While most sci-fi fans will always remember Patrick Stewart as Captain Luc Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the movies that followed, there are probably just as many or more moviegoers who only know Stewart as wheelchair bound psychic Professor Charles Xavier, leader and mentor of Marvel Comics’ mutant superteam, The X-Men.
This weekend, the British actor stars in X-Men: The Last Stand, the third and possibly final chapter of the series of movies that began six years ago. Unlike Stewart’s co-stars, he’s less anxious to end his tenure as the Professor with this chapter, but the jovial and eloquent actor spoke with Superhero Hype! about working with a new director, and the wild ride involved with getting the movie finished in time.
Superhero Hype!: So what’s the joy coming back and playing Professor X for the third time?
Patrick Stewart: It’s largely people, as it has been in a lot of things in my career for a long time. I find myself rating relationships almost on an equal level with work. One of the things is that I now don’t work anymore with people that I don’t like or upset or irritate me. It’s simply not worth it. And this is an outstanding group of individuals. It was a little different, because Bryan was elsewhere, and I think some of us felt, “How will this be, without the Singer presence on the set?”
We should not have worried, because Brett is such a personable individual, such high energy. He loves being a movie director, and people who absolutely adore their job are great to work with. Sometimes, they can get a bit obnoxious, but he just loves being a movie director and it’s so nice to be around that level of enthusiasm and energy and commitment. Even though, poor guy, had no time to prep and was just trying to stay one day ahead of production all the time. It was amazing how much time he made available for when actors say, “I really feel this isn’t working.” He would listen and listen and experiment and give you chances to try to fix things that you weren’t happy about. So in that respect, he became very much a part of this really extraordinary ensemble that’s been assembled over these years now that Shawn and Aaron are also becoming very much a part of the group too. We’ve all just met for the first time just an hour ago. I don’t think we’d been in the same room together before, because nobody’s ever shooting at the same time. So I care deeply about who I work with and how I work. Just as it was on “Next Generation,” it is a pleasurable experience while at the same time being a hard-working, creative experience.
SHH!: As an actor, how do you adjust from being ready to work with one director, then changing to another one?
Stewart: It is the nature of what we do that we are continually confronted with. Three and a half months ago, I walked into a rehearsal room in Clapham, South London to begin rehearsing “Antony and Cleopatra,” to face twenty-five actors, only two I’d ever met in my life before or knew anything about, a director I’d never worked with before, stage management who were all strange to me. We opened this production three weeks ago and the sense that I have been with these people and worked with them and know them so intimately and how they work, feels like an experience of years, not of weeks. It’s oft one of the dangers of our profession. You so quickly become intimately connected with the people you work with. Because of the kind of work that we do and because people are continually being invited to take these emotional risks and commit themselves emotionally in ways that, in many jobs, you wouldn’t do, you keep that aspect of your life to yourself. But here, out you go, you go off the deep end into things, and often you’re away from home and everybody’s feeling a little bit strange and then, it starts all over again, three months later. I was saying to someone the other day that I feel so grateful that I’ve spent a huge part of my time on this earth in the company of actors because–quite contrary to what some journalists might like to write and think and so forth–they are just the nicest, warmest and friendliest group of people, sympathetic and courteous. I suppose if you had been around politicians all your lifeâ€¦
SHH!: Did you notice any big changes in your character with Brett coming in?
Stewart: Yes. Brett came in with a different perspective. I’m sure he said this to everyone, but he said, “I have loved everything you have done in the two X-Men movies. I really think you and Bryan did something great together. I just want another start, to take-off from that point.” One of the charming things about Brett, is that he came in saying, “I am a fan of the X-Men movies; there could not be a bigger fan than me.” Well, that’s really disarming when someone says that, because I’ve known those experiences where people come in and say, “Right, it’s all going to be different. I don’t care about what happened before, we’re going to take a new approach to all this.” Well that was not Brett’s way, which was smart.
SHH!: What do you think is the biggest change in the movie this time around?
Stewart: When this story begins, we have lost Jean Grey, so Jean Grey’s death is still hovering over the school and the lives of the people. It was an immense loss and a loss that came about through self-sacrifice, which might have been prevented. And Xavier feels huge responsibility for her. We don’t know how big that responsibility is until this movie proceeds, because then we discover that actually he has been controlling Jean’s life, almost from the time she arrived in the school. That’s a troubling aspect to all of this and is one of the things which gives a more mutant tone to some of it. Also, the issue of the Cure, which I think was such a great move on the part of the studio and the writers to introduce it, that now there are choices, where there haven’t been any choices before. The fact that Kelsey’s character is in government, that there’s a Secretary of Mutant Affairs, the whole situation has become more complex and yet not more hopeful or positive. So, there is a somewhat somber coloring to some of the aspects. I suppose both of the other two movies had lighter elements than perhaps this one has.
SHH!: At this point, do you love the wheelchair and have you gotten to the point where you can do tricks in it?
Stewart: Oh, yes. It is kept tuned way down most of the time, because it is very powerful. We make constant adjustments to it depending on what kind of movement we need to have. Only a few times have I said, “Give me full throttle on this.” There’s a long corridor in the building we were shooting in, this long, beautiful wooden floor corridor. You can’t actually do wheelies, but you can spin so fast that it becomes a blur in this thing. My only disappointment about the wheelchair in all these movies was in the very first movie, there was a scene where Hugh and I were walking down a corridor, and we had to turn into an elevator. The elevator door was about half an inch an either side of the wheelchair, just wide enough to go through, and I finally did one shot in which, without braking, I turned in through the door then spun it around in the elevator so that before the doors closed, I was facing the front. They cut the scene.
SHH!: At the beginning of the film, Professor X and Magneto visit Jean Grey as a child, and you look younger. Was that done digitally?
Stewart: We just thought ourselves younger. (laughs) No, you’re right. There are these two English guys, who have made their specialty digital enhancement. They can do it on any part of your body. There were three aspects to it. Obviously, a little bit done in the makeup trailer, not much. They took the grey out of my eyebrows, but not too much, actually. And then there was all this digital enhancement which I saw for the first time last night when I watched the movie. Ian and I both felt that it would be interesting to explore what it might feel like physically to be twenty years younger. It was interesting to try to find the little bit of physical difference that would suggest there was more youthfulness there. I thought it was quite successful. I’m rather sorry that Ian didn’t see the screening with me last night. We could’ve compared notes on all of that. Later on, when we get our DVDs, we can freeze-frame. I thought it was rather eerily successful. It was a bit creepy, actually. I did look like that once upon a time.
SHH!: Ian mentioned a few weeks ago that he’d want to do a Magneto movie himself, digitally made younger. Would you be interested in something like that?
Stewart: Sure, if Ian’s up for it. Of course. It’s astonishing, isn’t it? These two guys have a show reel that I was lucky enough to see and it is astonishing. They do these dissolves, before and afterâ€¦ course they do the bodies too. They can have you looking like Vinnie Jones. You don’t have to go to the gym and workout anymore.
SHH!: If only they could make it for real lifeâ€¦
Stewart: Ah well, I’m playing Antony on stage at the moment and that would have saved me many, many sweaty hours at the gym. But no, we’re still a ways away from holographic actors on stage.
Source: Edward Douglas