Patrick Stewart has spoken to the Television Critics Association numerous times for Star Trek: the Next Generation and other TV programs he’s been involved with. But this is the first time he’s here as a ‘Sir’. Knighted by the Queen, the ceremony will take place in the spring.
Sir Patrick Stewart was at our event to publicize he performances in PBS’ upcoming productions of Macbeth and Hamlet, but the first question, of course, concerned his recent honor.
How did being knighted feel compared to what you thought it might be like?
There’s a line in Macbeth, spoken by Macduff, where he says, ‘Lest our old garments fit more easily than our new.’ And that’s how I’m experiencing it currently. The act itself has not yet taken pace. I’m not quite clear what that act is, but I think it’s called the investiture and it will happen during the spring.
What has happened is that all the new year’s honorees have been named. And except that it gives you the opportunity to add my new title, nothing else has taken place. I can tell you it got me an upgrade on British Airways and, with my American girlfriend, fast-tracked through the immigration which she was grateful for.
I’m finding this distinction a little bemusing. It was one that was not looked for, and to be invited to join this list of my living fellow actors who have already been knighted, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Michael Caine, Sir Ian McKellen, is dazzling for me and I’m grateful for it.
Did the historical myths, curses and taboos associated with the Scottish play carry over into the making of the film?
No. In fact, I received my letter about my honor on the second day of filming Macbeth and I took this as a good omen. The only downside of that was that you are also sworn to secrecy. So I couldn’t rush on the set and tell all of my colleagues. I just grinned stupidly and inexplicably all day.
There are good reasons why Macbeth is thought to be an unlucky play. When we were doing it on stage most of the action happens at night which means the stage is dark and, even more importantly, the spaced behind the stage are black, and all the backstage crew are wearing black, and there were numerous occasions when I would exit the stage into complete blackness and in those conditions accidents happened.
Watching you work with David Tennant, who plays Hamlet, here are the two of you who genre fans know because of Doctor Who and Star Trek. Is there any crossover of the fans for either one of you>
One of the great delights for me of the past 5 years has been unexpectedly to find a commercial success in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then to find that because of that success, when I was able to return to the classical and modern theatre, that a percentage of that science fiction fan base, probably only out of curiosity or a feeling that they were going to see Captain Jean-Luc Picard, come to see me in the theatre.
There has hardly been a performance when I have not met someone afterwards who has said, ‘I had never seen a play before. I have never seen Shakespeare before, but I’m coming back.’ I said to David, ‘You know, you and I really ought to be given some kind of accolade because, between the two of us, we have significantly brought a new audience into the theatre.’
What was it like working with David?
David Tennant is an outstanding stage actor and was before Doctor Who, and it has been rather unfortunate that he has somehow, in parts of the media, been cast as the television actor who got lucky. Nothing could be further from the truth. David Tennant was an important stage actor, had worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in leading roles long before he was cast as Doctor Who. And in that respect our careers were very parallel.
I love being at the top of the company and being the guy who sets the standard, sets the benchmark, speak for everybody, and David Tennant was absolutely brilliant at that. He led that Hamlet company, and was always accessible, committed, pleasant and utterly delightful. As you can see, I’m a fan.
We were joking that this is probably the first production of Hamlet that could be premiered at Comic-Con.
Yes, indeed, great thought, and neither David nor I have any problem with that. Just get people watching, if you can them there they probably won’t go away. Some journalists are quite snooty, ‘Yet another American movie star coming to the West End.’ Kim Cattrall is about to start rehearsing a Noel Coward play, brilliant. She a terrific actress and she should be on the West End stage doing Noel Coward.
Did you have colleagues back in the day who said, ‘Don’t do Star Trek?’ It’s going to ruin your chances to do things like Macbeth?
One colleague, and the five days I was given to decide whether I would do it or not, indeed gave me that speech.
Is this like, ‘I told you so’ now for you?
This man happens to be one of my closest and dearest friends and an actor I have huge admiration for, and he’s told me he was wrong.
Have you seen J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek?
I loved it; I think it’s really great entertainment. I took my grandchildren, and I think I probably enjoyed it more than they did.