Patrick Stewart talks 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' season 2
The Blu-ray edition of season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation — available starting today — includes an extended cut of one of the show’s earliest top tier episodes: “The Measure of a Man,” in which Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) defends Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), an android, and his rights as a sentient being.
The trial gave Stewart a chance to show off his Shakespearean chops with a series of stirring speeches about the nature of free will and self-awareness — Star Trek: The Next Generation at its most challenging and thought provoking. So we couldn’t resist the chance to speak with the 72-year-old actor about that episode, as well as what the 25th anniversary celebrations of the show have been like. We also asked Stewart about his recently announced return to the X-Men franchise, and his answer was quite surprising to say the least. Check out our conversation below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you think about the episode “The Measure of a Man,” what first comes to mind?
PATRICK STEWART: Well, indeed, we were all very proud of that episode, because it dealt with issues in present society that we all felt were still current and important — the definition of what is humanity and if you can write off a whole race as being a subservient, second class beings. I do remember feeling when that episode came out that we were going right to the heart of the fundamentals of the Star Trek philosophy and what Gene Roddenberry had been writing about in different ways from the mid ’60s.
Many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation consider this episode to be the first truly great episode of the series. Is that a perspective that you share?
I would say that it is. It is a title that always comes up when the fans or critics or academics even, talk about the highlights of every season. That is always there.
You know, I don’t remember much about the first season. I remember the pilot episode and can’t watch it because I was so terrified all the time of messing it up or getting fired. I think we had several quite weak episodes in the first season. I can think of one very early on that involved a race of black aliens that we all felt quite embarrassed about. I think there must have been others in the first season that dealt with stronger, society based issues, there must have been. But [“The Measure of a Man”] was a complex situation, and one that required intelligent reasoning and argument. Both sides had cogent reasons for believing what they did.
The character of the judge advocate was named Phillipa Louvois, played by Amanda McBroom, and there’s a clear tension between her and Picard. In the extended edition, they put back a scene where she calls Picard sexy. It’s startling, since in those early seasons Picard did not have much of a romantic life other than his affection for Crusher, but then in season 2, Crusher wasn’t there anymore.
Oh yeah, you can say that again. I kept encountering women whom I have known in the past, and they were all about the wistful recollection of what might have been if things turned out differently. Gene always said that Picard is in love with the Enterprise. The Enterprise is his family.
The actress who played her was that wonderful singer, jazz singer, Amanda McBroom. The last time I saw her, she was singing in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller. And she wrote the song that Bette Midler made so famous – “The Rose.” I remember there was a lot of excitement on the set when she came on board. She was tall and slender and dark haired. Had her hair pulled back, I recall. And yes there was some suggestion as in all these episodes [with Picard and another woman] at that time that there had been something in their past — and I began to find that increasingly tiresome. [Laughter]
In general, what has it been like for you to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the show this year?
The highlights, without doubt, have been the reunions with my fellow cast members. Each of whom, without exception, I adore and I miss. We were so blessed on our show that we developed so quickly this set of relationships. You know each one very different.
I know you all had a big reunion in Calgary earlier this year. What was the most surprising thing for you in seeing everybody again?
How old Wil Wheaton is. He’s 40! F—ing hell. 40! He was 14 I think when I met him on the set [for the first time]. And you know when they announced the cast for The Next Generation, there were only two cast members that the media had heard of. One was LeVar Burton because of Roots and Reading Rainbow. And the other was Wil Wheaton because of Stand by Me. The rest of us were all unknowns. The L.A. Times described me as “unknown British Shakespearean actor.” Brent Spiner had a poster made and stuck it on the front of my trailer door which read “Beware: Unknown British Shakespearean actor!”
So that was the biggest surprise when this, you know, youthful middle aged guy came over and put his arms around me in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in Calgary and I thought, you know this was some kind of attack that I was under. Because he had a beard, a weird little beard, and he put his arm on my shoulders and said “Patrick, it’s Wil. It’s Wil Wheaton.” So that was without doubt the biggest surprise.
What do you all discuss whenever you see each other again?
We don’t talk much about the show when we’re together. We talk about current things. We talk about Jonathan’s career as a very successful director, we talk about what things LeVar has going certainly internet challenges that he’s coming up with. Wil, with all of the technical work that he’s involved with. Gates is running her own theater in Los Angeles. Everybody has lives that we want to keep abreast of. So when we’re together that’s what we talk about. We also just laugh a great deal too.
The affection that I feel of every single one of those people is undiminished with time. In fact I’d even say that since I left Los Angeles eight-to-nine years ago, it’s grown stronger. I wish there was some way that I could spend much, much more time with all these guys. You know, people are continually asking us will there be another Next Generation movie [or] series. I think that’s extremely improbable. We’ve hung up our spacesuits for good. But if that ever were to happen, the best thing about it would be working again with these marvelous and gifted people.
Before I let you go, I also wanted to ask very quickly about Bryan Singer’s announcement that you and Sir Ian McKellen will be reprising your roles as Professor X and Magneto in the next X-Men movie, Days of Futures Past. How did that all happen?
[Pause] I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Huh. Because Bryan Singer said on Twitter…
I know, I know. I’m taking the piss out of you. Bryan let the cat out of the bag on Twitter, and it included announcing that Sir Ian and myself were going to be in this movie. We are, you know, under contractual oath with 20th Century Fox to say nothing about any prospective X-Men movie including the old team. I use “old” advisedly.
So it’s a kind of awkward position, because lovely Bryan Singer just blurted it all out there. For me the big thrill is knowing that Bryan Singer is attached to this movie, because not only is he a brilliant director, but also I adore him and hope that it might be true and that we do work together at some point in the future. But I’m not being coy. I know nothing about this project. And I’m hoping that might change in the future.
Other than the fact that you’re doing it?
I don’t know that we’re doing it. I have not signed a contract yet. I know there is a project in development, but we have no dates. No detailed casting. Thrilled to hear that my dear friend and colleague Ian McKellen is on board, but I’m sorry, you know, you need to understand, I’m not being cute. I know nothing.