It is the image of the man who challenges himself, who does not need to raise his voice to demonstrate against injustice, he is the person we need so that, both in reality and in fiction, he gives us the feeling of calm in the moments of increased anxiety. Yes, it was the sanguine Captain Jean-Luc Picard aboard the Enterprise in Star Trek, and Professor Charles Xavier has led the X-Men. But it has also been Lucio Elio Sejano, Prefect of the Praetorium of the Roman Empire in “Yo Claudio” (1976), King Leondegrance in “Excalibur” (1981), or Captain Ahab obsessed by the white whale “Moby Dick” (1998) . Without a doubt, the epic suits him well. But over the years, the British actor has managed to embody roles that speak to us of the nobility of decadence: an already senile Professor X in “Logan” and now, a captain returning from retirement to report to Fleet headquarters. Stellar, the role that made him one of the most beloved actors alive: Picard. It’s okay to play the warrior, but better still the survivor of the battle.
On January 23, in the United States, CBS All Access will premiere “Star Trek: Picard”, a series in which Stewart brings us back to the bald, cultured and thoughtful strategist that he embodied over seven seasons in “Star Trek: The Next Generation ”(1988-1995) and in four feature films. However, this new story will not only be different because of its twilight spirit. It will be so in all respects: its texture, tone, format, artistic direction. For the first time in the history of the Star Trek saga, the production design of a series has been proposed by an actor who is not interested in repeating himself. Alex Kurtzman, creator and executive producer of the show, purposely stated for Variety magazine: “Everything (Stewart) does is filled with innate integrity. Fight for the things you believe in. And he is very willing to collaborate once you are on the same wavelength ”.
“The Next Generation” was the most successful of all the titles in the “Star Trek” saga. Unlike Captain Kirk played by William Shatner, the captain played by Stewart does not usually resort to blows or ‘phaser’ shots to resolve an alien disagreement, although he has never run into a good fight. Picard, is a Frenchman with an elegant British accent. He drinks tea, reads the classics, likes archeology and in his leadership he recognizes in others his attachment to duty, honor and friendship. It is a symbol of courage, but also of tenderness.
Stewart grew up in a poor family in Mirfield, a town of fewer than 10,000 near Yorkshire. The actor has said that in the bathroom, located in the courtyard of the house, it was his modest reading room. In whatever privacy he could find, he read Americans like Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Then the Russians like Tolstoy or Fyodor Dosttoyevsky. Her mother a weaver, her father an alcoholic worker who beat her in front of her son. It was only in 2012 that the actor discovered that his father had been the leader of a parachute regiment in World War II and that he had probably suffered profound post-traumatic stress after the conflagration. This is why Stewart has collaborated with both Amnesty International on gender-based violence and veterans’ mental health organizations in the UK.
When Stewart was 12 years old, his English teacher discovered Shakespeare for him. “She started handing out copies of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ around the room, casting him as Shylock. When he heard him perform the first scene of act four (the famous “meat pound” scene) his teacher said, “Stewart, you’re good. You should make a living from this. ” After finishing school, he served a brief stint as a journalist, but continued to participate in the local theater and soon began acting full time, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966, where he remained for two decades. He would have had a respected theatrical career specializing in the classics, until he got the opportunity to participate in “Star Trek.” He didn’t particularly want the job, but he knew that an American television series represented money in his savings account. His agent assured him that when the show was over, he would return to his quiet life in London. But nothing was the same.
A Frenchman does not sit in the captain’s chair …
By the way, Stewart’s path to the USS Enterprise’s command room would not be unobstructed. It was the same creator of “Star Trek”, Gene Roddenberry, who was reluctant to the choice of the British actor. In his opinion, he was too old (and bald) for a role. He wasn’t the ideal alpha male to succeed Shatner’s Kirk. Stewart recounts that Roddenberry circulated a memo at Paramount Studios that read, “I don’t want to hear Patrick Stewart’s name ever again in connection with ‘Next Generation.’ Happily, Roddenberry backed down from producers Robert Justman and Rick Berman. He died in 1991, while “The Next Generation” was still on the air and he had already admitted his mistake.
From the theaters of London’s West End to the conventions of “Star Trek”, Stewart became a recognized face around the world, with all that it represents. The opportunity to star in another franchise, the “X-Men”, would be his best move to avoid dangerous repetition. They have been years playing Charles Xavier, but also a remarkable career in his natural element: the theater stage.
By the way, it wasn’t until his latest performance in “X-Men,” the remarkable “Logan” (2017) starring Hugh Jackman under the direction of James Mangold, that Stewart began to envision an auspicious return for Picard. The actor told Variety: “Hugh and I were so excited about ‘Logan’, our best experience with ‘X-Men’, because we were the same characters but in a world that had been torn apart.” For the actor, a film like “Nemesis” (2002) did not produce the same sensation. It was more of a “weak” movie, an unclear withdrawal from the character.
While “Nemesis” was a flop for Paramount, the 2009 reinvention of the franchise pioneered by JJ Abrams not only refreshed Kirk and Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto), but also paved a way for CBS to revive the franchise for television with bolder and more dramatic fictions. The acclaimed “Star Trek: Discovery” by Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Fuller, a prequel to the original series, was the great bet of CBS and its new digital platform All Access.
Back to space
As he points out to Variety magazine, Stewart resisted for many years the possibility of putting on the tight-fitting fleet uniform again. In 2017, just as a courtesy, he met producer Kurtzman and screenwriters Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman in his kitchen. Stewart refused again at first, but then had a hunch. He told his agent to ask Kurtzman to send him his ideas in writing, and 48 hours later, he had 30 pages on his desk outlining the possible Picard series. Indeed, Stewart, recently confessed to the New York portal Vulture: “They came back with a lot to say, they were very excited to create a world that was very different from the one we had become used to. This was not going to be the second part of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. That’s why I accepted ”.
The story finds the retired captain living in isolation in his French vineyard, right with his “number one” dog. Two catastrophes have sapped his spirits: the death of Lieutenant Commander Data, (seen in “Nemesis”) and the refugee crisis generated by the destruction of the planet Romulus (raised in Abrams’ “Star Trek”). When those two disparate threads intersect, in the form of a refugee who seeks him out for help, Picard decides to return to action, this time without the backing of a bureaucratic Starfleet. The United Federation of Planets has become increasingly isolationist and has forgotten its dreams of exploration. Picard will lead a new crew in a small Federation ship and, on the journey, he will meet an old acquaintance: a battered Borg cube.
“Star Trek: Picard” will premiere in the United States on January 23, although it will be available in Latin America starting January 24 on Amazon Prime Video.
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