Patrick Stewart, OBE, captivated a packed audience in the G.M.B. on Halloween night, giving an interview to Newstalk’s Orla Barry as part of an event organised by the DU Historical Society. Before the interview Mr. Stewart officially launched the Bram Stoker Society of Ireland’s treasure hunt in aid of MS, and donned a Dracula-style cape in order to make an entrance fitting with the holiday season.
Before giving a brief talk and taking questions, Stewart gave special thanks to Hist Correspondence Secretary James Walsh for setting up the visit, and was presented with the society’s prestigious Samuel Beckett award by the society’s Auditor Thomas Kinsella.
Due to work commitments Mr. Stewart was only in Dublin for a one-day visit, but is no stranger to the city. While filming Excalibur he lived in a caravan in the Wicklow Mountains, and would regularly make pilgrimages into the city for “the drinking.”
In a wide-ranging and entertaining interview, the 68-year-old actor began by giving a brief account of his early years growing up in Murphy, a small town near Huddersfield in Yorkshire.
Far from his now famous magisterial accent, the young Stewart spoke with a distinctive regional dialect that led to some confusion when first hearing Shakespeare, as he mistook a famous soliloquy from Hamlet for a passage about coal mining. A “chaotic and sometimes dangerous” home life led him to find safety and self-expression on stage, as he found it was the only way to “tell the world who Patrick Stewart is.” The violent behaviour of his father led to his later involvement in several charities that help victims of domestic violence, including Refuge and Amnesty International. Mr. Stewart was quick to point out though that despite the abuse his mother suffered, his father instilled in both he and his brothers a drive to succeed, and a “passion for justice and fairness.”
This passion led him to become involved in politics throughout his life, supporting the Labour party from a young age and even becoming an unofficial liaison between New Labour and those in his profession for a spell. When asked about the current U.S. Presidential election, he replied that the election of Barack Obama would represent a “cultural, if not political revolution,” giving it the same historical importance as the end of apartheid in South Africa, or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Inevitably the conversation strayed towards his most famous role, that of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart spoke humbly of his shock at being offered a huge television role, and praised his co-stars for teaching him how to be silly while doing serious work. This represented a serious change in work ethic for the Shakespearean theatre actor, who once called an infamous meeting early on in the show’s production to confront the cast about their “tomfoolery.”
Despite claiming that he had more in common with Ebenezer Scrooge than any other character he had portrayed, Stewart displayed good humour and a sharp wit throughout the interview, fending off questions about his current personal life. When asked about a comment he once made about not meeting women his own age, he turned to Barry and coyly asked if she was making a proposition herself.
For young Trinity students hoping to pursue a career in acting, Mr. Stewart advised that only those who could be truly fearless while performing could avoid short-changing their audience, and warned against going into acting unless it was a lifelong passion.
When asked for comment, Hist Auditor Thomas Kinsella said he was very pleased with how the event had gone, and praised Mr. Stewart’s “honest, open and enjoyable” approach.
Patrick Stewart is currently starring in an RSC production of Hamlet with David Tennant, and his next project is a production of Waiting For Godot, playing Vladimir to Ian McKellen’s Estragon.