Happy Birthday! Sir Patrick Stewart turns 80 – a retrospective of an extraordinary actor

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Patrick Stewart - Picard Day

“I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again.”

Sir Patrick Stewart turns 80 this year. Happy Picard Day Birthday! The man’s been around the world of entertainment for over sixty years. Film and TV mind you, not just theatre, but it wasn’t until towards the end of the last millennium that he ‘appeared’.

Making it so

Surprised that Star Trek was still popular so long after the original broadcast, Paramount started um-ing and ah-ing about a follow up. Films were the next step, but the original cast were starting to show their age, and so plans were drawn up for a new TV series. As is so often the case, the bottom line was the main concern and to help keep costs down, a relatively unknown group of actors were cast for The Next Generation.

Enter the new captain of the Enterprise who, according to the sign on his trailer, was a “British Shakespeare Actor,” nowadays better known as Sir Patrick Stewart OBE (Order of the British Empire).


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To a generation raised on film and TV, the theatre may seem like the poor relation of the performing arts, but it is where so many an actor’s first love lies, and Patrick Stewart is such an actor. After a spell in his teens with Manchester’s Library Theatre, he joined the RSC and was with them until 1982. His debut as a named TV character was in a 1964 episode of Story Parade; he played Jack in The Unknown Citizen. The earliest one that you can still see, though, is as a Fire Officer in a 1967 episode of Coronation Street.

The clip is on YouTube and is actually worth the twenty one seconds it takes to watch it.

“Resistance is futile.”

He is a sufferer of Paul Rudd syndrome in that he doesn’t appear to have aged. However, he did get it slightly wrong by going bald in his teens and looking middle-aged ever since. Add to that his authoritative voice and noble bearing, and you can not help but cast him as a mature leader. In 1980 he played Claudius to Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet, despite being actually two years younger than his step-son. However, in 2009 he reprised the role, this time to David Tennant’s Hamlet which, at least, sorted out the age differences.

“Seize the time… Live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

Prior to Star Trek: TNG he did pop up on screens both large and small; Sejanus in I, Claudius (1976), Karla in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982), Dune (1984), Wild Geese II (1985), and Lifeforce (1985). However, he saw those mainly as ways of paying off large bills that cropped up. We all know the feeling… need new double glazing, do a TV show, central heating on the blink…get a part in a film.

“Let’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.”

“Engage.”

It was the same mind set that led him to signing on as Captain Picard; he was reluctant to sign the standard six year contract but he, his agent, and his family all thought that it would be cancelled after the first few weeks and he could trouser some cash and head back to the stage.

But it wasn’t cancelled. It ran more than twice as long as the original series, and they were still making films after DS9 and Voyager were finished. He managed to change the way Data was pronounced, invented The Picard Manoeuvre, and made it seem perfectly reasonable for a Frenchman to speak with an English accent and drink Earl Grey tea.

Boldly going (to other franchises)

“My name is Charles Xavier. I am a mutant. And once upon a time I had a dream… of a world where all Earth’s children, both mutant and baseline human, might live together in peace. This isn’t it. This is today’s reality.”

And that wasn’t the last we’d heard of Patrick Stewart… the X-Men franchise was launched, and he was the perfect Professor Charles Xavier. I mean… if you had to have a voice in your head, why not make it his!

So now all his bills are being paid off, so he can afford to do things for the fun of it. I still laugh when I see him as the outrageously gay theatre director Alistair Burke who falls for Frasier Crane, or the pervy old man in Extras. His daily reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets have re-opened my mind to the poetry of the time, and I have watched more Shakespeare since March than in the entire rest of my life!

But where else could he have been? When the Doctor Who reboot TV movie was being made in 1996 he was up for The Master, similarly he was considered for the role of Dr Victor Fries/Mr Freeze in 1997’s Batman & Robin (bullet – dodged, in my opinion) and as Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s 2005 version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Scheduling conflicts with Star Trek: TNG meant that he had to pass on lending his voice to a number of the Disney modern classics including The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. More recently he was considered for the role of Pierce Hawthorne in Community, so it seems he still can’t get a break!

“What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived. After all Number One, we’re only mortal…”

star trek picard poster patrick stewart

“Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we must continually pay.”

So… he’s a life long member of the Labour Party, patron of a number of women’s aid and domestic violence charities, anti-Brexit, thought he was circumcised until his wife told him he wasn’t, best friends with Brian Blessed, Ian McKellen, and, seemingly, everyone he’s worked with, and still going strong thanks to Star Trek: Picard. He is, at last, starting to show his age but, at eighty I think that’s allowed.

Of all the things that endear the man to me, possibly the best is his response to the Ice Bucket Challenge that went around a few years ago. While everyone else was filming themselves being dunked with buckets of iced water to raise awareness (I was never sure whether it was awareness of the cause or themselves that was being raised) he took a different approach…his wordless video showed him writing out a cheque, taking two ice cubes from the bucket, dropping them into a glass of whisky, and toasting the camera.

Now THAT is class.

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7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday! Sir Patrick Stewart turns 80 – a retrospective of an extraordinary actor”

  1. Great, great post. I have a crush on Patrick Stewart, which is bizarre, since I’m , you know, in my 50s. But even in my 20s Captain Picard kind of represented the Ideal Man to me. Star Trek: The Next Generation shaped everything. (Professor X is essentially the same character.)

    I’ve been doing a TNG rewatch while sheltering in Brazil the last five months. Watching it in order and not skipping things — watching it now like I did in the late 80s. I’m impressed. A lot of good threads of continuity. Over the intervening decades I only cherry-picked my favorite eps, so this is a really fun activity. There are plenty of eps I forgot about or underrated.

