Wednesday , June 12 2024
Waiting for Patrick Stewart in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

Book Talk: Patrick Stewart on ‘Making It So’

Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard, X-Men) visited Washington, D.C., on October 4 to promote his new memoir, Making It So. The 83-year-old actor engaged in a lively discussion at the Capital Turnaround with NPR journalist Ari Shapiro about growing up in Yorkshire, England, and building a successful career in theater, TV and film.

Stewart characterized the experience of writing and promoting his first book as “unreal.” He said, “It was never a part of my plan. I’ve written little introductions and maybe anecdotes here and there. Never did it occur to me that I would write a book.”

On Performing in Washington, D.C.

The great actor is no stranger to the D.C. area. In the late 1990s, Stewart came to the Shakespeare Theatre Company for a production of Othello. “I played Othello as a white man. The reverse of race was like that for every other character of the play. The other white people in the production were servants.”

By switching races for all the characters, he felt that the production would give audiences something different to take away than with a more conventional production. “Performance can have an impact on people, and I think that’s why most of us do it. We want to change the way the audience looks at the world.”

On Early Acting Advice

Stewart dedicated the book to two people in his life: English teacher Cecil Dormand, and acting teacher Ruth Owen. Dormand put him on the spot in class, resulting in his first acting performance and first taste of an audience laughing. Owen spoke with him frankly about his strong Yorkshire accent, saying, “Patrick, you know, if you really want to be serious about acting, you’re going to have to learn to speak standard English.”

Years later, Stewart worked on a film called Hennessy with Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night). Steiger invited him to lunch and gave him this piece of advice: “The camera photographs thoughts.”

The classically trained actor was startled by Steiger’s words, which made him reconsider his approach to the camera. Stewart recalled, “That had never occurred to me in my life before. Thoughts? No, it was actions and speech!”

On the Sonnets During Lockdown

When Shapiro mentioned Shakespeare’s sonnets, everyone at Capital Turnaround burst into cheers and applause. Stewart read all of William Shakespeare’s sonnets in the pandemic lockdown, posting the short videos with the hashtag “#ASonnetADay.”

“Your applause takes my breath away because there are a handful of sonnets that are well known and beautiful. Then there are scores and scores that are very challenging, very difficult.” 

The project came about when Stewart started reciting sonnet 116 to his wife, Sunny Ozell, during one of their walks. She asked him to repeat it so she could record it, and ultimately, they agreed that posting it online was a good idea.

“Shakespeare lives in my head. It’s there all the time rattling around like it is with Paul Simon’s songs.”

Photo of Patrick Stewart looking at the camera
Credit: Mark Seliger

On Sir Ian McKellen

Stewart is known not only for his acting, but for his great friendship with actor Sir Ian McKellen (The Critic, Lord of the Rings). “Best friends doesn’t begin to describe it. I not only love him, I’m in love with him! And so is my wife.”

McKellen tried to dissuade him from taking the role of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, insisting that stage actors shouldn’t get involved in science fiction. At the time, Stewart had landed two very important roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

McKellen told him, “If you accept this, you can’t do those and it’ll just come to an end. You’ll be abandoned!”

Stewart later accepted a formal apology from McKellen, and to this day, he won’t let his best friend forget the bad advice!

Follow Sir Patrick Stewart on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram for his latest book tour updates.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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