The Unforgettable Sight of Sir Patrick Stewart’s Knees

First off, he apologized for the shorts. Sir Patrick Stewart walked onstage Sunday afternoon for his talk at the Vulcan Events AWAY MISSION: ORLANDO Star Trek con clad in a simple t-shirt and shorts, and must have imagined that everybody’s first reaction was surprise at seeing Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s knees. “Don’t I look a wreck?” he asked the audience. “Well, this seemed like a good idea at nine o’clock this morning when the sun was shining,” laughed Stewart, referring to his casual attire. “And here I am in Florida, and it’s snowing in New York and gale-ing in England and I feel a little bit embarrassed and uncomfortable now. I tell you my mother would not have approved!”

I don’t know about Stewart’s mum, but the crowd was definitely pleased to have him appearing at the convention in Orlando in whatever he wanted to wear, as evidenced by their riotous applause and laughter. “You know it IS kind of right that I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt,” Stewart mused with a grin, “as this has been the most relaxed, congenial, easy-going weekend at a convention that I have ever had.”

Naturally, it’s impossible to doubt the man who commanded the Enterprise for seven seasons running, but since I’d observed Stewart as he worked this convention during the last three days, I’d guess that he may indeed have been telling the truth about having a good time.

Imposing as he is in the Star Trek universe, it’s tempting to think of Stewart as a cold, unapproachable icon in person, but the reality seems to be just the opposite. By Sunday afternoon the man had spent quality time with practically everyone who’d attended the convention, posed enthusiastically for what seemed like a never-ending schedule of photo ops over two very lengthy days (and I should know because, fangirl that I am, I was there for his very first session on Saturday morning). I watched him as he took the the time to personally interact with each and every fan getting an autograph, chat at length with all the children there, and even witnessed his unexpected, even casual tour of the dealers’ room to marvel at the Trek merchandise on display, where he stopped at several booths to sign a few items as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It was easy to see he was ‘working’, but also obvious that he was enjoying himself at the event. In fact, he’d nearly talked himself hoarse by the start of his 4pm appearance on Sunday, but still managed to deliver an energetic hour-long talk and answer myriad questions for a very enthusiastic crowd.

Stewart led off his talk with some news about what he has been doing of late, including that he had just finished a 6-month season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon playing Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” He will be continuing his ongoing work on AMERICAN DAD and FAMILY GUY, as well as remaining the voice of NATIONAL CAR RENTAL in their commercials. But he gleefully added that he wouldn’t be starting another new project until January 24th because he was scheduled for his first vacation in 18 months immediately following the convention’s end. “And that feels soooo good!” he exclaimed.

As somebody who left school “at age 15 and two days and had no further schooling apart from (his) acting training”, Stewart admitted that he finds it a source of pride to now be Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield in the UK. He also felt quite honored to be made a full Professor at the University two years ago because of his work in their theatre arts department, and he takes his role there very seriously despite his busy acting schedule.

Stewart is currently working on bringing a production to the Young Vic Theatre in London. The play is called “Bingo”, which Stewart describes as being about “the last days of Shakespeare’s life, when he had retired to Stratford-upon-Avon and was sitting in his garden asking himself if he had achieved anything at all.” This was a play that Stewart said he first did in London 33 years ago, but at that time considered himself too young to play the lead role. Exclaiming, “But I’m now the right age!” he announced that “Bingo” will be presented in February and March of 2012 in the UK.

After seven years of continual theatre work, except for the filming of “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” which aired on PBS, Stewart said that he is looking forward to stepping back into the world of film and television again. “I don’t know whether it will work,” he said, “and I don’t know whether there will be anything for me to do, but I’m excited about it. I need to stretch myself again in different ways.”

Here are a few highlights from the Q&A that followed:

Question: How did you get the role of the Deputy Director of the CIA on the animated series AMERICAN DAD?
Stewart: “Well, I had been watching FAMILY GUY and really enjoying it, and I knew the work of Mike Barker and Seth MacFarlane and I thought it was brilliant. So when they called up and said, “Listen, we’ve got this idea, that we’ll make this guy an Englishman and we don’t want you to be American, we just want you to be YOU,” it was irresistible! I’m in my seventh season of being Avery Bullock now – as long as on STAR TREK – and most of the recordings I do in the UK, mostly in London. I found a really wonderful little professional studio in Stratford-on-Avon, and it used to be great fun going in at 5:00 and being pompous, outrageous, ridiculous Avery Bullock and then going in to the theatre two miles away and acting Shakespeare.

I love those guys, they give me things to say and to do that I’ve never said and done. And they’ve given me things to say that I have refused to say! There have only been two occasions when I said, “Guys, you’ve gone too far.” I won’t tell you what they were about, but they were pretty gross.

Last week in Los Angeles I did a two-hour recording, because they’ve written a big Avery Bullock episode in which the CIA tries to fire him…and he won’t go. It’s really great fun.

