fox release in which he plays Prof. Charles Xavier for the last time, as a 90-year-old — quite a stretch for the ultra-fit actor.
The hardest part of the shoot, he said, was dealing with the Louisiana heat and humidity. “It was brutal. I had never experienced anything like it. We don’t have weather that like in the U.K., and it was May/June that I was shooting all of my scenes. And Hugh [Jackman] and I and Dafne Keen spent days in this damned ancient truck, driving up and down and up and down the highway, shooting long scenes inside the truck. The heat was very difficult. But it was fun.”
There was no air-conditioning where Stewart sat, at the back. “There was air-conditioning in the truck, but it didn’t reach the back seat where I was,” noted the actor, who’s drawn acclaim for the role he has played now in films shot over 17 years. “And anyway, they couldn’t have it on because of the noise. And so we just sweated it out.”
A full transcript of his conversation follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: Sir Laurence Olivier. Sir Ralph Richardson. Sir John Gielgud. Sir Patrick Stewart. Did you ever imagine that would happen?
STEWART: I am not a dreamer.
STEWART: No, I never imagined anything like that could possibly happen to me, and in fact, it is still a significant unreality to me. I was just reading of how our wonderful Formula One racing driver, who has just become world champion for the fourth time — Lewis Hamilton — somebody mentioned to him, “You’re going to be knighted.” And he said, “Oh yes I want that very much. And everybody I will insist will call me Sir Lewis, because that’s what I want.” And I thought oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. [LAUGHS] What a shame. In the theater, with one exception, it is a tradition that you never use your title. You will never see, well except for one exception, you will never see anything in front of somebody’s name. John Gielgud always appeared as John Gielgud. Laurence Olivier was Laurence Olivier. He was never Lord Olivier — because he was knighted, then he became a peer. But it was done, the recommendation said, for services to British theater, and I’m very proud of that. When people say, oh come on, you’re a socialist, you shouldn’t be accepting awards from the royal family, I say, well actually you know, I was accepting this on behalf of British theater, and I’m proud to do so.
GALLOWAY: Did you hesitate?
STEWART: Not for a moment. [LAUGHTER] No. It was all really rather ghastly, because it could have easily gone so wrong. I just finished a yearlong production of Macbeth, and we were filming it, but a film on location, not a film of the stage production. And we were staying at this nasty little motel somewhere in the north midlands of England. It’s not a pleasant part of the country. And in my room, everything was brown. The wallpaper, the bed cover, the carpets, the chairs. It was really bleak.
GALLOWAY: This is the other side of acting.
STEWART: Yeah, yeah, which people don’t see. And it’s not all glamour. Not all multi-million dollar trailers. And given that I was playing Macbeth for 12 hours during the day, coming home to all this brownness was a little bit discouraging. And early one morning, half past five, 6 o’clock, I got up and showered, and I went to get my coat from the closet, and on the floor, I just saw this shopping plastic bag they gave you in markets, you know? And I realize, oh lord, that’s got all the mail from London in it, which I brought up about a week earlier. And I never looked at it. Lord, I’ve got 10 minutes, so I was going through it like this, you know, bills, bills, bills, bills. [LAUGHTER] And then there was a brown envelop which said “Cabinet Office” on the front. And I thought, this is very strange. Unless it’s an office that sells cabinets.
STEWART: And, well, it proved to be an invitation to accept the award of the knighthood. And about quarter to six in the morning, I remember staring at the brown wall and thinking, this is so unreal and unbelievable that this is happening to me. I actually read the letter three or four times before I could absorb the fact that this great distinction had been given to me. And that afternoon, that day, we were shooting the banquet scene, so most of the actors would be there, and what I wanted to do was rush onto the set and say, you’ll never guess what’s happened. But there is a note which says, and this must be in strictest confidence. There must be no communication to anyone about this award. So I couldn’t tell anyone.
GALLOWAY: Your wife?
STEWART: Well, she wasn’t my wife then, but I called her anyway and I broke the rules.
GALLOWAY: OK. That’s cheating.
STEWART: Yeah. Well she was in…
GALLOWAY: You’re going to be stripped of your knighthood for that.
STEWART: I could be, yes indeed. It’s true.
GALLOWAY: The Queen is a personal friend. I’m going to call her and say, you know this guy Patrick? Formerly Sir Patrick.
STEWART: Give her my love. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Did she put the sword on either shoulder? or…
GALLOWAY: And it’s not Helen Mirren in disguise, or?
STEWART: Well you know, there was a moment. [LAUGHS] When she winked at me, I thought, you’re Helen Mirren! I worked with Helen decades ago, many, many times. We did a lot of Royal Shakespeare Company work together.
GALLOWAY: Who is the exception that you mentioned? Who does carry his or her title? Can I guess?
STEWART: It’s not important.
GALLOWAY: OK. And then more important question, you said you are not a dreamer. What does that mean? How is that possible?
STEWART: It was an attempt at humor. I mean, actually I don’t dream, which is a blessing, because my wife dreams every night all night. And I listen to them in the morning. So, if both of us had dreams to tell, it wouldn’t be the happy relationship that it is, so I listen to her dreams. And they’re very unusual. And I’m not a dreamer in the sense that I never had big ambitions. I knew what I wanted to do, and it was very simple, and very plain. I mean, film and television played no part in my planning at all. I grew up in a blue-collar working-class family. We were not well off. In fact, we were quite poor. We lived in two rooms. We had what was called a one up, one down house, and I lived in that house until I was 15. There was one room downstairs with a door led straight off a public yard. Straight into the living room, and then there was stone steps that went up, and there was one bedroom. And my brother and I slept behind a partition. And there was no bathroom, no kitchen, no hot water, no heating in that house. We had a fireplace, and it may not sound exactly luxurious, but on a Friday evening, when my father had had his bath, and my elder brother had had his bath, and they had both gone off to do things in the evening, and it was just my mother and me, this bath had been carried up from the coal cellar. There was a nasty cellar where they emptied the coal down that lit the fire. And this bath would be put in front of a roaring fire, and so long as you stayed away from the edge of it, because that got dreadfully hot, because of the heat from the fire, it was a wonderful way to end- and that was one bath a week. And it was a wonderful way to bathe. And the outside lavatory was my library, because we had only one room, and there were four of us there. And well, we were all lumped together, so if the radio was on, you couldn’t read a book or read a play or anything like that, it was difficult. There was conversation or cooking or something going on. And so the outside toilet became my reading room, and I would go there in winter with a candle, because we didn’t have torches with batteries or anything, and I would read all kinds of pretentious books. Because I was kind of pretentious.
GALLOWAY: What were some of those pretentious books?
STEWART: I read Dostoyevsky. I read Charles Dickens, of course. I read American writers, I read Hemingway. I loved Hemingway as a teenager. Why I had, because my family were not educated. No one in my family had ever gone to university until I was made chancellor of my local university. Twelve years ago.
STEWART: Thank you.
GALLOWAY: And professor of theater at Oxford, I should add.
STEWART: And, yes, at Oxford.
GALLOWAY: Quite something.
STEWART: It’s extraordinary. These things happen to me. They were not part of a pursuit. Like being here, all this was set up on my behalf and I said, well that all sounds wonderful and interesting. Even though awards season are coming up. And so here I am doing what I have never done before, which is spending a lot of time talking to people, and meetings and interviews, and visits, and presentations and so forth. And I’m enjoying it greatly.
GALLOWAY: And being forced to look back at your past. Is there anything anybody has said that’s led you to change your view of the past?
STEWART: Well, a few years ago, I did have an experience which radically effected how I looked at my family life in the past. I was born in 1940, so I was a war baby. I’ve actually worked out the dates very carefully, and I like to think that I was conceived the night before my father went to war. It’s exactly this production of Macbeth I mentioned, when we did a kind of Soviet era production of Macbeth. We were dressed in Russian-looking uniforms, and the society around us was quite actually Baltic in feeling. And it was set in the late 1920’s, 1930’s. And the first day that we were doing a technical rehearsal on stage, and I had on my full costume and makeup and everything, I had a wonderful dresser. A young Japanese woman, who the only person who has ever organized my dressing room so beautifully, but she did. Everything had a perfect place, and was lovely. And she would stand by the door when I was ready to go on. I put my forage cap on last, and she would hand me as if it were the crown jewels, an AK-47. Which I would then tuck under my arm. And I turned around and I looked, I had also grown a mustache, and people were saying, why are you growing a mustache for Macbeth? And I said, I don’t know. But it just feels right. And you know, it’s Russia, and there was Stalin, the whole kind of mustache thing. And I turned around and I looked in the mirror, and there was my father looking straight back at me. That’s who I had become.
