Last Friday night several of my inner fanboys achieved ultimate fulfillment, thanks to a certain bald Starfleet captain – and I ain't talkin' Shatner. While in town to headline the massive MegaCon comics/sci-fi convention, legendary stage and screen star Patrick Stewart took time to stop by Orlando Shakespeare Theatre for an intimate sit-down with Shakes artistic director Jim Helsinger, eavesdropped on by a few hundred adoring admirers. Sir Patrick's presence was graciously permitted by MegaCon – since Stewart was contractually prohibited from appearing anywhere except the convention center – and proceeds were donated back to the Shakes, making the evening (with seats sold at $50 to $100) a successful fundraiser for the theater.
Clad in casual-cool denim and dark leather, Stewart received rapturous applause from the sold-out crowd in the Margeson Theater, as did his fellow Star Trek alumni Michael Dorn ("Worf") and Marina Sirtis ("Troi"), whom he acknowledged in the audience. The evening's emotional anecdotes fully satisfied both the Next Generation and Old Globe geeks in me, even though the conversation was 5 percent Picard and 90 percent the Bard. Topics ranged from his early days at England's Royal Shakespeare Company (alongside Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren) to playing a white Othello in Washington, D.C., surrounded by a mostly black cast who had all "already played Othello, or had been preparing to."
Here are Sir Patrick's best quotes from the Actors' Studio-style interview, whose only fault was that, at 80 minutes, it was over too soon:
On his preference for working in repertory companies and ensembles: "I think it might have had something to do with a slightly chaotic home life, and I was drawn to the semblance of permanence; seeing the same faces every day … I also liked the continuity of work, that you worked with the same people again and again and again. … You develop an acting language."
The notorious "sandwich scene" in his 2008 Broadway Macbeth: "It's a long scene [between Macbeth and Banquo's two murderers]; talk, talk, talk, Macbeth drones on and on. … I said, 'I wish I had an action. Instead I just stand here, and these two poor actors have to listen to me.' [Director] Rupert Goold said, 'Well, why don't you make a sandwich?' …The scene came alive with that. … The two murderers used to take them off and finish them in the wings. They were so good!"
Balancing his acting career with home: "My kids didn't think there was anything cool about [my job] for a long, long time. I think they thought it got in the way of my family life. … I think it must be very, very hard to have an actor or actress for a parent or partner because there's a sort of instability a lot of the time … you come home, and [you're] not always the same person that went to work in the morning."
Performing for film versus stage: "Stage acting is about action. I don't mean swordfights and running around; it is to do with the action of the mind as well as the body. It is a very active process … whereas film is about thinking. The beautiful thing about cameras is that [they] photograph thoughts. … Doing a soliloquy on camera is exhilarating because you don't have to strive for anything. You simply have to let the thoughts happen, and the camera sees them."
Roles he still hopes to play: "Yes, Lear; yes, Falstaff. Absolutely. It's too late for Richard the Third, it's too late for Romeo, I'm never going to play Hamlet. But there are non-leading roles I'd love to play, and people wouldn't cast me in. I've wanted to play Bottom [the jackass in Midsummer Night's Dream] all my life. … Comedy is something that has begun to interest me more and more and more. I remember years and years ago hearing Lawrence Olivier being interviewed, and he said, 'It's marvelous to hear audiences sob, but it's so much better to hear them laugh.'"
In response, Helsinger rapidly suggested, "If Michael Kahn [of D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Co.] won't do your Bottom, then I'll produce it." Count me among the fans who would love to see Sir Patrick accept that offer.