Patrick Stewart commanded the stage Sunday afternoon at Emerald City Comicon, charming fans with tales of hand-delivered toupees, his accidental performance in Dune, and reprising his iconic role in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Best known for his roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Charles Xavier in Fox’s original X-Men trilogy, Stewart began the panel by recalling a powerful moment during an air raid in 1944 that would inspire his career.
“My eldest brother Geoffrey, who was in his Royal Air Force uniform turned around – and this is actually my earliest memory – turned and said ‘Patrick, look’ and he pointed up into the night sky. I saw the flame of a V2 rocket going overhead,” he remembered. “And that’s why I got into Star Trek.”
A Shakespearean actor, Stewart was surprised to find a place in Hollywood. “I thought they were crazy,” he confessed. “They employed a middle-aged, British, Shakespearean, hairless actor to be the man who followed Bill [Shatner] onto the Enterprise.”
It took Stewart multiple visits to Paramount Studios to secure the role of Captain Picard. He still has no idea who his competition was, but he received a competitive advantage the night before his studio reading: Corey Allen, who directed the Next Generation pilot “Encounter at Farpoint,” called Stewart in early and rehearsed with him. “I read for Corey,” he said, “and its’ not well known, I think, that I read wearing a hair piece.”
Just days before the audition, Stewart was asked by his agent to don a toupee for casting. The actor did indeed have a toupee, but it was unfortunately more than 5,000 miles away. “At Paramount’s expense, that toupee was hand delivered from West London where I lived,” he recalled. “I went to some distant far corner of LAX and it was put into my hands.” Stewart made the cut; the hairpiece didn’t.
When the panel opened for audience questions, the first brought Stewart back to an early film role in David Lynch’s Dune.
“Dune was an accident,” Stewart laughed. “It shouldn’t have happened to me.” The director thought he had cast another actor for the role of Gurney Halleck. “All of it happened in kind of a daze,” the actor continued. “On Friday morning I was filming in the Mosel Valley in Germany, and on Saturday night I was having a costume fitting for a stillsuit in Mexico City. That’s how quickly it happened, and I was the wrong actor. By then it was too late.”
Asked about working with his X-Men co-star Hugh Jackman, Stewart said, “He is sweet-natured, lovely and funny every day. I will be nose to nose, face to face, with him in about six weeks’ time. It is very exciting; I can’t believe it’s come about. Sir Ian McKellen and I, we used to say. ‘Do you think they’ll ever do another one with us?’ ‘Nah, nah, they won’t. They’ve got James McAvoy now, why would they need us?’ And here we are, about to start another movie.”
He also discussed his favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the fifth season’s “The Inner Light.” “It was a brilliant script,” Stewart said. “I believe it was the only non-commissioned script ever produced.”
Written by Morgan Gendel, the Hugo Award-winning 1992 episode follows Picard after he’s rendered unconscious by an energy beam from an unknown probe and awakens to find himself on a planet living the life of an iron weaver with a wife and children and, eventually, grandchildren.
Stewart connected strongly to the writing, saying, “It was a wonderful story. It gave me a chance to be off the ship, out of my space suit, living as a parent. It also was doubly charming in that role of my son was played by my son. That was the first time we ever worked together.” Stewart’s son will join him later this month in Orlando for MegaCon 2013.
As playing a superhero, touring with a heavy-hitting theatrical production and his work with domestic-violence prevention isn’t nearly enough to keep him busy, Stewart shared one of his other endeavors.
“I’m trying to learn to be funny,” Stewart revealed. “I was never funny, really. The Star Trek people taught me about sense of humor. I thought you had to be serious all the time. They taught me you can have fun and do good work at the same time, and actually, chances are you do better work if you’re having fun.”