STEWART: My father was a soldier for a large part of his life. And he ended his war service as a super star. He was a regimental sergeant major of the parachute regiment, which is a big, big deal. And then the poor guy, the war ended and he came out and he went back to being a semi-skilled laborer. When he had had huge authority. He was the man that after the disaster at Arnhem, when the parachute regiment were surrounded by Nazi troops, and many of them slaughtered, many more taken prisoner and the whole regiment was collapsed. My father was hand-picked from where he was fighting in Monte Casino, in Italy, to come back to England to rebuild the regiment. And there is a program in the UK called Who Do You Think You Are? It had a life here, but it didn’t do well, I think. In England, it’s hugely popular. People like me or kind of anybody who they investigate your life, and if they think there’s a story in your past, they will make a documentary about it. But they don’t always guarantee they will make the documentary, because there may not be a story.
STEWART: In my case, and you have to wait and see. You do interview after interview. They research your background. You give them all the information you can, and they look for a story, and they have one or they don’t. In my case, they had one, but they won’t tell you what it is. In fact, the whole of the filming, two weeks filming, is moment by moment, is unexpected. And they do that deliberately, because they want spontaneity. It’s like actually being an actor. You will want to be living in the moment. And it’s what gives this program so much of its compulsion. And they came to put me on camera for an interview, and they interviewed me, and I couldn’t see where the interview was going at all. And when that was over, they said, “All right, we would like to see you at the Imperial War Museum at 2 o’clock this afternoon. And bring with you your passport and a change of clothes for five days including wet weather gear.” And that was all. So, I went to the museum, and before the afternoon was over, I had worked out who the subject of my program was going to be. To my astonishment, they had chosen my father. Who was not a man I felt warmly towards, because when he came out in 1945, when the war ended, as I said, a super star, a man whose life was spent mixing with senior officers and being asked his advice and consultation and so forth, and he had nothing, except this one up, one down house. And he got depressed, and angry, and disappointed, and became a weekend alcoholic, so weekends in my home were unstable, chaotic, and sometimes dangerous. Often dangerous. And, so I had given my father bad press over the years, because when I finally came out about the domestic violence in my family, and then I became very active with a great organization called Refuge in England, which you must have heard of.
STEWART: Erin Pizzey was the first person to create Refuge. Now it’s an enormous institution. Provides safe houses for women and children from violent domestic situations. And I worked for them for my mother who I could not do anything for when I was five, six years old. And then during the course of this television program, at one point, on camera, they gave me a clipping from a newspaper and said I wonder if you ever saw this. And I read it, and it said this past week, Corporal Stewart has returned to Mirfield. It was 1940, and he was part of the British expeditionary force, which led to Dunkirk, when we got pushed out of Europe. Has returned home to Mirfield severely shell shocked. And nobody had ever told me that before. I had never read it or seen it. And we know now what shell shock is. Shell shock is PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. And I met a man who said, “We know your father wasn’t hurt or injured.” In fact, I actually stood in – they actually stood me and said, “We know your father must have stood here.” And we went to Northern France and he was…
GALLOWAY: He was one of the last people evacuated from Dunkirk.
STEWART: Yes, he actually wasn’t at Dunkirk. They were all scattered. They were all over western France. And they were running for their lives, because the Panzer divisions were hurtling across France after them. And a military historian spent oh, a couple of hours with me, telling me what my father would have experienced during that time. And what he would have seen. And what he would have seen was a lot of attacks on civilians, on the French population. And what was done was appalling. And this experience was what gave him PTSD. For which he never had a moment of treatment. It was commonplace in those days, you would say to a man, “Pull yourself together. Act like a man.” That was all. That was it. And he couldn’t. So I realized this man who I had given such a bad press to for so long, had actually been very sick all the time. Now that’s not an excuse for what he did. It does not in any way condone violence against a woman. Or children. And…
GALLOWAY: But not against you, in fact, right?
STEWART: Actually, never against me, no. He never hit my brother or me. He had only attacked my mother, but his attacks were often quite brutal, and there would be police and ambulance men in our little tiny home. Who didn’t get it either, I remember a policeman saying to my mother who was bleeding and being attended to, “You must have done something to upset him, Mrs. Stewart.”
STEWART: No, nothing at all. So, I felt pretty bad. Here I had been publicly talking about this guy and then I found that he was very ill. And someone from an organization called Combat Stress talked to me about his illness, and as a result of that, I became a patron of Combat Stress, which is a veterans’ association that specializes in helping veterans with PTSD. So, I do that for my father, and I do the other work for my mother. And this has nothing to do with me being an actor at all, but, it…
GALLOWAY: But it has a lot to do with you being a human being.
STEWART: Yes, it has. And I’ve come to accept over the years that I channel my father continually in my work. Continually.
GALLOWAY: Do you in your…
STEWART: Even the way he rubs the arthritis in his hands. I do the same thing.
GALLOWAY: You know, you wrote an extraordinary piece in The Guardian. I really urge you to Google this, because it’s just had a big impact on me. And what you talk about is the way that these things that we know are wrong, that are terrible, filter into your own mental makeup, and the years it takes to get rid of them in ourselves, you know? And not copy what someone else has done.
GALLOWAY: Do you feel free of that now?
STEWART: Not entirely. No. I have tendencies that I wish I didn’t have. But they appear from time to time. Luckily, as many of you already know, acting, performing is one of the greatest therapies, and they pay you for it, too. [LAUGHS] You don’t have to pay a therapist. Acting is the most extraordinary therapy because you can use, if you are lucky and the work is there and interesting roles are there, and challenging roles, whether they are Shakespeare or the latest series on television. You must explore not only the characters inner life, but your own inner life, and where they overlap. Particularly or where they coincide. At least, that’s what is important to me. And for years and years and years, I faked rage and anger, and violence. And I got very good at faking it, but it was all fake because I daren’t let myself experience it, because I was afraid of what would happen. And I know that that rage exists inside me, and can be tapped very easily. But, thanks to living for 17 years in Los Angeles, and excellent therapy, including my actor’s therapy, it’s…
GALLOWAY: But you did a production of The Winter’s Tale, and that was transformative. And I don’t know if you know that play of Shakespeare’s, yes, late Shakespeare, which takes some of the themes of Othello, but without the psychological underpinnings, so out of the blue it’s Leontes, right? Suddenly, this man is possessed by extraordinary rage. And you worked with a great director, Ronald Eyre.
STEWART: Yes. Wonderful.
GALLOWAY: How did that change you?
GALLOWAY: And by the way, and this is not when you’re in your 20’s, right? This is-when was this?
STEWART: No, Winter’s Tale must have been maybe 1980, thereabouts. So I was 39, 40.
GALLOWAY: 40, yeah.
STEWART: Which is a good age to be Leontes. I actually would like to do the role again. And there’s no reason why I shouldn’t, because like Macbeth, there’s no age limit on the role. Nowhere does Shakespeare say, as he does with some characters, we know that Lear is four score years and ten, because he writes it in the play. And I wasn’t drawn to the play or to the role. He is a horrible person, and nothing-and he does so many really bad things. Kills his wife, murders his son, throws his best friend and counselor out into the wilderness, and… It’s a horrible person. And then regrets it. And I talked to Peggy Ashcroft who was working with me in the company at the time, and she said, “Oh, my dear, don’t play Leontes. I know so many actors who have and they hated it. No, you don’t want to do that. Find something that’s more fun.” And so, I told this to Ron Eyre, our brilliant director, who’s not only a director but was himself very much an intellectual, and a psychologist. And he said to me, “All right, let me just explain to you why I think you should do it. You see, the fact is, Leontes is already alive inside you. Everything that he does, everything he feels, I know that it exists inside you. And what I’m going to ask you to do is let it out.” No one had ever asked me to do anything like that before. It was always about performance. It wasn’t about personal exposure. And I was horrified but what Ron Eyre said to me. But he also said, “And I give you my word if you will take this on, I will never leave your side.” And that meant a great deal, it makes me emotional now to remember it. He said, “You will not fall, the sky will not collapse on your head. You’ll see.” So I did it, and it was a great experience, and it changed everything about the way I approach my work. And I suddenly saw for the first time I could risk examining myself in order to make something as authentic as possible. I can risk doing that, because the chances are the sky won’t fall on my head, and nothing bad will come of it. You know, I won’t actually smother Desdemona. Which I have done, I mean I’ve played it.
