Patrick Stewart is a cultural icon for playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier.
He’s a beloved Twitter presence (@SirPatStew), known for tongue-in-cheek photos with popular co-conspirators such as wife Sunny Ozell and best friend Ian McKellen.
The 74-year-old, one of the few knights (if not the only one) to live in Brooklyn, is above all a remarkable actor, with an unforgettable career spanning nearly five decades on the stage and across screens both big and small.
amNewYork spoke with Stewart about his new film “Match,” a small three character drama revolving around an interview of a famed ballet instructor named Tobi Powell, adapted by Stephen Belber from his own play. “Match” opens in theaters Wednesday.
Is there any sort of special appeal to doing a smaller movie like this?
Very much there is. It is so attractive and I don’t mean in any way to undermine the work that I’ve done in the “X-Men” movies and before that “Star Trek.” But it is a challenging world where in many respects you are subsidiary sometimes to many other things. You’re an element in a big, exciting, unique piece of work. But something like “Match,” particularly with this screenplay where Tobi is in practically every scene and talking, because he’s very chatty, it’s a very, very different experience.
What’s different about it?
Because the budgets are so different, we have to keep shooting. We shot this film in 15 days. Fifteen days of production. The sense of being in control of telling the story; does that make sense? No matter how exciting or thrilling the experiences are with other big movies, you are only one part of telling that story. You’re never really in control of it. In the case of a film like “Match,” your body feels energized by the narrative aspect of that. You find yourself thinking in the whole arc of the movie, the events, the chronology of the movie and what that does to change the character. You’re in charge of it with the director and fellow actors.
It sounds akin to the experience of doing a play.
The appeal for those of us who like to go back to the stage whenever we can is that we are telling a story from beginning to end, and we are telling it each time in a different way. Live theater is a unique one-off experience because not only are you not the same person that came to work the day before, but you have a different audience every night. It’s a living thing where nothing is ever simply repeated. Now of course, it’s not in a movie, it becomes so fragmented, holding the whole together is well-nigh impossible, unless, with a role like Tobi who is there pretty much all the time, you can have that sense of it. It is, for those actors who like to go back to the theater, the principal appeal.
How would your performance as Tobi be different on the stage?
There have to be significant adjustments made from being in front of a camera or being in front of 1,200 people in a theater. Tobi is quite a theatrical character. He’s flamboyant, he’s a bit of a show off, he comes from a world of show business; that I felt had to be present in the character. What is interesting for the actor in this movie is gradually he sheds that as the emotional and psychological exposure grows and grows and grows. That flamboyance just simply goes away and the tone in the movie changes and changes and changes. That was very interesting, to be part of that flow.
You’re playing a white supremacist in the upcoming movie “Green Room,” which is new terrain for you.
It is perhaps the most discouraging thing to find in opening a new screenplay that it is somehow generic and that you’ve received it because people want more of what they’ve seen of you before. I cannot tell you how many Captain Picards and Charles Xaviers I’ve read in screenplays and it’s simply not interesting. The experience of my earliest days being in the theater and particularly being with the Royal Shakespeare Company was diversity. And not just year after year but on the same day; Wednesday matinee, Thursday matinee, Saturday matinee, you’d do completely different performances. And indeed this whole winter in New York Ian McKellen and myself were doing just that, doing two plays in rep. So more than anything else, I think I am drawn to something different and unusual, something that I haven’t been able to explore before.
Is there any chance you might reunite with Ian to do “Waiting for Godot” or “No Man’s Land” as a film?
We’ve discussed both. Personally, I don’t feel that “Waiting for Godot” would lend itself to film. It’s so very theatrical and stylized. Whereas “No Man’s Land,” which was recorded for television with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, we are both very interested in the possibility of filming that because I think it would lend itself admirably to a proper film version. Not just sticking cameras around the stage and shooting the stage action but making a movie.
How has Twitter changed things for you?
It’s brought me in contact with interesting people who I might not have known before. I had a Twitter date the other night. My wife and I took Rob Delaney and his wife out to dinner, who we had never met except on Twitter. We thought it’s high time that we came face to face. Well, it’s a different audience. It’s an interesting audience. I resisted social media for a long time but I’m so glad that my arm was finally twisted so far up my back that I agreed to take to Twitter.
They brought back Spock. What about Picard?
I would say it’s very unlikely. The thing with a character like Spock is that there was a timelessness about that character. He is anyway so connected to the characters in the new life that “Star Trek” has had with J.J. Abrams. I cannot see a place for Jean-Luc Picard in that world. But then, you know, Charles Xavier was vaporized by Jean Gray in the third movie and there he was, showing up in “Days of Future Past.” So you never know.
How is life in Park Slope?
It is one of the friendliest, warmest, most pleasant places that I have ever lived in. I love its diversity and interests. I no longer come into Manhattan unless I have to. There I am, 20 minutes on the F train away from one of the greatest cities in the world. If I don’t need to be there, I stay in Brooklyn.