Interview: Sir Patrick Stewart on Twitter, Brooklyn, Broadway and more
The venerable actor talks about performing No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot on Broadway; his best buddy, Ian McKellen; why he loves living in Brooklyn; and much more.
Tue Nov 12 2013
Photograph: Matthias Clamer
In recent months, a social-media love affair has unfolded between Sir Patrick Stewart and the city of New York. The venerable British actor relocated to Park Slope in 2012 to settle down with jazz singer Sunny Ozell (the two got hitched earlier this fall). Via Twitter, he’s shared experiences like shaking hands with borough president Marty Markowitz and even wrangling with the nefarious Time Warner Cable.
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Now, the erstwhile Starfleet captain has touched down on Broadway, starring in a pair of existential masterpieces rimmed with dark humor: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. He’s performing the two plays in rep alongside his X-Men costar and BFF-for-life Ian McKellen. (Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup round out the ensemble.) We got on the horn with Stewart to talk about the lost art of repertory theater, why he’s fallen hard for Brooklyn and much more.
So I have to ask you about your lobster Halloween costume.
[Laughs] I thought it was a funny thing to do, but I have been somewhat stunned by the response to it. I’m just looking now to see that it’s had 36-and-a-half thousand retweets. My wife and I occasionally dream these things up together; it was she who bought the lobster costume online and then said, “This is what you’re wearing for Halloween.” I’m not sure I ever would have [worn it] in public, but the idea of sharing this ridiculous costume was a pleasant one.
You’ve been a pretty active tweeter.
It has really taken us by surprise to what extent people have enjoyed it. I get a great deal of satisfaction from using it for societal issues and concerns that I am involved with, but there’s also been this element of playfulness, which has opened up a new avenue of communication, which I am enjoying very much indeed. My daily reading of The New York Times—about which I’m obsessed—can be so utterly discouraging about the state of the world. So to [post] a photograph of me struggling with something as simple as Christmas lights, or standing perplexed outside a French supermarket called Picard, or eating my first slice of pizza—I look on these as being a sort of antidote to some of the ghastly things in the world.
There’s been a huge response to the shots of you and Ian McKellen around town in your Waiting for Godot bowler hats.
Well, that’s a different thing. That’s a very specific way of connecting the two of us with our run on Broadway—not as promotion, mind you, but rather the idea that these two guys in bowler hats have come to New York as tourists, and they’re having a wonderful time seeing the sights, and they happen to be Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
Well, those photos have definitely brightened the days of many people across the Internet.
That is a really satisfying thought. And it’s not done manipulatively—it’s done because when Sunny and I do these things, we laugh a great deal ourselves. And if something amuses me, it might amuse someone else as well.
Like that quadruple-take video?
That was a genuine thing. One afternoon when Sunny and I were sitting in the mountains, I’d mentioned a double take. And she said, “What is that?” And then I said, “Oh, lord—it’s part of an actor’s bag of tricks.” And I showed her, and she said, “Hang on a minute, I want to record this. You’ve got to start again.” [Laughs]
What was the impetus for performing Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land in rep on Broadway?
Sean Mathias had directed Ian and myself in Waiting for Godot in the U.K. nearly five years ago, and it was a marvelous experience. We had plans to bring it to New York, but then another production was announced with a marvelous cast—Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane. So that rather destroyed our plans. I went to Sean a couple of years ago with No Man’s Land and said, “Look, I’ve wanted to do this play all my life.” And it became clear to me that Ian was born to play the role of Spooner. And Sean said, “Maybe we could do a deal here, because Ian really wants to do Godot again.” And from that it became almost an inevitability. There are four male characters in both plays. Why don’t we do them together with the same four actors? And we’re doing it on Broadway—let’s find two brilliant American actors and make it a truly Anglo-American production.
You’re also a coproducer. What makes you so invested in this project?
There are not many places in the world where you could see, in one day, two plays like this done with the same group of actors. And we were excited at the thought of bringing something that would normally only be thought of as an artistic endeavor—which you would associate with great nationalized, subsidized theaters—to the heart of commercial theater land. And we know we’re taking a risk, but we’re taking the risk because we think audiences might really have a good time.
True repertory theater, especially in the U.S., is rare these days. What do you think is the value in having the same company of actors performing multiple shows?
Well, it’s the tradition that Ian and myself come from. We’re both Royal Shakespeare Company actors. For both of us, I think, it was our idea of the most perfect location to work. And Ian has worked there much more than I have; he told me the other day that in one season at Stratford-upon-Avon, he played Romeo, Macbeth and I believe Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve done opening nights in Stratford where we’ve done Henry IV, Part 1 at ten o’clock in the morning, Part 2 at two in the afternoon and Henry V at the top of seven in the evening.
Wow, that’s a Shakespeare marathon.
It’s in our natures. We know what we’re taking on. I mean, tomorrow we do both plays on the same day. It feels like a lot, it looks like a lot, and we’re both of us in our seventies, but we’ve both done three plays in a day [before]. Although age does have a different part to play in all of this. Because now, as Ian and I never tire of saying, the most important thing we do in the theater these days is sleep. [Laughs]
How is working with Ian, who’s a close friend and a frequent collaborator of yours?
It brings with it a trust, and trust is such an important thing in live theater. It encourages you to take risks, to be brave in some of the choices that you make. Because if things go wrong, someone’s got your back, always. And that’s how it feels with these two plays, with Billy [Crudup] and Shuler [Hensley] and Ian. You’d think we’d been working together for years, although it’s only been four months. We are an ensemble. And that creates an atmosphere in which you can do your best work.
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