And then on Thursday I went to 20th Century Fox Studios and we filmed for AMERICAN DAD a live series of shots which will be part of an upcoming episode. So there’s going to be live action. It’s all me being me, being Patrick, and it will be a regular AMERICAN DAD story, but with a kind of spin on it.”

Q: How did you feel about meeting Aerosmith and knowing they were STAR TREK fans?
Stewart: “I have been a lifelong ignoramus of popular music. (sighing) I am the guy who, when Sting arrived in Mexico to film DUNE and there was all this kind of excitement, I was sitting with him there one day having tea and I said to him, “And what is it that you do?” He said, “Well, I’m a musician.” And I said, “Really? And do you play with somebody?” And he said, “Yeah, I’m with ‘The Police.’” And I said – I swear to you this conversation happened – and I said, “You play in a police band?”

Sting, by this time realizing he had a true idiot in front of him, said, “ No, no, no, no, no, the name of the band, the group I’m with, is ‘The Police’.”

“Oh, and what do you play?” He said, “Bass.”

And I said, “You know, I’ve always felt really sorry for you guys having to haul that really big thing around … (wraps his arm in the air as if holding a bass fiddle, at which the audience howls with laughter and Stewart shakes his head.)

I did actually go to see Sting in concert later and found out what he did. (grins)”

Q: What was it like doing the TNG episode “The Inner Light” where you lived a whole lifetime in one episode?
Stewart: “I’m glad you like “Inner Light”, as it’s also my favorite episode. I think that was the only “spec” script that ever got made. The writer sent the script in, she wasn’t on the writing team. It came in from outside and it was brilliant. The other writers hardly did anything to it, it was just perfect.

I loved doing it because the story was really interesting, it gave me an opportunity to be off the ship, out of my uniform, and leading another life. One of the great charms for me was that my son in that episode was played by my son. That was the first and only time Dan and I had ever filmed together, so we both remember it very warmly.

These days Daniel is doing conventions with me. We’re a kind of double act now. (smiles) In fact, he would have been here today too, except, and this is kind of nice, as we speak he is onstage in preview at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. He’s excited by that, but I think I’m even more excited that my son, who when he was four years old used to sit and play with chalks and pencils in a corner of the rehearsal room where I was rehearsing King John or whatever decades ago, is now himself standing on that stage as an independent actor in his own right. It gives me enormous satisfaction, I hope you get to see him work one day.”

Q: Your “Christmas Carol” one-man show was first performed almost 20 years ago, have you ever considered reprising that?
Stewart: “In some ways that was the most important thing I ever did. I was in the second season of Star Trek and I realized it wasn’t going to go away, I could do the whole next six years and my stage career might be over when it was done, and I was in a real panic.

So I created about half a dozen one-man shows and “Christmas Carol” was the best, the one that really took off. I adapted it, directed it, designed it, rehearsed myself all alone. And then my son came in and gave me some notes…it was of huge importance in my life because the person who had the courage to go on the Broadway stage and play 43 characters was not the man I’d been several years earlier. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do that. So it came from somewhere.

Though standing in the wings of the Eugene O’Neil Theatre in New York I did think that that the first thing I was going do on that stage was throw up. I was so frightened! (grins)

2012 is a big Dickens anniversary (the 200th anniversary of his birth), so there’s going to be A LOT of Dickens everywhere. And if it’s at all possible, I will revive ‘Christmas Carol’ for the last time then. I have ambitions for a very special location where I want to perform it, but I can’t say where it is.”

The last was my favorite question and answer because I am an enormous fan of Stewart’s ‘Christmas Carol’ on stage and his performance as Scrooge in the 1999 television film version. So, much thanks to Stewart for revealing such great news, and kudos for being such a trooper during the long three days of AWAY MISSION: ORLANDO. He certainly impressed me as one of the hardest-working men on our planet.

Side note: It also didn’t hurt that Sir Pat offered to personalize my photo op because I happened to mention Malcolm McDowell, with whom I had spoken only two weeks ago in Orlando at the Spooky Empire horror convention. My little comment launched Stewart into talking about being only 26 years old back in 1966 when both actors had just started with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The grin on his face and his chuckling as he reminisced about his early days was more than worth the price of admission alone!

ETA: You can’t get better than information straight from the source – Morgan Gendel, the writer of “Inner Light”! It seems that Stewart got the gender of the writer wrong while recalling this ep, but the background he gave, of it being basically a story pitched by an outside writer, was correct. 🙂

Morgan Gendel’s website, which looks like it’s under construction at the moment, is http://www.journeytotheinnerlight.com/

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2 Responses to The Unforgettable Sight of Sir Patrick Stewart’s Knees

  1. Anonymous says:

    I attended Away Mission: Orlando also and thought he was as charming off screen as he is on. I snagged a rare moment of his time when he came out from behind the autograph table and he chatted with me for a few moments about Dickens and my work as a Language Arts teacher. What an amazing experience to be face to face with such a legend! Definitely one to cross off my bucket list.

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