Sir Patrick Stewart closed out the 2012 Montreal Comic Convention by offering up a tantalizing tease for fans of the X-Men film franchise. If his recent nod at an Apple store seemed to suggest he’d be returning to the silver screen in the role of Professor X, when asked directly by a fan during his Q&A panel, the Englishman gave a knowing smile and spoke the words many have been waiting to hear: “I think there is every possibility.”
He proceeded to enthusiastically run down the list of his female co-stars: “Halle Berry! Famke Janssen! Rebecca Stamos! Anna Paquin!” The crowd roared back with delight, opting not to point out his mistake regarding Rebecca Romijn’s current last name. He continued, saying “yes, I’ll be reprising…” only to be cut off by his son Daniel, who proceeded to throw out the names of his father’s male co-stars, Hugh Jackman and Sir Ian McKellen.
Whether this means Stewart knows for a fact that the other main actors in the franchise will also be reprising their roles is uncertain, though it was definitely implied. Rumors of a fourth installment in the series have been swirling since the release of 2006’s The Last Stand, which was met with harsh criticism from Marvel fans for its handling of the Phoenix Saga and abrupt off-camera death for James Marsden’s Cyclops. They will certainly find it curious for Janssen to have been mentioned during Stewart’s impromptu roll call, since her character Jean Grey seemingly died for good at the end of X3.Perhaps the more likely scenario is a cameo or smaller role in the new X-Movie franchise. The next film in the X-Men line will feature characters from both the past and the “future” present-day. The follow-up to X-Men: First Class will be loosely based off the story “Days of Future Past,” meaning that while the central cast includes the young versions of Professor Xavier and Magneto, their older, future, counterparts could also appear alongside them in the film.
Before any other details could slip out, however, CTV news anchor and panel host Todd van der Heyden steered the conversation back towards Star Trek, which was one of a variety of topics discussed during the hour-long event.
The guest of honor remembered how his Star Trek: The Next Generation castmates first encouraged him to attend a science fiction convention, a notion he put off until after the completion of the first season. “I arrived at the back entrance and they said ‘okay, you’re on in five minutes.’ I said to somebody, ‘is anybody out there?’ and they said ‘Oh yeah!’ and they announced me. I went on stage and for the first and only time in my life, I felt like Sting and every member of the Rolling Stones all rolled into one. It felt like that and still kind-of does.”His son credits the ST:TNG cast with having helped to loosen his father up. “You were so uptight and you took things way too seriously,” he said frankly. Stewart agreed. “It’s true: I was a pain in the butt in the first months of Next Generation. We won’t go into the whole long story and most of you have heard it before anyway but there was this one meeting I had called in which I lectured the cast about joking around on-set, and Denise Crosby said to me ‘oh come on Patrick, you’ve got to have some fun’ and I said – and the whole cast can quote me word-for-word on this – ‘we are not here to have FUN!’”
Apparently, he gradually softened. “Who was the one very shortly afterwards, at Tasha Yar’s funeral, who ran up that green slope singing ‘the hills are alive…’?” he asked the crowd. “It’s all on film somewhere,” he laughed, promising that the upcoming release of the second season on Blu-Ray will feature a genuinely funny gag reel.
The host then asked how the father/son duo came to find themselves working together on the fan favorite episode, “The Inner Light”, which saw Picard live out an entire life on another world with a wife and son. “Dan, who had just graduated from CalArts at the time, was in Los Angeles and it was the obvious piece of casting.” His son couldn’t help but clarify that he’d auditioned for the role. “It wasn’t all nepotism. I had to prove I could speak and walk and stuff like that, and it was absolutely terrifying.” It didn’t help calm his nerves that Entertainment Tonight was on-set at the time to film a segment about his first job.Stewart then spoke of his encounter with a fan who’d bought the Ressikan flute from the episode at auction and asked him to sign it backstage after a performance of Macbeth in London. “I came to my dressing room and he opened up his box and said, ‘there it is’ and indeed, there it was. This was the flute that I’d played. He said ‘would you sign it there,’ so I get a pen and I’m about to sign and I say to him, ‘you do know, by the way, there are three others like this, don’t you?’ You should have seen this guy’s face! He’d paid thousands of dollars,” Stewart laughed. “Of course, I didn’t leave him hanging. I said ‘just joking! Just joking!’”
Daniel Stewart shared, with feigned bitterness, his disappointment over having learned to play the instrument specifically for his part, only to have those scenes cut. “Apparently, I’ve been told by some fans,” he said to his father, “that you have actually told people that you played it for real, which I know isn’t true. That’s my challenge! Every one of these panels that we do I say ‘somebody’s got a flute!’” And indeed, someone in the vicinity did and offered it to the actor. Stewart took it to his lips, and… hummed. They laughed about a “flute-off” at a later date, promising to Tweet about it from the actor’s newly-created Twitter account @SirPatStew.