GALLOWAY: Played the role, yeah.
STEWART: Played the role.
GALLOWAY: Yes, you played a white Othello in an all-black production.
STEWART: Yes. I’d wanted to play Othello since I was 13 or 14, very precocious as I said. And yet when the time came, when I thought I was ready to play it, it was clearly, and I was totally in favor of this, completely unacceptable that I would put on black face, and play Othello. I knew I couldn’t do that. And then one day, thinking about the play, a notion occurred to me, what if we keep the racial element of the play but we just switch it over? So, it’s a white mercenary British soldier, working in an African-American society. So, when we did this in Washington, the only person who would pick it up, and I pitched this to the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, they all went, “Oh, no. No, no, no, no. No, no. Why would you want to do that? Much too scary, much too dangerous. No, no, no, we couldn’t do that.” But I ran into the artistic director of the Washington Shakespeare Theatre, in an American Airlines lounge, and he was just getting up to go and get his plane, when he said, “By the way, you know, is there anything you want to do you haven’t done?” And I said, oh yes, I want to be in a racially reversed Othello. And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “A white man who is a mercenary soldier in an African society, African, possibly American society.” And he said, “When are you free?”
STEWART: Michael [Kahn]. And so, I did, and I thought all right, I’m already committed to something, which is going to be unsettling. So, I did some research and found that very, very few women had directed Othello. Well very few women at that time had directed Shakespeare at all, that’s changing now, massively. And so, there was a woman director in England who I had heard of and admired and a friend of mine had worked with her and liked her, so I said, how would you feel about coming to Washington and directing this? And she did. And it was the most extraordinary experience. Both in terms, as a human being, living in society, and doing that play. I do remember doing the first two or three days when we were just talking about the play, sitting around in circles discussing at points. Two actors stood up and said, “I cannot be a part of this.”
STEWART: “This is too offensive.” And left. Two black actors. And on both occasions, Jude Kelly ran after them and persuaded them not to walk out. “Give us a little bit more time.” They were very sure that we were making a horrible mistake and that there would be something potentially very offensive about this production. And I’m happy to say all of those wonderful actors became one of the most passionately enthusiastic groups of actors for a production that I have ever experienced. And for me, it was a great privilege to find myself in such a company. Jude Kelly tweaked some little points, for instance the prostitute, what is her name?
GALLOWAY: It’s not Emilia, is it?
STEWART: No, it’s not Emilia, anyway, there is a prostitute, a very small part [Bianca], who Cassio is having an affair with. And she cast her as a white woman. And all of the servants to Desdemona’s father were white because this was a wealthy massively successful African-American community. She even very subtly when we – when the play moves to Cyprus from Venice, she cast Hispanic actors. So we had three racial groups within the play, which led to extraordinary conditions of tension and stress in the performances.
GALLOWAY: Offstage as well, or?
STEWART: Never offstage. Never offstage. I mean, I’ve worked in some great groups, but nothing like this at all. And it was-well it was an overwhelming experience. There were times I used to get so emotional, and I always made a point of pausing after the line, because we changed not a word of the script at all. We left it up to the audience. You deal with this, this is what we are giving you. You’re going to have to handle it somehow.
GALLOWAY: Because there’s no — I think Desdemona’s called fair, but there’s never anything where she’s called blond in the play, right?
STEWART: No. No.
GALLOWAY: I don’t remember, but…
STEWART: And a very, very, brilliant and very physically delicate young actress played Desdemona, and I was then, a bit beefier than I am now.
GALLOWAY: But you look pretty fit, so…
STEWART: Well, I looked like a mercenary. And there was one line where Othello says, “happily for I am black.” And I always deliberately paused after I had said that line. Because I thought, if anybody has any objection about what we are doing here, this is the moment it’s going to be voiced aloud. And I sometimes used to play it almost as an invitation to the audience. If you have something to say, this is the moment. “Happily for I am black.” And…
GALLOWAY: So when you go into a character like that, how do you prepare it? Do you go in knowing what you are going to do? Or do you arrive at day one of rehearsals as a complete blank slate, what’s the preparation like?
STEWART: Oh no, never a complete blank slate.
STEWART: Never, never a complete blank slate. My first day’s rehearsal with the Royal Shakespeare Company, I’d be in repertory, where we did a new play every week. Every Monday night we did a new play, or it went to fortnightly, every two weeks. Then three weekly, and I finally ended up in the Bristol Vic, which was monthly. So, we had one week’s rehearsal, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks rehearsal. Then I went to the RSC. And in between time, I did a 15-month world tour with Vivien Leigh, and…where was I going?
GALLOWAY: How you prepare.
STEWART: And so, first day with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Monday morning, 10 o’clock, all the company had been welcomed. Then, we were going to rehearse act one, scene one of Henry IV, Part One. And was not unfamiliar with the first day’s rehearsal. I had done it countless times in repertory. And what you do is, the director says “Okay, this is where we are. You’re entering from up there, you from down here. You’re sitting in that chair. And okay, let’s start.” And we would begin performing the play. There was a circle of chairs. And I thought this is going to be a strange set. And the six actors, I think it was six of us in that scene, sat down with the assistant director and the director, and he turned to his left and said, I think it was the actor Michael Jayston, who said, “Michael,” who played the Duke of Essex, “What are your feelings about this scene? And what is your character-what’s his role in this scene?” And Michael Jayston talked for 10 minutes. And then the director said “Good, thank you Michael, great.” And then he turned to the next actor and said, “How does it feel for you? You’re playing” whoever, I can’t remember. Duke, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or somebody. And he talked. And to my horror, I realized he was going to go all the way around the circle and come to me. [LAUGHS] And I didn’t have an idea in my head. Nothing.
STEWART: Empty, except I knew the name of my character. And I went home that evening, and I made a promise to myself I will never, never go into a rehearsal room at any stage in production when I do not have at least one thought in my head of something today that I am going to do. At least one thought. And I will know everything there is to know. I will not have a director know more than I do about this. And it’s not a bad way to work.
GALLOWAY: So how did you, do you just work hard on learning the lines? Do you sort of stick your head under a blanket and think about the character? Olivier would look for some physical thing.
GALLOWAY: The mustache, the nose that gave him a clue. How do you progress? How do you prepare Othello mentally? Not the language, the psychology.
STEWART: Well, it all comes down to the text. It’s in the play. My dear friend Ian McKellen who you may know, we’re pals.
GALLOWAY: Yes. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: You have a bro-mance.
STEWART: We have a bro-mance. Yes. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: You are bros.
STEWART: Somebody, I have not seen it yet, my wife is going to send it to me, has published a long, I mean, 5,000-word article analyzing the Ian McKellen / Patrick Stewart bro-mance. I mean…
GALLOWAY: Are you serious?
STEWART: It is an academic article, yeah. And so I will come to that sometime later, but … Ian McKellen has, on Saturday night, played his final performance of King Lear at the Chichester Festival Theater. And I missed it, I couldn’t get down there to see it, and I was devastated that I missed it. But I talked to him on the phone Saturday morning, and said, “I hope you have a great day today, enjoy the shows, and I wish I were there. And have fun. How do you feel?” And he said, “Well it’s been an extraordinary experience.” He said, “For the first time in my life, I’ve taken a big gamble and decided that everything about the character is in the words, anyway. So, all I’ve been doing is just saying the words.” Now Ian is a quiet…
GALLOWAY: Did you believe that?
STEWART: Well he is a flamboyant actor.
