Tribeca Interview: Patrick Stewart Talks Playing Icons In ‘X-Men’ And ‘Star Trek’
There are two very important aspects to Patrick Stewart’s career: the authoritative characters that have become synonymous with Stewart’s name — like Captain Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies — and the responsibility and certain expectation that are ultimately thrust upon the veteran actor because of roles like these.
As an actor of theater, film and television, even though Stewart has become one of our most revered and versatile actors, he will be the first to tell you that he’s aware of his cult status because of roles like Jean-Luc Picard. While he’s embraced this iconic status dutifully and has brought joy into people’s lives by representing that one archetype, whether it’s through funny “The Newlywed Game” viral videos with friend Sir Ian McKellen, or embracing the meme that follows his name, one gets a sense that there’s something much grander going on inside of the X-Men star. Even though Stewart has had a long career, it’s telling that he would be the first to admit he doesn’t have it all figured out.
There’s a bit of urgency to push beyond the stereotype in order to keep the stakes high in an almost four-decade career. For Patrick, it comes down to diversity.
“It’s always been important to me to being able to play as many contrasting roles as possible.”
Which brings him to his Tribeca Film Festival contribution with Match. In the film Stewart plays Tobias “Tobi” Powell, a master dance teacher at Julliard who has decades worth of memories buried, and is forced to confront his painful past while being interviewed by his graduate student, Lisa. Based on a 2004 Broadway play, the film is grounded by Stewart’s maturity, but also for his immense vulnerability that opens up with the universal feeling of shame that comes with unlocking the past.
Patrick Stewart sat down for a roundtable interview with The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz to talk about his iconic roles in Star Trek, X-Men, and building a diverse career despite those roles.
THE INQUISITR: What surprised you the most about Match?
PATRICK STEWART: By how consistently the film has an emotional impact on people who have no idea what’s coming, and I can almost time to the second when the first tear appears. I had not expected it to be as profound and have that emotional impact on people.
This film is about a character looking back on his life. As an actor who has had a long career, do you relate to that or have your own regrets?
In the last year or two I’ve been trying to reach out to people who were very close to me when I was first acting. I’m curious to try to make contact with the person they knew, who was called Patrick Stewart, because I’ve lost him. I don’t quite know who he was or what he was so I struggle now to remember what it felt like 40 years ago. I can give you dates and names of plays, but I struggle to recall the experience, and I think it’s probably because I spent less of myself in those days, and that’s what I’m trying to do now when I work.
Do you think that’s a natural trajectory of an actor’s life?
I have no idea. It was mine. Just before I finished my training the principal of my acting school said to me, ‘Patrick you will never achieve success by insuring against failure.’ I thought, ‘Yep. I get it.’ It took about 30 years for me to truly get what he meant, which was, ‘Don’t play safe.’ Risk everything. What’s the worst that can happen?
In Match you play a professor from Juilliard. Did you get to speak to anyone at the school?
There is an individual of whom this character is in parts based on. He teaches at Juilliard and I was very privileged to be able to watch his classes. I went to three or four classes. I think for stimulation and excitement, and reconnecting with why young people want to go into the arts, there’s nothing grander than watching a classical dance class because it’s extraordinary.
As far as taking risks, which ones did you take in doing Match?
Playing an American is the biggest challenge, even though I’ve lived here for so many years. We couldn’t afford to have a dialect coach on set all the time.
Was it challenging culturally?
Oh no I’m just speaking technically about the sounds that I make. There are one or two that I go, ‘Oof!’ but I say, well you know he spent most of his time working abroad and that’s the reason why he occasionally sounds weird and not American.
Is there a risk when you take on a role like Professor X in X-Men or is that just fun?
I perceive the big risk in that and that’s why initially I turned it down. From the time that Star Trek finally came to an end, I had previous experiences that showed me there was a handicap to having been in such successful and popular television series and film series. I had been pursuing a role in a movie, and I was desperate to get in to meet the director, and finally I did, and we had a lovely meeting and he said, ‘Yeah you would be great for this. I wouldn’t have any doubt that you would be perfect for this but I gotta ask you, why would I want Captain Picard in my movie?’ When X-Men came along I said, ‘I already have an occasional albatross around my neck, why would I want to have two?’ Then I met with the director and Bryan [Singer] persuaded me that this time it would be different, and it was different. It has not been like that at all.
What advice do you have for actors to break out of being typecast?
Very few young actors will find themselves typecast as leaders, but it happens so subtly that you’re seen as a certain kind of person, and it may be something that you’re good at doing, but I always cite Dustin Hoffman, one of my heroes, very much for the choices that he made at the start of his career. You can just line up the first half dozen of his movies, and none of them are the same! These were his choices. Every Dustin Hoffman movie you went to see you never knew what you were going to experience from him. If you’re lucky you can get a hold of that and be in control of that.
Patrick Stewart appears once more as Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which opens in wide release May 23.
[Image Credit: Tilted Windmill Productions]