On the subject of stage fright, he said happily, “I don’t give a damn now, and I mean that in the best possible way. I used to worry had I got it right, would people like me, would I live up to the role that I’d been given, was I worthy enough to work for the royal Shakespeare company, all those things. I promise you, they made me obsessed and so I felt intimidated and insecure. I did the best work I could, but it wasn’t the best work because I was so nervous of being unworthy. That is gone, and I don’t give a damn. Please don’t get me wrong, I care more now than I ever did but it’s a different kind of caring.”The audience asked him about some of his favorite performances, including a supporting part in 1995’s Jeffrey, as a gay man. “It came up because I said to my agent – as Star Trek was finishing and we’d made Generations – I said ‘I don’t know what my next job is but please let it be something as far away from science fiction as possible and nothing in a uniform.’ And it proved to be the character Sterling in Jeffrey.”
He spoke of the incompetence of his character on American Dad, saying, “I think the point has been made by now that everyone at the CIA, included Deputy Director Bullock, are stupid. I’ve been assured that at some point in the future – I hope it’s a long way off – one of the agents will say ‘hey does anybody notice that Director Bullock talks in a funny way?’ They haven’t noticed yet that he’s English. That’s how smart they are.”
It was asked whether he had any creative input into how he portrayed himself during a memorable guest appearance on Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant’s BBC series Extras, only to kid, “I was myself. I’m really puzzled by the question!” Turns out, Gervais had called him up on his cell phone while Stewart was at the supermarket and had a hard time convincing him it wasn’t a prank call. Once he did, the actor happily agreed to participate in spite of the short notice. “I learned the script word-for-word and changed not a punctuation mark. These guys write so brilliantly you don’t need to add anything or take anything away. The only problem was that Ricky had to be removed from set by Stephen because he just laughed all the time, which he does. He said, ‘it’s the word knickers! Any word that begins with K is funny!’ which of itself is a funny thing to say.”The appearance ended up affecting Stewart’s personal life, it turns out. “I was, for a very short while, dating someone who is from a rather grand, East Coast WASP family,” he explained, “and she called me up and said ‘I just had a call from my father who was on a plane and he says he saw you being interviewed and you were talking about your obsession with seeing women’s clothes fall off and he’s very upset!”
One audience member encouraged him to speak of his charity work, so he touched on his involvement with Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. While participating in the UK series Who Do You Think You Are, Stewart learned that his own father silently suffered from what was known as “shell shock” his entire life. “It was an eye-opener,” he said, and moved him to become involved with “an organization called Combat Stress which is dedicated to helping veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.” His son, hoping to lighten the mood, quipped, “I am a registered charity myself, so if you’d like to make out cheques to Daniel Stewart…”
Finally, he spoke of the experience of being Knighted by the Queen in 2010 – a surprise which Sir Ian McKellen nearly spoiled during a casual conversation backstage at their 2009 production of Waiting For Godot.
“We would sit back-to-back in this dressing room, and one day they asked me ‘when are you going to be Knighted, Patrick?’ and Ian said ‘Oh, it’s going to be next year.’ And I said, ‘Ian you mustn’t say things like that!’” Later, while filming Macbeth for the BBC, Stewart poked through his mail at 5:30 in the morning and spotted the letter that confirmed it. “I was absolutely shocked. I had to read it two or three times. The sad thing was, we were shooting a big scene with the entire Macbeth company…and I wanted to run on-set saying ‘You’ll never guess what’s happened! You’re never going to believe this!!’ but you can’t. You mustn’t tell anyone at all.”“In June, on a beautiful sunny day, I went to the palace,” he recalled of the experience. “You are actually rehearsed. A man comes into a room and rehearses you: how you kneel down, how you walk backwards and all those things. I was incredibly nervous because like all actors, the one thing you don’t want to do is fall over.”
“…and take the Queen with you!” Daniel added.
“Her Majesty was extraordinary and was on her feet for over an hour and gave out over a hundred honors that day,” Stewart said of the monarch. Then, he described the big moment. “I bowed to Her Majesty, I kneeled down and immediately looked up and from nowhere she had that sword! When I went to kneel down, she did not have the sword in her hands. Where did it come from? There was no aid alongside her. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was in front of me and that was the moment when it become a reality.”
He continued, sharing how the Queen touched one shoulder with the sword, and then turned the blade over to touch the other. “You’d have to be in that position to know it happened at all!” Following the event, a friend threw him a party attended by his longtime mentor and former English teacher, Cecil Dormand. “Everyone was invited to say something and when his turn came, he said ‘Well, all I have to say is when I first knew Patrick he had to call me Sir.’” Stewart credits him with having encouraged his acting career and is pleased they’ve remained in touch. “What a wonderful relationship to have that at the age of 73, your English teacher can call you up to offer some words of advice.”
Sir Patrick Stewart is set to appear in November at the Wizard World New Orleans Comic Convention.