STEWART: Always has been. And is something I could never ever compete with. But he is also very smart. The idea of him allowing the words to do all the work was fascinating to me. Now I think he is going to repeat the production again in London, so I will see him there. But, that’s where it began for me. The text is everything. I’ll go through this very quickly for you, because it might be tiresome.
GALLOWAY: I don’t think it’s tiresome to anybody here.
STEWART: Well, in my school, in my drama school, Bristol Old Vic theater school, the principal of the school had a method, not the method, but a method, a policy of how to read a script. Did you know there were ways how to read a script and how not to read a script? Well, his would begin like this. You read it numerous times, the first time you read it for one reason and one reason only. You read it to find out what the time is. I mean, minute, hour, day, month, year. When is this action happening? You read the whole play and make notes. I, in fact, found all my notebooks only a few weeks ago in an unopened box. All my notebooks from drama school. And then you read the play again, and this time you read it for where are we? What is the place where this is happening? And you take the text apart, analyzing it, looking for a location. And then when you do that, you read it again. And this is a little eccentric, you read it for the weather. So, time, place, and weather. Three completely different readings and you make notes about all of this. You see what’s happening while you do that. You are building an intimacy with the text. It’s becoming very, very familiar. And you are scouring it not for is my character angry at this moment, or does he make a joke of this here? You are just getting information. Then you read it again. And this time you read it for what does the character say about himself? Write it all down. What does the character say about others? Write it all down. Read it again. What do characters say about your character, when he is present? What does the character say about your character when he’s absent? And that’s the end of the preparation. But by then you have pages filled with notes. But you have a very detailed, because of the number of readings that you have done, examination, exploration of the text. And so it gives you an intellectual and an emotional connection with the words. And because it was the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966 when I joined, and because it was Peter Hall and John Barton and eventually Trevor Nunn, who were working there, who were all Cambridge graduates like yourself.
GALLOWAY: Thank you.
STEWART: And they brought rigorous intellectual application to what we did. Now I would have no education at all. I left school at 15. Qualified in nothing. Never sat an exam or first exam I ever sat, was for my California driver’s license.
GALLOWAY: Did you pass?
STEWART: Terrified. It was terrifying. And never the less, even though I wasn’t smart, it gave me a way of going into a script. And then when you had all of that information, then you looked for objectives were a very important thing. You had to divide the whole role up into what are the character’s objectives in the play? What are the character’s objectives in act one? Act two? Act three? What are his objectives in this scene? What are his objectives in this moment? In other words, what does he want? What is his desire? What is his needs? And that’s when you start to build the character and his feelings, and the actions. It’s a complex system, except I do remember my principal Bill Ross, saying, “You must realize the time will come when you won’t need the notebooks and the pencils. A time will come if you do this often enough, when you will read a play, and you will do all this automatically.” So at the first reading, you are opening yourself to all the information that the script can give, and that’s, I mean for me, if it’s a great play, if it’s Shakespeare or an important play or Pinter, which I’ve just done, that first reading, I make sure the house is empty. I am alone. I take the phone off the hook, because it’s just going to be me and the play. Uninterrupted, because what I will take from that experience is what I hope an audience will take when they come to see it. We’re going to be feeding them experiences very fast. So much will be communicated to them. And so, what happens to me while I read it might be, not necessarily is, but might be what I need to communicate to an audience. Is this making any sense?
GALLOWAY: Yes. Many of these people here are filmmakers and actors who will memorize what you’ve said.
STEWART: It’s just a technique, that’s all. It’s not a code, it’s not a secret. It’s just a very simple and rather naïve technique.
GALLOWAY: Was it when you did the Pinter when you spoke to Oliver Sacks? Who knows who Oliver Sacks is? Oh. Well you should.
STEWART: Oh, do you have some…
GALLOWAY: Shame on you. Your excuse is that you are so young.
STEWART: Well yes, but look what they have ahead of them.
GALLOWAY: I agree. So Oliver Sacks is a writer and neurologist.
GALLOWAY: Who wrote a really extraordinary book called The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. [LAUGHTER] You laugh, but it happens.
STEWART: Yeah, it’s funny.
GALLOWAY: And has written extraordinary books about human psychology, and especially in extreme ends. And you consulted him when you did-it was No Man’s Land, the Pinter play.
STEWART: Well three or four times, actually.
STEWART: He became a kind of friend. I wish I had known him better, because he was a brilliant man. And I knew that he was unwell, and we were in rehearsals for Harold Pinter’s play No Man’s Land. And we were in New York, luckily, and that’s where Oliver Sacks worked and practiced for most of his life. He is an Englishman. And I said to the director, “Listen, if I were to contact Oliver, I know how to reach him, how would you feel if we invited him into the rehearsal room? We don’t have to run the play, but if you selected a handful of scenes, we could just perform them for him.” Of course, these-the play is about four people who are really fucked up.
STEWART: They really are. Scary, at times ugly, manipulative, dangerous people. And so, Oliver came and we sat him down and we did these scenes for him. And then we all pulled up chairs and sat in a circle. There are only four characters in the play, the director and the assistant, and I think the director said something to him, “Well, Oliver, what do you think? You ever met these people before?” And he said something like, “Every day of the week.”
GALLOWAY: Wow, in the mental hospitals.
STEWART: Yes. “So please, Oliver tell us about them.” And he did. He talked in detail about what he had seen in the play, what he thought the characters’ problems were, issues were, and how commonplace they were, too. And it was massively instructive. But research can be… I have always loved it probably because I didn’t have an education, so almost everything that I read is new to me. But I played Captain Ahab in a television production and I spent…
GALLOWAY: Of Moby Dick.
STEWART: Yeah, I spent two weeks on the east coast of America in some of those whaling communities. Talking to people, going to the museums, looking at the artifacts and so forth and trying to put myself into the life of a 19th century American whaler.
GALLOWAY: I want to talk about one of the roles I think that I first saw you in, and how you created that, because this has multiple challenges. It’s a historic character, played a key role in history. In a British period production, that had a huge impact, well, on me when I saw it in the 1970s. But it’s also done as this sort of Game of Thrones of the Roman Empire. So let’s actually watch a clip from your role of Sejanus in I, Claudius. Actually, before I should set this up. Sejanus is driven by ambition, Ben Jonson, I think wrote a play about him, too.
STEWART: He did. Called Sejanus.
GALLOWAY: Sejanus His Fall? And he’s driven by ambition. He is going to marry a high-up woman, who’s related to the Emperor, but the Emperor doesn’t like it. And suggests that instead of marrying his lover, he marry her daughter. This is the scene where he tells her. So this is a clip from Sir Patrick Stewart in the great I, Claudius.
GALLOWAY: When did you last see that?
STEWART: Oh, probably when it aired.
GALLOWAY: Because now with DVDs and everything, you can see this stuff again, and it’s… I love that series. Was it fun to do?
STEWART: It was great fun to do. It was the first important thing I got to do on television. And I was only in four of the twelve episodes, because he comes to a really bad end, this guy, as you can imagine. Patricia Quinn, she is terrifying. I was actually, when she went for me, I was afraid, it was like, I am going to have to fight her off. She is a wonderful actress. But it was the first break I had ever had, and the director of I, Claudius, he always cast theater actors in his television productions. He liked, he thought especially in costume drama, he thought that they had a manor, a style, a way of being on camera that was more helpful.
GALLOWAY: How did you prepare for a role like that?
STEWART: Oh Lord. I don’t know, I hadn’t played Leontes at that time, so this is all acting. It’s a lot of acting there. Some of it is OK, it gets by. But it makes me uncomfortable to watch it, yeah.
GALLOWAY: That’s so interesting.
STEWART: It was early days, it must have been, when was it? Do you know?
STEWART: ’76. I mean, I was in my 30s or 40s. But it did me a lot of good. Even though the character was such a bastard and came to a bad end, it led to other work, which was very nice. And I’ve got to say, it made careers for John Hurt, who played Caligula in this, and for Derek Jacobi, who played the leading role, Claudius. And other actors who got their first break in this series, as well. So you’ve got Oliver Sacks to read. And you’ve got — [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: They’ve got homework.
STEWART: Homework, yeah.
GALLOWAY: But Sian Phillips, George Baker who…
STEWART: Sian Phillips, George Baker. Is Tiberius.
