It’s an eventful week for Patrick Stewart, with the release of his newest movie Match – about a Julliard dance professor and an interview that leads to a life changing revelation – and production on his Seth MacFarlane produced vehicle Blunt Talk officially underway, the 74 year old actor is hardly taking it easy. Looking at Stewart’s recent project choices, the varied and unusual collection is a far cry from the Shakespearean, BBC Classics type work with which he started his screen and stage career. In fact, before being cast as Captain Jean Luc Picard in 1987, you would never think to find him in the kind of fare we have come to expect these days. So this week, here’s a list of roles that changed how we look at Patrick Stewart.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
It’s undoubtedly the role that changed Stewart’s career, and started an endless argument over who is the best Star Trek Captain. Oddly enough, the producers of the Star Trek spin off didn’t want Stewart for the role at all. In fact, a bald Shakespearean was the last thing they wanted on the bridge of the Enterprise. Series creator Gene Roddenberry, like all perfect decisions he has made regarding Star Trek, had to fight for his vision – and a big part of that vision was Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. On the other side of things, Stewart was ambivalent about taking the role, afraid that it would take too much time away from his stage career. Not only did the show catapult Stewart to cult status, but his experience working on the show opened him up to other opportunities as well.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
While Star Trek occasionally gave Stewart a chance to showcase his comedic acting, it was still a surprise to see him make a hilarious cameo as the amorous King Richard at the end of Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood parody. One of the main perceptions that has changed about Stewart over the years is regarding his sense of humor. Stewart partly credits this change in perception to Twitter and how it allows him to broadcast his sense of humor to his many followers. This in turn leads to good humored appearances on various Late Night shows or comedy shorts. I say that Robin Hood: Men in Tights was an excellent starting point to really showcase his comedic range.
Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Conspiracy Theory is an unusual movie. It’s meant to be a Hollywood blockbuster, with a high profile cast (Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts), and a taut story – but there’s something undeniably off about it. One reason might be the unexpected presence of Patrick Stewart as the nefarious, brainwashing, but charming, Dr. Jonas. He really underplays the villainous aspects of Dr. Jonas, coming off more as a human being in a questionable situation than as a broadly evil blockbuster bad guy. This was Stewart’s introduction to blockbusters, perhaps preparing him to take the role of Professor Xavier a few years later in one of the largest science fiction blockbuster franchises ever.
Speaking of Professor X, the sometimes reluctant cult figure was inevitably persuaded to take the role in Bryan Singer’s action packed X-men and came to embody yet another iconic figure in science fiction circles. Despite an untimely death in the unfortunate X-men: The Last Stand, Stewart’s Xavier came back from the dead to play a big part in the rebooted franchise. Stewart’s Xavier, along with Ian McKellan’s Magneto, round out a multi-generational cast and lend an air of refinement and wisdom to a chaotic time in their story.
Ricky Gervais’s HBO comedy about struggling actors is full of wonderful, parodic cameos by big name celebrities. Stewart gamely lent his personage to an episode where he pitches a number of comedy ideas to Gervais, but all of them end with him somehow seeing a woman naked. Gervais catches on to this trend rather quickly, not knowing how to respond to his apparent obsession. It really feels like from this moment on people start to court Stewart for comedic appearances. After this comes his association with Seth MacFarlane and Seth Green – his appearances on Family Guy, American Dad, The Simpsons, and Robot Chicken. Most recently, Stewart appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in a sketch detailing the worst kinds of people on airplanes.
Family Guy (2005)
This leads to Stewart’s long association with Seth MacFarlane, a partnership that one would hardly expect a mere twenty years ago. But Stewart has lent his vocal and comedic talents to Family Guy, American Dad, Cosmos, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Ted. Now Stewart has just started production on a live action series for Starz called Blunt Talk, along with executive producer Seth MacFarlane. The premise – that of a British newscaster pushing his wisdom on an American public while contending with his complicated personal life off screen – and first production photos look more than promising. The series has already been commissioned for two seasons of ten episodes each and is set to premiere later this year.