Patrick Stewart looks absolutely splendid. He smiles at the compliment. “It’s a tribute to my peasant genes.” Stewart admits that being a self-declared workaholic is part of the secret to seeming more than a little like the Captain Jean-Luc Picard from 25 years ago. Now, he’s bringing him back for CBS All Access on Star Trek: Picard in a startlingly new take on the futuristic world.
Stewart made his debut in a school play at six and has never stopped working, on screens big and small as well in theaters around the world. At 79, he can look back on a career in which he’s played nearly every Shakespearean legend and a stunning array of memorable characters in too many movie and TV shows to count, but Sir Patrick is probably most proud of being knighted by the Queen. Stewart reveals that the biggest challenge he faced in his new venture was making sure that Star Trek moved into a future which reflects changes even Gene Roddenberry hadn’t imagined.
Jeanne Wolf: You had some very strong opinions about what you wanted Star Trek fans to see before you took on the challenge of a new series, didn’t you?
Patrick Stewart: I wanted diversity. Many years have passed since the last time I was on a Star Trek set. The world is a different place. So we find our beloved Picard in a life which bears no resemblance whatsoever to his service as a Starfleet captain.
“There’s always an improvement that can be made for humankind and society.”
As for taking on a new challenge, I have never thought of retirement. Sigmund Freud said, “The two most important things in a life if you want to be happy are love and work.” I am very blessed that I have the former, perhaps in ways I’d never have anticipated. However, the work has always been a bit more negative because I’m obsessive. People have said to me, “The problem with you is that you only know how to work, and when you’re not, you don’t feel as though you’re Patrick Stewart at all.” In a sense, that is true. With acting, when I first dipped my toe into that particular creative pool, I was delighted to discover that I could spend a lot of time not being Patrick Stewart, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
I sometimes look back and think, How did this all come about? All I wanted to do was be on stage reciting Shakespeare and nothing else, and then suddenly I find that I had become somebody that I still don’t quite know how to be.
JW: What has shaped you both personally and as an actor?
PS: I didn’t have an idyllic childhood, although I started doing some acting at a very young age. My education was over at 15. In the society that I grew up in, you went to work after that. It was usually in a factory, mill, or coal mine. That was where most of my family, after primary school, ended up — and quite a few of them went to prison as well. I was blessed to have one significant person standing at my side, my English teacher, Cecil Dormand. He’s 96 and still doing great. We still have wonderful conversations, and he talks to me like I’m 15 sometimes. Cecil was the one who encouraged me and pushed me in the right direction. We all need someone like that.
And I inherited something from my father. Actually he was an incredible man — a soldier, the most senior noncommissioned officer of the parachute regiment. There was always optimism in the things he expressed. That’s why I felt so connected to Jean-Luc Picard, because he always looked for a better way and improvements that could be made. I’ll never forget one fan letter I got from a police officer who said he loved his job but there were days when he came home stressed and depressed, feeling there was no future at all for any of us. That’s when he’d get out a DVD of Next Generation and watch it and be assured that he was wrong. There was a better world waiting for us. There’s always an improvement that can be made for humankind and society. That, I still passionately believe in, I just think it’s going to be a very difficult few years until we get to that place again.
JW: After some years together, you married singer and songwriter Sunny Ozell. What about love and marriage; has that become simpler even though she’s half your age?
PS: Yes. In the sense that I now think I understand the importance and significance of sharing life with one other person in particular. It’s a glorious gift. The communication between two people from massively different backgrounds like my wife and I brings out in me a reassurance and happiness that, quite frankly, I never thought I would experience. So much joy. Fun doesn’t begin to describe it. Joy would be closer to the experience.
—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor
This is an expanded version of an interview that appears in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Shutterstock
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now