GALLOWAY: But there was this debate about do you play period in a different way or do you play it in a contemporary way? What’s your take on that?
STEWART: I don’t know what a period way might be. Certainly, we couldn’t play it in an Elizabethan way because we know enough about Elizabethan acting to know that it just wouldn’t work today.
GALLOWAY: What does that mean?
STEWART: Well, it would have been quite big. Quite demonstrative. And I suspect quite broad, too. But I mean, people say to me if you had one chance, one moment to go back in history, what moment would you chose? Well, for me, I always say the opening night of Hamlet. The first performance of Hamlet. Or any of the plays really, but Hamlet would obviously be especially interesting. What was it like? What did they sound like? What did they do? But I mean, John Barton, one of the directors at the RSC, had a very clear idea about how Shakespeare’s actors spoke the text, and although I tried to master it, I was never very good at it. But it was in a very declamatory style. But when I became an actor, there was a lot of that still hanging about in British acting. It was never ever about living the role, it was about presenting the role. Does that make sense?
STEWART: And you mentioned Laurence Olivier earlier. Sir Laurence was a very physical actor and much of what he said about who he was as a character was in what he did and how he looked. And another thing that he said too, once, this has always had a place in my memory when I am working. Somebody once asked him, “What is the first thing you look for in a part?” And he said, “The comedy.”
GALLOWAY: That’s so interesting.
STEWART: Isn’t that wonderful?
STEWART: I mean, I remember when I was rehearsing Macbeth deliberately looking for the comedy. There’s not a lot of it in Macbeth but it is there. There is wit, there is irony.
GALLOWAY: Is there?
STEWART: The biggest help, I’ve got to just mention my pal, Ian again, because I ran into him on the street. And he said, “Aren’t you going to play Macbeth?” And I said, “I’m already in rehearsal.” And he said, “Oh.” Because he was one of the most famous Macbeths of his day. He and Judi Dench, Dame Judi, did it. If you haven’t had her here, you should have Dame Judi as well. She’s…
GALLOWAY: I think she’s got some physical issues now.
STEWART: Health problems. She does. I said, “So come on, Ian. Come on. You’re such a famous…give me one thought, one idea that I might not have had.” And he said, this is on the street, and he said, “All right, then, the line tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, one of the probably most famous line in the play, creeps in this petty place from day to day.” And I said, “What about it? That’s pretty straight forward.” He said, “What’s the important word?” And I said, “Well, tomorrow.” He said, “No, no, no, it’s not. It’s ‘and.’ ” Revelation. It was instantaneous. I knew exact. And I said, “Yes, got it, thank you.” And I was doing that scene that afternoon, and went in and did what I thought Ian was talking about. And the director, “Stop. Where the hell did that come from?” And I said, “I’ll tell you later. It’s a long story.” So then instead of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…it became, and I don’t quite know how it was in Ian’s hands, I can’t remember. Tomorrow, AND tomorrow, AND tomorrow…the emotion.
GALLOWAY: You know, it’s interesting, to look for these clues that allow to see what’s become a cliché or over familiar in a fresh way, and it’s very hard, you know, going back to Othello, I remember looking at the First Folio… it’s sort of considered the most authoritative printing of the many different versions of Shakespeare’s plays. And there’s this speech right after he’s killed Desdemona, which I always interpret as being sort of reflective, you know. O ill-starr’d wench, you know the one. Pale [as thy smock]. I can’t remember the words.
STEWART: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GALLOWAY: And in that First Folio, there’s an exclamation point. And you go “Oh, of course he’s not calm and reflective. He has just murdered the woman he loves and realized, oh my God, I made the mistake of my life. Who would be calm?”
STEWART: There is the line I say about Emilia, “If she should come, she will call my wife. My wife? What wife? I have no wife.” I mean, extraordinarily modern, I mean, as contemporary as you could possibly be. Nothing that says this was written 400 years ago. Go on. I interrupted you.
GALLOWAY: You left Shakespeare… feel free to interrupt, it doesn’t matter. You left Shakespeare and your career took a very different direction in 1987, when you played a minor role that you thought was not going to last more than a few episodes in a TV series. They all know what I am talking about. [LAUGHTER] If you don’t mind, I’m going to show a clip from one of the more famous scenes, the Measure of a Man scene. So this is you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Here we go.
GALLOWAY: So I thought it was pretty interesting, you had your arms wrapped around your chest at that point. Why?
STEWART: Well, I was feeling quite emotional because of the pride I felt in just now watching this in that show. How much with every single episode that we did, and there were 178 of them, we always, even in the lightest ones, we tried to make them about something. Something that could have an impact on present day society. And that was the case from the very beginning. And Jonathan Frakes who you saw there, Brent Spiner, brilliant Brent Spiner as Data, who never received a nomination for anything in the seven years and the four movies that we did, for doing the most extraordinary work, playing a machine. I was always totally convinced by that performance that he was a machine. But it’s nice to have reinforced what I’ve always felt, that we made a contribution to how people see the world. And one of the charms of being Patrick Stewart is, there aren’t many, is that I almost daily someone somewhere will communicate with me and talk about what the series meant to them. And some of the things people have told me are overwhelming. On a plane, the other day, a flight attendant came forward and knelt down, squatted down beside my chair and said, “Can I just say a few words for a few minutes? and I’m sorry to disturb you.” I was reading and he said, “This was my life as a child.” And he told me briefly, very briefly about his life. And said had it not been for Next Generation, and knowing that every week I could see a new episode, I would not have made it through my childhood. He didn’t say what he meant by that, but it was extremely powerful way. And I remember the best fan letter I’ve ever had came from a police sergeant in Las Vegas, who wrote a very friendly chatty letter, telling me about his job, what he did and so forth. And then at the end of the letter, he said, “So there are days I come home and what I’ve seen and heard, what I’ve experienced on the street, in my car, in the precinct, so profoundly depresses me. And my hope and expectation for humankind gets so undermined, I despair. And when that feeling hits me, I go to my shelf and I take down a copy of The Next Generation and I put in my VCR and I watch it. And I feel immediately better.” And because, and this was something Whoopi Goldberg said about why she joined the show, she said, because Whoopi had just got her Oscar. And in the second season, all of the sudden, we were told Whoopi Goldberg is going to be… an Oscar winning actress is coming into a syndicated science fiction television series? Amazing. So once we got used to Whoopi being around, and it didn’t take long, I said to her quietly one day, “Why?” [LAUGHTER] “Why are you here? You’ve just got an Academy Award, you’re so hot. Anything you could be doing and you are doing this.” And she said, “I’ll tell you why.” She grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, and she said, “Life was tough, it was hard. And times I used to get really, really discouraged. But there was this show on television called Star Trek.” That was the original series of course, will Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy. “And there on the bridge of the Enterprise was a black woman in command with authority.” And she said, “I just thought to myself well, one of us made it.”
STEWART: And that’s why I want to be here.
GALLOWAY: When she did the clip that we showed, I think she said, “This is about slavery.” And it had a real impact on you?
STEWART: Oh yes. Yes. Yes. We talked about that, and it went into the script straight away. She said, “We’re not talking about a race or anything, we’re talking about potential for slavery.” And it was very, very powerful. And luckily, one of the producer writers was right there and it all went into the script. And there were other occasions where that happened, when one or other of us would say, “Here’s what I believe about this.” And they would say, “Say that.” Terrific.
GALLOWAY: Does that character reflect your beliefs? And in what ways is he different than you?
STEWART: Jean-Luc? He is not that different than me. He is smarter than me. But the time came as it does with any role if you do it long enough that the dividing line between the actor and the character just disappears. I knew him so well. I didn’t… at the start of every day, I didn’t sit in my trailer thinking, “Jean-Luc Picard, you know, who am I, who is he, where does he come from, what’s he like?” No, I could walk onto the set confident that I knew how he would respond to almost any situation. Because I had absorbed him, he became me. And that was one of the things that was kind of hard about it, that he was… as was Charles Xavier. Both of them were characters I immensely admired for their morality, for their kindness, for their sensitivity, for their compassion. Even for their intellectual capacities. And so to get that close, playing Jean-Luc for all those years had a real impact on me.
GALLOWAY: So it changed you, too?
