|By Manuel Harlan |
Patrick Stewart keeps Shakespeare company
Thinking on his feet, the old pro devised an emergency plan: "It crossed my mind that if it did ring," which it didn't, "I could take it out and say, 'I told you not to call me at work.' "
Though best known for playing Jean-Luc Picard in TV's Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Charles Xavier in three X-Men films, Stewart, 67, spent the first three decades of his career treading the boards and still considers the stage his natural habitat. "At the moment, I've actively chosen to be in the theater and not anywhere else."
Specifically, Stewart has chosen Shakespeare. Through May 24, he'll star on Broadway in a new production of Macbeth helmed by Rupert Goold, who also directed Stewart in 2006's Tempest. His previous credits include acclaimed runs in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Arthur Miller's A Ride Down Mt. Morgan.
"I've known most of these speeches since I was 17," says Stewart in his dressing room at the Lyceum Theatre, where Macbeth opened Tuesday. "I used to walk the streets reciting them to myself. I didn't understand them much, but I liked the sound and the rhythm."
Stewart's Macbeth had to be an older man: "I can't escape from that." The actor also decided Lady Macbeth should be a younger woman. "To me, that motivates an awful lot of what happens. He's completely besotted by her."
Kate Fleetwood, the thirtysomething actress cast in the role (and Goold's wife), "tolerates my groping and fondling with good humor," he jokes.
Some close to Stewart, who is twice divorced and has two grown children, have been more unsettled by his performance. "My son's (Daniel's) mother-in-law came with her husband, and he came around after the show and said, 'I'm really sorry, but my wife's in a bar across the street. She needed a drink.' "
Plenty of Trekkies have shown up outside the stage door. "Every night, I meet people who say, 'I've never been to a Shakespeare play,' or 'I've never been to the theater.' They come because they've come to see Picard. And that's fine, because they're not going to see him. I like to think that Star Trek and X-Men have been partly responsible for helping to create a new audience."
That audience includes children, who are "fans of one or the other franchise. … You invariably find that they had a great time," he says. "Macbeth is easy to follow. My kids started going to see Shakespeare when they were 3 or 4. I would tell them, 'If you get tired, rest your head on my knee and fall asleep.' "
Stewart will return to Royal Shakespeare for a new Hamlet that opens in Stratford-upon-Avon in August and London in November; he'll play Claudius. "I'm down to do a 20th-century play after that. I can't talk about it yet, but it's so exciting that I get goose bumps every time I think about it."
Not that he'll ever abandon the Bard. "I hope to do Lear and Falstaff at some point," Stewart says. And Leontes in The Winter's Tale, a role he has played before. "It would be interesting to approach him as an older man."
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