    The Picard speeches are incredibly inspiring so I can see how they influenced me. I LIKE a positive vision of humanity and the future.

    The new Picard show has me sad. Starfleet and the Federation seem to have lost the vision. I’m so bummed about it that I’m only halfway through the first season. And I was so thrilled before it started airing.

    After my rewatch of TNG I’ll get back to the Picard show.

    (NOTE: I finished my Voyager and DS9 rewatches last year. They stood up very well and I liked them more than the first time through.)

  2. Back around 1996, or so, I took “Acting Shakespeare” at community college. The class was a mix of acting, esseys, and film study. I remember watching a series of videos in class that was created by a troupe of renowned Shakespearean actors. If memory serves the recording was probably made in the early 80s.

    I recognized many of the actors in the troupe from the Kenneth Branagh screen adaptations of Shakespeare. I also remember that Ben Kingsley was in a few of the videos. What really stood out was late in the series Patrick Stewart joined for one of the videos. As a huge ST:TNG fan this was a real treat because had just wrapped up the series and ST fandom was at an alltime high. I distinctly remember that the actors, even Ben Kingsley, were in awe of Stewart. Here was a troupe of some of the finest Shakespearean actors of the day and each one of them was practically giddy in the presence of Sir Patrick.

  3. Rob Williams Author

    I can still remember ST:TNG being launched. The original series had always been around, or so it seemed, as I was growing up and DS9 and Voyager arrived at a different stage in life so didn’t really resonate in the same way, but The Next Generation…

    At the time I was sharing a house with two other blokes. We were early to mid thirties, for various reasons without partners, and, being men, reverted to being geeky teenagers… going to the pub too much, playing computer games, watching TV until all hours; Red Dwarf really benefits from being watched in company after a few pints.

    And then a new Star Trek is announced.

    You need to bear in mind that we didn’t get ST:TNG until September 1990, three years after the USA release. There were articles about it in the newspapers… big, double page spreads introducing the characters; we were unanimous that Marina Sirtis was (still is) stunning. There was a Klingon on the bridge but he didn’t look like the Latino Klingons from the original series. There were articles comparing the Enterprise NCC-1701-D with the the Enterprise NCC-1701; much bigger, sleeker, sexier. And there were families on board. And the big dish thingie separated and could fly around on its own. I’m struggling to remember a similar hullabaloo for the launch of another TV show; the Doctor Who reboot was subtle and understated by comparison.

    And it didn’t disappoint. I was enthralled with it the first time around and have watched it countless times since. My first foray into the world of VPNs was brought about by ST:TNG only being available on the USA version of Netflix. As a special treat for my sixtieth birthday, my wife bought me tickets to an exhibition of ST:TNG memorabilia, costumes, props, etc. in Blackpool. When the big day came there was a hurricane and we still went!

    All in all that programme is one of my favourites and I think I’m going to stop now so I can go and watch an episode or two… maybe three…

  4. This is now the 2nd time the internet ate a really introspective, thoughtful post of mine, and both times I’m at HOME, not in Brazil or at some cafe. I was even waiting to respond to this Stewart post until I felt ready, bc he means so much to me as a role model, and he’s affected the world, and people who grew up with Picard’s example of honor, truth, duty, tolerance, compassion, and love of learning.

    And then I wrote about how cool it is when actors of stature are willing to take on potentially disastrous sci fi and fantasy roles.

    All I can do is make sure I copy every single comment to myself in an email before hitting send. Disappointing!

  5. I find that if I get to more than a paragraph I copy and paste it into a word processor just so I don’t ham-fistedly delete it accidentally. Mind you, then I also start re-reading and changing words to try and make it better!

  6. Rob, you’re so smart. I’m now making a point to at least copy my posts, especially when they are long and thought out.

    One of the things I tried to discuss was a delight in actors of stature, of gravitas, willing to do genre roles in sci fi and fantasy. That’s a big leap from Shakespeare! I look at actors like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Ian Holm, James Earl Jones, and Lawrence Fishburne — they were willing to throw themselves into ‘light’ movies and the possibility of being typecast, and they really go for it.

    You can tell they don’t do it just for the paycheck like Sam Jackson seems to be doing these days (look at his job in Miss Peregrine…yikes).

    “As a special treat for my sixtieth birthday, my wife bought me tickets to an exhibition of ST:TNG memorabilia, costumes, props, etc. in Blackpool.” Okay — I need to hear about this. And I can tell you about the Picard Museum I visited during the 2019 Comic Con!

    What are your favorite ST: TNG favorite episodes?

  7. Amazing how smart you become after spending an hour thinking of and typing a cogent, well reasoned reply to a post only for the cat to jump up and delete everything! Well… after doing it a couple of times anyway!

    I guess all of those actors you mentioned throw themselves into the different things just for their love of the craft. James Earl Jones was a hoot in The Big Bang Theory! I nearly wrote James Robertson Justice which would have been a different but equally entertaining kettle of fish.

    Did you manage to see Staged, the lockdown comedy drama series starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen? Sam Jackson was amusing as the fictionalised version of himself in that but I admit he always strikes me as a movie star rather than an actor.

    I think the pictures from the exhibition are on my FB page but you don’t do FB so…

    It’s been a while since I’ve wayched all of ST:TNG but favourite episodes? Hmmm… Q is always entertaining and like ones about time travel like the two parter Time’s Arrow.

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