STEWART: Yeah, yeah, as did Charles, though not as much as the last movie did.
GALLOWAY: It’s interesting because here you are when the role comes along, and you are in your mid-40s. And I think the L.A. Times at that point said, “unknown British actor,” which Brent Spiner put on your dressing room door. [LAUGHS]
STEWART: The actual quote, “Unknown British Shakespearean actor.” And yes, Brent had a notice made, which had at the top of it, in red, bright red, WARNING: Unknown British Shakespearean Actor. Like you know, beware of the dog. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: And you then found the sign for sale at an auction, I think.
STEWART: I did, yeah. And I proved to them that it wasn’t the original sign. Because I had it.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] So is that proof of destiny, or is it just oh my God, coincidence? How did you get this role? You happened to be in LA for something. How did it come about?
STEWART: Thanks to a professor of English, a Shakespeare scholar at UCSB, Santa Barbara. I had become involved with him and his work as a bit of a teacher. He knocked on my dressing room door one day when we were doing the Roman Season at Stratford in 1972, and said, “You don’t know me, but I am here with a group of American students, and we have class every day, and I would like to invite you to our class tomorrow to talk about tonight’s performance.” And I said, “No, I can’t do that. I don’t do that, I can’t talk about it, it’s not what I do, no, not possible.” And he said, actually he did say, “I’ve got a bottle of whiskey for you if you come.” [LAUGHTER] I remember, I am not an alcoholic by the way. But… so I went you know, a bottle of whiskey was not, you know, in those days on a salary of about $50 a week, it was pretty good. And I found I had something to say, as you have now discovered. [LAUGHTER] I had something to say, and thanks to Homer D. Swanson, known as Murph, and may he be comfortable, because he is ill and sick and in a living in a hospice in Santa Barbara and I am going to see him in a few days. He encouraged me to teach. And so when I had, when I wasn’t working the UK, he would fly me over to Los Angeles, and I would tour local colleges, campuses, I never came here, I don’t know why I never came here. All over southern California, lecturing, doing Master Classes, holding workshops, and so forth. And I got to know through this work, a professor at UCLA, David Rodes, who had a spare room in his house. And so whenever I came to LA, I lived in his house. And one night he said to me, “Listen, I’m doing a lecture. It’s part of a course of public lectures on campus, and I’m lecturing about the changing face of comedy and dramatic literature.” He said, “It’s going to be so tiresome, but if you and an actress friend came along and read extracts, illustrating my lecture, it would be so much more fun. And there’s $100.” I remember the $100 part very well. And I said, “Sure.” And we went along and we did it and we spent that $100 afterwards and… the next morning I got a call from my agent, who’d I never met or even spoken to, because I didn’t have an agent. I mean there was an agent, but he was not somebody who was in my life, and he said, “First of all, I want to know what the hell were you doing at UCLA last night? And why would Gene Roddenberry want to see you this morning?”
STEWART: And so I had to come clean and say, “Well, I was helping…” And he said, “You’re not a scholar.” And I said, “No, I’m an actor, please don’t think I’m not an actor, I am an actor.” Signed up for the course of public lectures was a wonderful man called Robert Justman, who was one of the executive producers of the original series, and had been brought out of retirement to help launch Next Generation. And I got to know Robert and his wife very well over the years. He was a dear friend. And his wife confirmed that at some point during the evening, he turned to her and said, “We found the Captain.”
STEWART: Well, he told Gene Roddenberry that, and I was called in. I went to Gene’s house the next morning. And it took Gene a few minutes to grasp that I was not the man he wanted in his new Star Trek. And the meeting was over in under 10 minutes and I was out the door again. All I can remember, there was a lot of green shag pile carpet on the floor. [LAUGHTER] I think Gene moved onto something better than green shag pile carpet.
GALLOWAY: Why did he not want you?
STEWART: For the very reason that you know, Brent put that thing on the door, he apparently said something, “What would I want with a bald, British Shakespearean actor in this show? It makes no sense. Forget him.” Somewhere in the archives at Paramount Pictures, there must be a memo which was written by Gene and sent to all of the different departments, saying, “I do not want to hear that actor’s name again.” Because people kept saying, “What about seeing Patrick Stewart again?” And I…
GALLOWAY: But you were hesitant about taking the part.
STEWART: Oh, so hesitant. Well, although, I treated it as a bit of a joke. I didn’t know what Star Trek was. My children informed me what Star Trek was and then they were all kind of laughs about “Beam me up Scotty” and all that kind, which I didn’t understand. But they told me what it was about, because they had watched it as children. And I went back for a couple of more… it took about six months, the whole process. But I just opened in a wonderful production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Young Vic Theatre in London. And I was loving that experience. And there was talk about transferring. In fact, we were already in negotiations. Billie Whitelaw was playing Martha, transferring it to the West End.
GALLOWAY: You were George.
STEWART: I was George, I had never been in the West End in a commercial production before, when suddenly I got a call, “You’ve got to come back to LA.” The production had just ended, this is the last audition. It’s down to you and another actor. I have never been able to discover who the other actor was. Nobody will ever tell me, they knew, but they wouldn’t tell me who it was. I have an idea who it might have been. And I went back, I did my audition for the studio. And I wore a toupee, a hairpiece, which they knew I had, and they wanted me to wear it. And then when I was taking it off in the joining room, the producers, the Hollywood people, the Paramount people all came in to say thank you very much. The hairdresser said to me after, “You know why they came in, don’t you? They didn’t want to say thank you, they wanted to see what you looked like without a hairpiece. That’s why.”
GALLOWAY: Oh, wow.
STEWART: And I left… this audition was at 8 o’clock in the morning, a bit early for me to be auditioning. And I left the studio and there was a coffee shop down Melrose Avenue that I was very fond of, from you know my days just drifting around LA. And I went to a shop and bought The Sun, the English newspaper, and took it to the coffee shop. It was before cell phones. And I was, oh I sat there for oh, more than three hours, reading the papers, drinking coffee, having a good breakfast. While my agent, who had been called by the studio, I think before I was actually off the lot, saying, “It’s Patrick, we want him.” Was trying to find me. And had no idea where I was.
GALLOWAY: Oh my God. [LAUGHTER]
STEWART: And I was just happily reading, because I have a policy about auditioning. When the audition is over, forget it. Erase that it ever happened. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy. Just forget it. If something good comes of it, that’s lovely. If it doesn’t, doesn’t matter you just move onto the next one. And also, you’ve got to remember about auditioning too, that and I didn’t know this until I was myself a director and sat and auditioned actors. When you are waiting to go into the room where the producer or the director, or whoever is, don’t be afraid. Don’t be nervous. Don’t feel intimidated or scared. Just know that the people in that room want you to be the best thing that they have ever seen in their lives. They want you to be it. You have more enthusiasm going for you, and hopefulness that you will give them exactly what they are looking for, that they will want to work with you and cast you. Because that’s, I mean, there are some you know, types that don’t think like that, but for the most part, people who are holding auditions, and it’s an exhausting procedure, want everybody to be wonderful. They are not sitting there being dismissive of you or anything. So it’s a good thing to get you through the experience.
GALLOWAY: Did you like Gene Roddenberry when you got to know him?
STEWART: I didn’t really get to know him. He would come on the set every day, and I would see him sitting in his big hide producer’s chair, and I would catch him looking at me. And I knew what he was thinking. “How did this come about? I never wanted this guy.” But he was very friendly to me. We only had two intimate moments. He took me out to dinner before we started shooting the pilot. And we talked about golf. And he took me out to dinner to give me a few notes on the work that I was doing on the pilot episode, which was…
GALLOWAY: What were the notes?
STEWART: He wanted me to be… do you know who Horatio Hornblower was?
STEWART: He said he wanted more Horatio Hornblower.
GALLOWAY: But nobody here will, for most… this is an English literary character I guess.
STEWART: Yeah. A sailor, who the man wrote many, many books with this character as the central character, Horatio Hornblower. And Gene was obsessed with these novels. And he said he was in my mind all the time that I was writing. I wish he had said it before we started shooting the pilot, because it was a big indicator to what his image of the captain was.
