Patrick Stewart returned to his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard in the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Picard.” The actor received numerous accolades in the past, including a SAG nomination for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Stewart recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery about what convinced him to reprise his role, what it was like working with a new crew and what’s to come for Season 2. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: So first off, what about this new story convinced you to return to the role after all that time?
Patrick Stewart: Well, initially, it wasn’t so much the story as it was the people who were writing it. When I was invited to a meeting to talk about a new series with Jean-Luc, I asked who the meeting would be with and when I saw the names, I knew that this was a meeting I had to take. Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, well, Michael Chabon wasn’t on board then but he was very shortly afterward. Kirsten Beyer as well, who is probably the world’s leading authority on everything “Star Trek,” so, whereas it had not been my intention to meet with them, because I’d been turning down “Star Trek” spinoffs moments from the day after we finished filming “Nemesis,” the last “Next Generation” film, because I felt that I’d said everything I had to say, as Jean-Luc Picard, and that there was no more to tell. But then I listened to these clever, wonderful writers talking to me about their ideas and I asked them to put all their ideas on paper, and a day later I received 35 pages of pitch and it was interesting enough.
I mean, I would have been a fool to have said, “No, I don’t think so,” because what they were proposing was so close to the only kind of “Star Trek” series that I would possibly be interested in. That’s what they were talking about. Rather in the way that Logan closed “X-Men” for Hugh Jackman and myself, by doing a totally different kind of story with a different situation and setup and everything changed from how has it been for 12 years of “X-Men.” This is what they were doing with Jean-Luc Picard. And when I met with them a second time, I was won over. Sorry, that was a rather long answer but that’s literally what happened. I was so excited by what they told me they wanted to do with Picard that I would have been a fool, I think, not to sign up.
GD: And what was your feelings after that pitch when you finally read the first script and you saw this new adventure that Picard was embarking on, how it deals with his feelings about Data and this new android that comes into his life? What were your thoughts on that first script?
PS: Well, immediately, the script of Episode 1 showed us a very different Jean-Luc Picard, right away. I was not in uniform. I was dressed like a farmer. I was in my vineyard with my pitbull and I was yelling in French at some of my workers and clearly not happy, disturbed, restless, short-tempered, irritable, all the things that Jean-Luc could never be in the original series. And then they had, of course, set me up the idea of introducing Data into the story and Data was, well, everyone loved Data, but particularly, Picard had a very special relationship with him and part of his problem, they wrote into this first script, was that he was profoundly guilty that Data had to die in order for Picard to move and to get back to the “Enterprise.” I was very moved by that. And indeed, this continued so interestingly and so emotionally until we got to the last few days of shooting the final episode of Season 1 when I had a long scene, for a science fiction series, a very long dialogue scene, six pages, with Picard and Data talking about what it means to be alive and coming to the conclusion that death has to be one of the benefits of being alive, that our lives cannot be extended indefinitely. I found that very, very potent and playing that scene with Brent Spiner, who I adore and whose work I love was such a good experience. From where I’m sitting right now, I’m looking across my studio and there is the chair that I was sitting in when I played that last scene. I asked the company if they would let me buy the chair. It’s a beautiful chair. But I wanted to have something concrete that reminded me of that scene and if you can see the print, the picture that’s behind my head, that also came from Picard’s studio and was there in that scene. So that’s how sentimental and emotional I’ve been about all this.
GD: What’s interesting about the way the story unfolds this season is that Picard has this very dual relationship with artificial intelligence and synthetic life. He had that close friendship with Data. But he also had that traumatic experience with the Borg and the first season of “Picard” really explores both sides of that. It shows so much empathy for the former Borg who had been rehabilitated. What was it like exploring both of those aspects of how Picard relates to that kind of synthetic artificial life?
PS: It’s a complex relationship made, as you observe, by his experience with the Borg. To have been programmed by the Borg to become one of them was a profoundly damaging experience. And yet, fundamental to all of Jean-Luc’s philosophies are those ideas that we all have a right to live and exist and to be who and what we are. That was always profound. It’s part of the prime directive: observe but do not interfere. Do not change anything. Given my political instincts, that’s something that I was very, very happy to be able to express. And we had Jonathan Del Arco back on the show as well, who was so wonderful when he played Hugh Borg in the series “Next Generation.” I had established a relationship with him, who was profoundly a Borg character. I found that very, very significant in the work that we were doing in having Picard deal with the Borg again and the one scene where I was on the Borg ship and I went into the space where they were attempting to bring the Borg back from being Borg to being what they had been before they were taken over, it was a shocking but very, very powerful scene, I felt. A scene like that is so good an example of the way our writers and my fellow producers are regarding the series and, well, what led to the first season of the series anyway.
