Patrick Stewart Interview

The popular actor discusses Brett Ratner, making the third X-Men movie and working with the young actors in the cast

Few actors can command the screen today like Patrick Stewart. With an enormous fan base behind him, this accomplished actor really caught fire as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. An accomplished actor both on the stage and on screen, Patrick Stewart has also been widely acclaimed for his role as Professor Charles Xavier in the popular X-Men movies.

Sitting down recently at a press junket for X-Men: The Last Stand, Stewart discussed playing the iconic Xavier, his very strong love of the stage and the prospect of another Star Trek movie.

THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT THE FILM! READ WITH CAUTION...

Patrick Stewart: I always feel compelled to say about Brett, to work with somebody who loves his job so much, is such a treat. No matter what the area of the work it is, when somebody just cannot wait to get to work in the morning, and every aspect of it is exciting and satisfying... it transforms everything. Those of us who feel that way we know it when we see it. He's certainly one of them.

Every actor loves a good death scene...

Patrick Stewart: Oh yes, oh yes. Especially if it's not terminal. There's nothing like a non-terminal death scene. I saw the movie last night for the first time. I really didn't know what I was going to go see. I had an idea of some aspects of it. Most especially all the circumstances surrounding the final confrontation between Jean Grey and Charles Xavier. The script didn't quite make clear that surrounding that scene was an attempt by Wolverine and Storm to get to him. I somehow thought it was just going to be a scene between me and Jean... and with Magneto there in the background. Not that we were going to be continually cutting away to this other drama, which made it, I thought, very exciting to watch.

Nor did I know how the film would end, either. I was aware of three different endings of the film. Nobody had told me what it was going to be. There was an ending in the script and there was an ending which we shot, only several days into production, and we shot it after lunch one day. The scene never appeared on any pages, there was no call sheet, it was not documented in anyway. We just went into this room and shot this scene on the bed and it was a cut down crew. There was just a whole air of secrecy about this. We shot it but it never happened.

Then a few weeks ago, I get a call from Sir Ian saying, "You'll never believe it but they're coming to London to shoot the last scene of the movie." "What is that?" I said. "Well, I'm playing chess." He said. "Who are you playing with?" I wanted to know. "They won't tell me." He said. "I don't know." What happened at the end of the film last night was especially interesting to me because I was quite unprepared for it.

How do you find your roles or do they find you?

Patrick Stewart: I think that I go looking for them. I've always been drawn to individuals of command and particularly if they have any weaknesses or they're flawed in any way. I've thought a lot about this and I feel it must go back to my father, who was a very potent individual, and ended his military service as Regimented Sgt. Major of the Parachute Regimen. Which is like being a superstar in terms of noncommissioned ranks. You cannot get higher.

He was a very impressive individual. And yet, I never really got to know him very well. I've sometimes felt he was disappointed in my life a little bit. So in examining the lives of many of these characters, some of them eventually that I've played, I think that's also been a way of looking at my fathers life and trying to understand what it must've been like to have been him. On the other hand, producers and directors, I'm a director, I'm a producer too, you don't necessarily think, "Can this person act this role?" But, "Is there something about them that will be an organic part of the role?" That's what has seemed to have happened to me as well.

Working with so many young actors on X-Men: The Last Stand, do you see anything different in the way that they are approaching the craft of acting?

Patrick Stewart: I do not, no. Speaking, certainly for X-Men, we have such committed actors. She's not here on this but Ellen who plays Kitty in the film, she was sitting in the classroom when I'm giving a lecture. And we talked about acting one day in rehearsals. I don't know how old Ellen is but we were talking exactly the same language. About the processes and preparation and so forth. Essentially, good work is the same no matter what experience it comes out of. Shawn and Aaron, heavens, they are extraordinary.

How did you prepare for the more physical aspects of the movie?

Patrick Stewart: For me, it's probably less physical than for anyone else. My physical issues revolve around the wheelchair entirely. Which is like another character in the play, because it's a complex piece of machinery; complex to maneuver. You have to hit marks with it, just as you do when you're on your feet. I enjoy that actually and it's a brilliant piece of machinery, and occasionally I'd get them to boost it up to full throttle and then I'd just have fun shooting up and down the corridors. The trickiest thing was the last scene. Because I was in a harness being flown and it was uncomfortable and at times a little alarming. The most unpleasant... was having the funnel of air blow at me, my face, but that's because off camera this huge funnel, and of course the director wanted me to keep my eyes open all the time, too. It was an unpleasant experience but it looks great, doesn't it?

Off the set, everyone sat down and I walked around because I had to spend so much time in that wheelchair. Everybody wanted to have a go in it, too. Brett came to love it. He loved zooming around in that.

What can you tell us about the next Star Trek movie?

Patrick Stewart: I know nothing about it. My feeling is that all of you know more about it than I do. I know a few months ago I got a call from Los Angeles, my agent said, "You're not going to believe this. I know at Paramount they're talking with Abrams about..." I've never heard Next Generation associated with this plan. So it's unlikely that it will have anything to do with us... but it's interesting. There's a whole new establishment at Paramount now. The Next Generation was dumped, not dumped exactly, the studio was disappointed by how the film Nemesis did, although it didn't lose money. Effectively, that ended The Next Generation part of the franchise.

Enterprise then had a quiet and early end. It's interesting that the new Paramount executives should be interested in returning to this franchise. It's nice that Abrams is so enthusiastic as I'm told.

Do you think that Professor Xavier wanted the cure to exist?

Patrick Stewart: I wish that had been a scene in the film. I wish there had been a scene where, perhaps, even with the class, even with students that this issue could have been raised. We now have a choice. We've never had a choice before. Should we support the offer? The invitation to choose? Or, is it something that we have to resist? That's an aspect of it that never really gets examined from Xavier's point of view. I can only imagine that to him, choice would be an excellent thing. It is the existence of coercion that makes it all so different. That this will be forced upon the Mutant population that's what he opposes.

Kelsey Grammer said he thought the cure was the villain in the film.

Patrick Stewart: Really? I don't see that, no. I see it as the people who have the cure in their hands as being the problem in the film. It is another form of victimization.

What are some upcoming projects that you're working on?

Patrick Stewart: My commitment to The Royal Shakespeare Company is for the next twelve months. I'll finish that commitment at the end of April next year. In November/December, I'm very hopeful that we finally might put into production a new film version of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. A modern version of the production which I, as a producer, have been trying to develop for almost four years. We were neck and neck with the Michael Radford/Al Pacino movie for about nine months and they beat us to the starting line. So we had to put that on hold. Now it's revived we have very much cast, we have a director, producers and almost the money.

X-Men: The Last Stand opens in theaters on May 26th, 2006 from 20th Century Fox.