Interview by Patrick Lee
Patrick Stewart goes where no X-man has gone before.
Patrick Stewart, who gained international fame as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, has hitched his star to another venerable SF franchise, X-Men. Stewart plays patriarch Professor Charles Xavier in Fox's upcoming movie based on the Marvel Comics series X-Men. The film premieres on July 14, the day after Stewart's 60th birthday.
The classically trained actor and one-time member of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Com- pany is currently appearing in Arthur Miller's Tony-nominated Broadway play The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. He is also at work producing Boss Lear, a version of Shakespeare's King Lear set on a cattle ranch in Texas in 1841, for Hallmark Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting.
Stewart spoke with Science Fiction Weekly from New York.
Can you tell us the status of X-Men?
There's some last-minute work still going on. Probably the editing process is completed, but there's probably still some fine-tuning.
What attracted you to the role of Professor Xavier? And had you heard of the X-Men before you started the project?
The whole world knows who Charles Xavier is: He's the leader of the X-Men. ... [But] I had not [read the comics before]. I'm not a comic book fan. It was entirely new to me. Because of the role, I started looking at the comic books. I was intrigued by the idea of creating a character on film based on a comic book character. The essential seriousness of the themes in X-Men are also what attracted me. There is sensationalist action-packed storytelling, but there's also something of substance as well, which was evident in the first draft of the screenplay. ... The idea of a very strong ensemble of actors, which [director] Bryan Singer assembled, was also very appealing.
How many comics did you read?
I guess a dozen or more ... although I knew I would not be basing the character on the comic books, but on the script. The comic books are valuable as the inspiration of the movie. But clearly the movie and how the comic books are interpreted and developed [in the screenplay] was really what was significant.
How did you enjoy working opposite Ian McKellen, who plays Professor Xavier's nemesis, Magneto?
We've worked together before, and I've known him for most of my career. It was delightful [working with him on X-Men]. ... We actually have three scenes together, and one of them is only a fragment. But we book-end the movie. ... We have a scene at the very beginning and at the very end of the film.
How do you feel about becoming associated with another potential SF franchise? Have you committed to X-Men sequels?
[A franchise] will always depend on the quality of this film and of any future screenplays that there might be. [But] I find it an attractive prospect. Whether or not Bryan Singer were to be attached to another project, I find this ensemble of actors delightful to work with. It will be very interesting, if we have success with this film, to develop a sequence of films. [I'm committed to] one further film, if there is to be one.
I'm sure you've heard the fan comments, particularly on the Internet, about the movie and the debates about how it will compare with the comic series. How do you feel about that?
I think it's creating a lot of excitement and anticipation for the film, and that's good. There is high interest. ... Of course, from having been in Star Trek for so many years, and having helped create a new version of Star Trek, I also know that people are very protective of the original work that first attracted them. And some people don't want to see it change, [and] some people want an extension and development of it. It brings with it some problems, too, because the expectation of course is based entirely on the comic book, and that's not what they're going to see. They're going to see something quite different.
Do you think the movie meets fan expectations?
I think it does. I can only talk about the screenplay; I haven't seen the movie yet. It's very difficult to assess ... exactly how it's going to look. I shall know much more when we see it. ... I've seen tiny portions of it. I think it looks very exciting, very cool and attractive, and it has quite an original quality about it. But one cannot predict what people will take to.
Let's talk about Star Trek. What can you tell us about the next movie?
The story's being developed, yes ... And my character is in the story. ... Conversations [with Star Trek producer Rick Berman] are ongoing.
Can you tell us more about the story?
[Laughs] Unfortunately, no.
Do you know anything about the rumor that Joss Whedon will write a script?
The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Oh, yes. No, not as far as I'm aware.
Will Jonathan Frakes direct the next film?
I have no idea. A director has not been selected.
Will you act as a producer? [Stewart received an associate producer credit on Star Trek: Insurrection.]
That also has not been decided yet. We're really at the very earliest stages of creating a possible story for this film, and perhaps in a couple of months ... I will have more to say.
It seems lately you've become more comfortable with your Star Trek association. Is that so, and why?
I'm very proud of that association, and I always have been. I've never expressed anything differently there. ... There have been times when I've talked about the handicap of being involved in a franchise like Star Trek, from the point of view of other work. But as far as the work itself is concerned, I've been nothing but tremendously proud of everything we've achieved there.
Have you heard anything about the next Star Trek television series?
I don't know anything about the television series, and none of those discussions have involved me.
You played Gurney Halleck in David Lynch's feature film version of Frank Herbert's classic SF novel Dune. Have you heard about the upcoming Dune miniseries that will air on The SCI FI Channel in December? Will you be tuning in to see how P.H. Moriarity's rendition of Halleck compares with your own?
I have heard that, yes. ... I'm very interested to see what they do with that. It's a tremendously interesting and powerful book, and I'll be very fascinated to see what they do with the miniseries. I think it's an excellent idea.
Do you have any other SF work on the horizon besides Star Trek?
No. None whatsoever at the moment. ... With Star Trek and X-Men, my hat seems to be very much full with that genre. ... I'm looking forward to seeing X-Men, which will be sometime in the next couple of weeks. ... I'm anticipating it will be an extraordinary film. The opening will be in New York, so I will be able to attend.