GALLOWAY: I want to talk finally about another role you thought of turning down. The other role you have mentioned, in X-Men. So we’re going to take a look at a clip from Logan, which I don’t know if you have seen it, but it’s a really good film. Yes, you agree. And you know there are two versions of this film. One is in color, one is in black and white. Have you seen the black and white version? Yes, I really like the black and white version, so we are going to show a clip from that, in the beginning of the film. Can I ask the students that are going to ask questions while we are showing the clip just to you know, get up by the mic and let’s take a look at a clip from, I guess this is your last outing in this role, right? You have said.
GALLOWAY: Good. So here is a clip from Logan.
STEWART: Looks great, doesn’t it?
GALLOWAY: This black and white version is, it just adds a layer of, I think Jim Mangold likes that version, too.
STEWART: He does, yes, yes.
GALLOWAY: He does. So, how many of those films have you done? Have you done nine of them? Seven, eight, nine? People here might know better than we do.
STEWART: I think this one was number eight for me. There was a Wolverine that I wasn’t in, and then there was the one with the young kids in it. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, you know, the youngsters in there. [LAUGHTER] Jennifer Lawrence is in there.
GALLOWAY: All those minor performers.
STEWART: Yeah, they are just you know, beginners. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: It’s funny, speaking of youngsters, it’s interesting that you are playing somebody who seems much older than you are. Is it actually difficult playing old?
STEWART: Increasingly less. I wish I had then what I have now. I am suffering from vertigo. I’ve been suffering from it for eight months, which is why you see me walking so carefully up the stairs.
GALLOWAY: Oh, really?
STEWART: Yeah, I am permanently dizzy. It will go away, I have been guaranteed, I’ve seen seven doctors and I am now in the hands of a professor of neurology in London. And they have all said that it will go away. I was doing my exercises in the dressing room before coming out here, and it does make me feel a little fragile. And that would’ve been great for this. But you know…
GALLOWAY: Is it caused by some inner ear thing, or…?
STEWART: Yeah, yeah, it’s inner ear and eyes, eyesight. And we are trying to literally reprogram certain little aspects of my brain who when they receive signals from my eyes and my ears and my body, it doesn’t make sense. And quite why it’s come about, they don’t know. Which has created a little blockage in my spinal cord here, I mean, this is probably too much information. But…
GALLOWAY: Not for me because my father is dealing with something like that.
STEWART: Really? It’s amazing how many people have, I mean, almost everybody I talk to says, “Oh yes, I have a brother, a cousin, my wife…”
GALLOWAY: Yes, but it’s great to know it will pass.
STEWART: They are all saying it will go away, and it’s not something which has got a terminal cause attached to it. You know, I don’t have a cancer or anything like that. But it’s unpleasant. The only good thing is that it goes away when I’m horizontal, so I sleep beautifully. And when I drive, and I love driving. I’m a passionate driver, and so I can get in my car and I’m no longer dizzy.
GALLOWAY: Mm, that’s interesting.
STEWART: I can drive anywhere at any speed, I have even been on a racetrack driving, so and the doctors are fascinated. They are trying to find out why driving doesn’t make me dizzy, but it doesn’t. Anyway, that was a little detour.
GALLOWAY: So when you played old, how do you do that? What were the things that you thought about?
STEWART: Well, one of the fun things about being an actor is that nothing is wasted on you, nothing at all. I am sure you know the thing we have called sense memory. You use it. It’s a beautiful… and I was taught sense memory when I was at drama school along with all the time, place, weather stuff. And I mean, the other day, I have arthritis, and I went to see my hand therapist. Yeah, there are people called hand therapists. And she said, “Look, I think the point has arrived. I’d like to give you some injections.” And I said, “Injections?” And she said, “Yeah, you need eight. You need four in each hand.” And I said… and the first one into the knuckles into here, you know, hurt so badly I thought I was going to pass out. And then she did the second one, and that wasn’t any better, except that I knew what was coming. And I was ready to say to her, “I can’t take this.” And then the sense memory kicked in and I said to myself, “Come on, Patrick. This is a great opportunity. Don’t waste it. You’re experiencing quite excruciating pain.” [LAUGHTER] “Which you could stop, but you’re choosing not to. And it may possibly be beneficial.” It was actually beneficial yes. Not so much as marijuana has been beneficial. [LAUGHTER] No I am very serious. I mean, I’m on record. I have gone public about this. I am signed up for medical marijuana here in California, and I couldn’t do that two years ago. I could only do that. Now I can do this, and that’s medical marijuana. Sprays and chewables.
GALLOWAY: People are afraid to applaud, but you can feel free, so… [LAUGHTER]
STEWART: So everything gets stored away, every experience gets stored away. You have this huge bank account with files in it, you know, and you can reference files. And pull these memories up, these sense memories. And so I have memories of my parents when they were elderly, of my eldest brother who is now dead, of how he was. And as I get older, I become increasingly fascinated by old people. I watch them a lot, I try to observe them, you know, without attracting attention. There are so many wonderful, extraordinary, and sad details about aging. And then project myself into what will I be doing in 20 years’ time? Charles was supposed to 90. So he is a bit older than me. And it’s one of the things about the job that I absolutely love, is exploring the what ifs. What if this happened to me? What if that happened to me? How would it feel? How would I behave? Who would I be? Who might I become? It’s all so damned interesting. And then you hopefully in a truthful context, and in an appropriate context for whatever the job is that you are doing, you communicate it to an audience.
GALLOWAY: What was the toughest thing about that role?
STEWART: The Louisiana heat and humidity. [LAUGHTER] It was brutal. I had never experienced anything like it. We don’t have weather that like in the UK, and it was May/June that I was shooting all of my scenes. And Hugh and I and the brilliant child actress called Dafne Keen, who if you haven’t seen the movie, see it just for her because she is exceptional. We spent days in this damned ancient truck driving up and down and up and down the highway, shooting long scenes inside the truck. And the heat was very difficult.
GALLOWAY: They didn’t air condition it just for you?
STEWART: They couldn’t. There was air conditioning in the truck, but it didn’t reach the back seat where I was. The other two were in the front. And anyway, they couldn’t have it on because of the noise. And so we just sweated it out. But we had great fun.
GALLOWAY: That doesn’t make you feel like quitting acting, or…?
STEWART: No. The only time I ever thought about quit acting was, there is a film I did, the first kind of big film I was ever in was called Excalibur. John Boorman, wonderful director, was in charge of it, and it’s about the Arthurian legend, Merlin and all of that. And I played Guinevere’s father. And there wasn’t much of a budget. And nobody was really being well taken care of, it was you know, it was very basic. I seem to remember there were actually not trailers to go to change in or rest in at all. There was just this sort of canteen where you could sit down. And we wore armor most of the time, full suits of armor that took half an hour to put on, and so we were not allowed to take them off because it would take too long for us to get them back on again, so we wore them all day long. And it was very uncomfortable. And we did a night scene. The night scene when Merlin creates the round table. And were on the top of a mountain, in the Wicklow Mountains, all night long from like, six in the evening until six in the morning. And there was nowhere to sit down, no chairs, no stools, no you know, fancy actors chairs to sit in with your name on the back. And there were about 20 of us up there, and an endless night’s shooting. And they had to carry any food stuffs up the mountain to the top of it, so not much of it came up. And there was a point way, and maybe about five o’clock in the morning, when I thought, this job is not for me, I don’t want to do this anymore. And I would’ve pulled out of it. Of course, I got back to my hotel room and I had a bath, and I put ointment on all my wounds from the armor, nipping and all that kind of thing. And went to sleep, woke up, and couldn’t wait to get back on the set.
GALLOWAY: OK, questions.
QUESTION: Sure. I am a sophomore here, I am studying film and TV production. And I was wondering, you spent most of your life acting, either on stage or on film and television, but you achieved major success or recognition at a somewhat later period in your career. How do you think your passion for acting or yourself might have changed if you became a star early on?
GALLOWAY: Oh, that’s a really good question.
