NEW YORK — Patrick Stewart is spending the latter part of his career dismantling the stately image he’s created by playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Professor Charles Xavier in the “X-Men” film series.
“The perception of me has been largely created by two fictitious characters I played,” said Stewart, who participated in a Master Class Q&A this week with Esquire executive editor Mark Warren. “They are highly intelligent, highly caring, dedicated to their profession, and good, decent individuals. People kind of got the idea that that’s who Patrick Stewart was as well. Thanks to Ricky Gervais, Seth MacFarlane and Jonathan Ames, I think that that perception is about to be shattered.”
Stewart was referring to his voiceover work in the MacFarlane animated series “American Dad,” where he plays the outlandish Avery Bullock, and his newest role in the Starz series “Blunt Talk,” which was written and created by Ames and will premiere on Aug. 22. Stewart plays Walter Blunt, a nightly news anchor who finds himself in a sex scandal with a transsexual — completely new territory for the actor.
“A half-hour comedy is an alien world to me,” said Stewart. “Almost not a day went by when just before we would roll camera on a scene, I would put up my hand and stop everything and say to the crew, ‘Oh, by the way, I just want to point out that I have never done this before.’ The series is littered with novel experiences.”
Stewart caught the acting bug when he was 15 and his English teacher put him in a play. “The moment that I stepped onto that stage, I felt at ease. I didn’t know why and I had no skills to analyze what I was feeling, but I was unafraid, confident and — this is the most important thing — I felt safe. The stage was predictable. I knew what was going to happen next.”
He also found stability in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” his big break that ran for seven years, although neither he nor his peers had any idea it would be successful.
“I was firmly told by my agents and everybody that I talked to there that it was doomed,” said Stewart. “I remember my agent saying to me, ‘Come to Los Angeles, make a bit of money for the first time in your life, meet some girls, get a suntan and go home.’ Well, he was wrong and everyone else was wrong and it was about halfway through the second season that we realized this is not going to go away.”
The talk turned serious when Stewart brought up his “chaotic childhood” and his father who returned home from war with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday were dangerous. I could tell from the songs he was singing as he came home what type of mood he was in,” said Stewart, who only recently started to talk about his past.
Stewart is now is a patron of Refuge, a U.K.-based charity that provides support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, and Combat Stress, a charity that supports former members of the British Armed Forces suffering from mental health conditions.
Here’s what Stewart had to say about other topics:
On Ian McKellen, who recently officiated Stewart’s wedding to Sunny Ozell in Lake Tahoe and starred with him in “Waiting for Godot” on Broadway: “Ian was a star when he was at university. He was at Cambridge. I saw him there playing supporting roles and some leading roles and I was dazzled by him. I didn’t know how a person could be so assured and so confident and relaxed onstage.”
On Seth MacFarlane: “He is one of the world’s biggest, most devoted Trekkies. He even knows the names of the episodes. I think something tickled him, the idea of getting — yes I will say the name — Jean-Luc Picard to do some outrageous, outlandish and scandalous things.”
On whether his role in “Blunt Talk” was modeled after anyone: “I was at breakfast and I heard ‘you are playing me! how dare you?’ Well, of course it was Piers Morgan and I reassured him that although there were certain parallels in his career, that he was not remotely Walter Blunt and he should be very thankful for that.”
On aging: “Age to me is meaningless. It’s like asking me to understand something in a language I don’t speak. I am 75 in three week’s time and it’s incomprehensible to me that I should be 75.”
On the early stages of “Star Trek”: “I expected to be fired, because I thought, ‘Why would they employ a bald, middle-aged English Shakespearean to play the leading actor in an American syndicated science-fiction show?’ It makes no sense. I didn’t unpack my suitcase for months.”
On politics: “A conservative recently called me a tribal socialist, and it was meant as an insult and usually people would take it as an insult. Not me. I took it as a compliment. Yes, I am a tribal, and it’s absolutely necessary to be at times. If you are going to improve the conditions of certain classes, you have to be tribalistic.”