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).
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.”
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)
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…”
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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