STEWART: I think it would have ended badly. I wouldn’t change anything in the structure of my career. I was 46 when I was cast in Star Trek. And that transformed every corner of my life, nothing was left untouched by that. And I, instead of being an actor who you would only know about if you went to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, or watched classy programs on BBC 2, into something known globally, because of Star Trek. And I was in China recently, and they love Star Trek in China. It was most extraordinary. I have never encountered such enthusiasm anywhere in the world, as I did in Beijing recently. When we were promoting Logan. I tell people, and this will sound shallow or perhaps insincere, but I just feel very lucky. I mean, like that incident at UCLA when somebody had signed up for the lecture, and saw me and said, “Him, we want him.” And those things have happened to me all the way through my life. Now, as a lot of people will say, particularly athletes and so forth, that the harder I work, the luckier I get. And I really believe that that is true. And I have worked hard. And I have not always gone for the glamorous options, but I have gone where I think I would learn something, because as I said, I had no education. So I listen a great deal and try to put into action of what I hear and I couldn’t have coped with Hollywood and Star Trek. Even in my 30’s, it would have been too challenging. By the time I was 46, I was getting a little bit more reassured that this was a job I could do.
GALLOWAY: Before you became lucky, did you sort of look in the mirror at the age of 45 and think, “I’m unlucky,” or how did you feel about?
STEWART: I have never ever said that to myself. Well, so what, you know. It’s not going to help to say that. I have been always pragmatic about my work. And that’s where the fun part of that is, that all of a sudden you find yourself in kind of exciting situations and you wonder how this came about. How did this happen that I am here doing what I am doing? And so I am very grateful. I became an actor because the stage was the safest place I had ever been on. At 12, my English teacher, who I spoke to just three weeks ago…He is 94.
GALLOWAY: Huh. The one who asked you to read The Merchant of Venice?
STEWART: Yes, that’s the guy. He put me in a play with adults when I was 12 years old, and as I have kind of suggested, my childhood was chaotic. After 1945 it was a bit of a mess. But the moment that I walked onto a stage as somebody else, I not only was happy, but I felt physically safe. Nothing bad can happen to me here, which is really a nice thing to have if you are an actor. So I never had stage fright ever in my life. I have been nervous, yes, very nervous, but I have never been fearful of going on stage. I can’t wait to get on stage because everything falls into place then, because I have created who I am, it’s in my control, it’s in my hands, I am not subject to the Patrick Stewart that I had no control over. And I, you know, and you’re telling a story. Storytelling has always been important to me. My father told me stories about his war experience and I would have him tell the same story over and over again. I loved the anecdotes. And I read voraciously, as I have said, when I was a child. Read and read and read. There was no TV, so that was great. No TV, no computers.
GALLOWAY: No Internet.
STEWART: No Internet. Nothing at all like that. Just books and magazines. And comics, too. And so narrative was always very important to me and the thing I love about the theater is that you tell a story from beginning to end. And it has a middle, too. And you are in charge of it no matter what a director might tell you.
GALLOWAY: Yes, yes.
STEWART: And the curtain goes up on an evening’s performance the actors are in control. They are the ones running the show. It doesn’t get handed over to an editor or to a, you know, to a musician. And this is your, it’s your show. It’s your voice that’s being heard and that I like very much.
GALLOWAY: Next question.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m a political science major and theater minor. And my question was, have you ever gotten a role that you just immediately connected with on a personal level? And how did that change your performance?
GALLOWAY: And is it harder, in fact?
STEWART: I don’t think that I have. No. I’m sorry. There are aspects to every character that reflect within myself, aspects, but never something which has been where I can say oh yes that is me. I am campaigning for a role in a movie because I know the movie is being made and it’s based on a book and I love the book and there is a supporting character in this I’m desperate to play and I know it’s on offer to another actor, but how to let someone say, “But this is me! This is who I am. You don’t even have to ask.”
GALLOWAY: We’ll just kill the other actor. We’ll just kill the other actor.
STEWART: Let’s kill the other actor. No!
QUESTION: Good afternoon. I am currently a freshman majoring in theater arts. First of all, thank you for being here. It’s truly an honor. My question is what advice would you give aspiring actors who face social obstacles like their social status, legal status, or stereotypes and posts in their ethnicity?
STEWART: It’s a great question. And the references are perfect. I think there is only one way. If you really want to engage with the issues that you have mentioned you have to be absolutely fearless. Bravery is, I think, the most important character trait that an actor can have. You’ve got to be courageous. You got to dare. You got to push for the impossible or the extreme or the difficult, the challenging. You can, and I speak this from personal experience because I was timid at the beginning of my career, or I always would trust what somebody else told me rather than my own instinct and that’s crap. When I was chancellor for 11 years at the university, I made so many award speeches, but there was one thing I would always say, “As yet, it’s not far away, but there are no clones of human beings so far as we know.” And that means that each one of us in this room are absolutely unique. There is nothing on the globe that is like us. We are very, very special. And I think we don’t think about that often enough. And I encourage graduating students always to be aware that what they bring to whatever it is going to be, whether it’s a trade or whether it’s philosophy or whether it’s teaching or even acting, whatever it is, no one will be bringing exactly the same elements and qualities that you are bringing. No one. So you have got to celebrate that. You have got to embrace it. It’s the most important thing that we have. Not just actors, but whatever we’re doing. But for acting, where we are at times putting ourselves on the line we have got to be courageous about that. And sometimes you take a tumble, but it’s never that serious actually. You might bruise your forehead a little bit, but nothing bad will happen to you. And as an audience member, I want to see actors who are doing that. I don’t want to go to the theater and see somebody holding back or being demonstrational in what they do and the kind of actors that I see on the screen, oh Lord, on the plane I’m ashamed to admit this, I watched Shawshank Redemption for the first time.
STEWART: How ghastly is that that I hadn’t seen it? And I only watched it because my son was in the stage version of it last year. And it’s extraordinary. Extraordinary piece of filmmaking. And I just know if ever I get a chance to come back I want to come back both as Tim and Morgan Freeman. Both of them. Because the work that they do in that film is extraordinary. I could sit and watch their conversations over and over again. The one thing that I learned about, and this I learned once I started doing Star Trek because I haven’t had much camera experience, the camera photographs thoughts. You think, the camera sees it. No question about it. And all the actors I’ve ever idolized, most of them American, because British acting style was a little different for a long time. It’s now getting better, it’s moving more and more towards American style of acting. Somebody said to me once, “I really wish I knew,” oh God, I’m going to forget this actor’s name. Come on, help me out.
GALLOWAY: What was he in?
STEWART: His great movie as far as I’m concerned is Five Easy Pieces.
GALLOWAY: Jack Nicholson.
STEWART: Jack. Jack Nicholson. Thank you very much. How many of you have seen Five Easy Pieces?
GALLOWAY: Yes, you must watch it.
STEWART: Not enough of you.
GALLOWAY: Add that to the list. Yeah. It’s so good.
STEWART: Said, “Oh, I wish I really knew who Jack Nicholson was.” And I said, “But it’s easy. All you do, you sit down and watch his movies and you will know who Jack Nicholson is.” Because so much of that man comes out in the work that he does. And there is a long scene in Five Easy Pieces when he’s sitting on a rock outside and he is talking about his life and himself and it’s the most undramatic, simple, and most perfect acting performance I’ve ever seen. And Morgan and Tim have it in Shawshank Redemption, too.
GALLOWAY: Well, I can’t thank you enough.
STEWART: Oh, are we done?
GALLOWAY: Unfortunately. Sorry I ran a bit long.
STEWART: No, it’s OK. I have a storage room waiting for me that needs to be emptied.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] So thank you immensely for being here. Really. It’s lovely to meet you. Lovely.
STEWART: Thank you. It’s been a great pleasure. My wife said to me when I left, “Don’t talk too much.” [Laughter] “Give the poor guy a chance to ask questions.”
GALLOWAY: So really, I can see they’re just sitting there like riveted, ready for more. There will be part two in another year or two’s time. Thank you everyone.
STEWART: Well, maybe there will be. I mean, you know, we didn’t really go the whole route, did we?
GALLOWAY: We did touch on it. I know. I mean we missed at least one of the clips because we were talking. I think we just scratched the surface, you know.
Stewart: Yeah. OK. [LAUGH] Well, this morning I decided I’m not going to write my memoirs. I go backwards and forwards all the time about this, you know.
GALLOWAY: I think you should do that.
Stewart: I’m not going to write them. I think I’m just going to talk about them.
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