GD: And spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the season so far. So if you haven’t, go watch it and then come back, because I want to talk about that very end result for Picard, which is that he ends up himself sort of becoming an artificial synthetic life form to put his consciousness into that new body. Everything comes full circle in that way. What did you think when you read that development? What did you think people would think when they saw that happen?
PS: Well, the writers had been a little bit undercover about that aspect of how Series 1 was going to end. And I learned it from reading the script. And when I saw Picard collapsed and died when he was on that alien planet, I thought, “Oh, my Lord, I’m being written out of the show. I only make it to the end of Season 1. What are they gonna call the next season? They can’t call it ‘Picard’ if I’m not there.” And then, of course, brilliantly and wonderfully, they were able to perform surgery on me in such a way that I survived and came back. But now, with an artificial life inside me, not a subservient, cruel one like the Borg, but, well, we shall see. We don’t know how Picard is going to live with this new condition that has become part of his life, which is going to extend his life. I think he said 20 more years is what he wanted. I think I’ve probably just got 20 more years in me if it should go in that direction.
GD: And one of the great new things about the series is it brings Picard together with a totally different crew. “La Sirena,” that ship, Rios’s ship is totally different from the “Enterprise,” how that was. What was it like developing that new rapport with a new group of characters during that adventure?
PS: To begin with, let me say that one of the things that has always mattered most to me in all the work that I have done and that I do, whether it’s theater or TV or movies, that is to be working with an ensemble. From the very beginning, from being a teenager, I loved being surrounded by people I knew and had worked with before, a company, and I always insisted that with “The Next Generation,” we should, all of us, think of it as an ensemble production and not just an ensemble of actors, but of writers and producers and designers and so forth. I did not know any of the new crew personally. Some of them I have seen before and I knew their names, but we had never met. I think the work that our casting department did in bringing all of these people on board, and the only one that I was directly involved with was in fact, Isa Briones, because when Isa was called back for what was going to be her final audition, I requested, because she’s obviously such an important character so far as “Picard” is concerned, that I wanted to be there at the audition. So I read lines with her and had a face-to-face confrontation with this actress. And I was thrilled. Her treatment of the text and how she looked and her history I thought was very exciting. And that applies to every single one of our crew. We have a dazzling group of actors and no matter who I find myself playing the scene with, it’s interesting, unusual, challenging and always, always exciting. And every one of us is back. Well, I think we may have said goodbye to Harry Treadaway, which I’m disappointed about because I enjoy working with him so very much. It’s frankly, perhaps the thing that I’m missing most right now, other than going out to dinner, is that I’m not working with this group of people I admire and have grown to like and respect so much as well. I can’t wait to be back on a set in a workspace with these people and explore what we’re going to do in Season 2.
GD: In addition to the new characters, we did get to revisit some previous cast members, as you mentioned, Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh, but also Seven of Nine, Troi, Riker, and I like that it wasn’t just fan service. “Oh, look at them now.” It really felt like we got a sense of the years they’ve lived since. So what was it like to explore how those relationships evolved, especially with Riker and Troi that gets that whole episode to really reunite them?
PS: Well, when in meetings we talked about bringing in other members of “The Next Generation” group, that was one of the things that I was most passionate about, which was that not only should Picard have changed during the 18 years that had passed, but the same has to be applied to Counselor Troi, to Commander Riker, to whomever it is. And by the way, I am very hopeful that we shall see more of the original “Next Generation” crew before we say goodbye to “Picard.” And that’s just what they did, and there’s no better example than the episode when I went with Isa Briones to hide away with Commander Riker and with Deanna Troi and their brilliant daughter, a wonderful performance by that young actress, by the way. There is a scene towards the end of that episode where Jonathan and I are sitting on a bench on the end of a pier jutting out into a lake. And Jonathan, who is younger than me, of course — they’re all younger than me — there was a sensation of time having passed. And although they were the same characters, they had been — victim would be a wrong word — but they had been subject to aging and some of the trauma that life can bring you, as some of us are tragically experiencing it right now. But having that ongoing connection with Data all the way through Season 1 was so important and provided a quality of substance about Picard’s condition that couldn’t have been done any other way. I mean, the fact that he was so profoundly guilty with regard to the Data’s demise was very important.
GD: Now, of course, a production on television shows and movies are suspended right now but I know that “Picard” Season 2 was in the process of writing of storylines coming up. How much do you know about what the story arc is in Season 2? Not to give anything specific away but is that coming together?
PS: It is, yes. Because of how we’re living currently, there is no writers’ room, of course, but everybody is writing and they’re keeping me in touch with what is going on. We have conferences and so forth, video conferences. There are startling events predicted in Season 2. I’m so excited about them because it is taking Season 1 on from where we were. We’re not going to be covering the same ground. And it’s going to be, I think, extraordinary. I’m very excited about it. But of course, I can’t go into details at all, but I have a long conference planned for tomorrow when I hope certain aspects of how Season 2 will develop. I’m looking forward to it very much.