Patrick Stewart Explains How Whoopi Goldberg Was Cast in Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek icon Patrick Stewart has revealed the touching story of how comedy legend Whoopi Goldberg was cast as Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While promoting his memoir Making It So in an exclusive interview with The New Yorker, Stewart told stories about his former TNG castmates as interviewer Michael Schulman name-dropped them. When Goldberg’s name came up in the conversation, Stewart recalled the time in 1988 when the showrunners broke the news about the Oscar nominee joining the cast.

“In Season Two of Next Generation, I was informed that Whoopi Goldberg was joining the cast. She had just been nominated for an Academy Award. I thought, Why would she want to join a sci-fi series that’s already been running for a year? And she was lovely—warm and friendly, and, of course, amusing,” Stewart said.

Whoopi Goldberg’s personal connection to Star Trek

At the time of her casting as the Ten-Forward lounge alien bartender, Goldberg was widely known for her one-woman Broadway show. Her breakout performance was in Steven Spielberg‘s The Color Purple in 1985, for which she was nominated Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

With Goldberg’s star on the rise in movies, Stewart needed to understand what motivated her to take on a small screen role in a Star Trek series. As Stewart reveals, an on-set conversation with Goldberg gave the actor some much-needed clarity.

“One day, they were lighting a scene or changing scenery, and she was sitting alone,” Stewart recalled. “So I sat beside her and said, ‘Whoopi, I don’t understand why you agreed to do this.’ And she told me the story of when she was a child, what the original Star Trek had meant to her, with Leonard Nimoy and Bill Shatner. And she said, ‘there was also a black woman in the cast [Nichelle Nichols]. And it made me think, One of us must have made it.’ It was her presence not just in the role but in the future—one of us is going to make it. I loved that. And we’ve become close friends ever since.”

As a recurring character who gave guidance to Stewart’s Captain Jean Luc-Picard and his USS Enterprise crew, Goldberg went on to make several guest star appearances as Guinan on TNG until the series finale in 1994. She reprised the role on the big screen with 1994’s Star Trek Generations and 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. Most recently, Goldberg and Stewart reunited as their respective characters in the second season premiere of Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.