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
Godot and No Man’s Land are both fairly bleak pieces, but this production emphasizes the comedy in them. Was that a conscious choice?
I remember when I was a very young actor, being impressed by a remark of Laurence Olivier’s: He said the first thing he looked for in any role, no matter how tragic, was its humor. And I thought, Ah! Yes, of course. Because Olivier always had this twinkle in his eye. So I have always looked for that element, and it exists to such an enormous degree in both these plays. I mean, everyone knows that Waiting for Godot is a classic; but people don’t realize how fun it can be. Sam Beckett loved comedy and knockabout. He loved music hall and silent movies. Elements of that are very much in Godot. And Pinter is a brilliant, ironic, dangerously comic writer.
How do you feel about the theater scene here in New York versus in London, where you’ve worked extensively?
We are very blessed in London, as we have been for many decades, in having our great, subsidized national theaters. The kind of work that they do would not be possible [without] huge government subsidies. And luckily, people understand that this is a very important aspect of English cultural life. But it’s the huge talent pool that makes working in New York so exciting—creative talent and extraordinary actors. I was first on Broadway with what became the legendary Peter Brook production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1971, and I have been in love with Broadway ever since. There’s a sort of celebration of performance here, which is different from the U.K. We felt it last night doing No Man’s Land for the first time—people were excited to be participating in this event, and letting us know it. English audiences don’t always do that.
You recently moved to Park Slope. What’s been your favorite thing about living in New York so far?
My wife was living in Brooklyn, and when I came to visit her, I fell in love with the area. I feel like I belong to a community here. I remember we were walking down the street, and a couple of guys were sitting out on the stoop. And one of them, his head went up, and I thought, Oh, Lord, I don’t want to be signing autographs this morning. And this guy, he said to me [in Brooklyn accent]: “Hey, Mr. Stewart, welcome to the neighborhood. Enjoy!” And that was it. I just smiled from ear to ear, and I thought, I like this place.
Yeah, Brooklyn is pretty great, right?
A few weeks after I was so blessed to get my knighthood at Buckingham Palace, I walked into the pharmacy and [the pharmacist] said, “So what do we have to do now? Curtsy?” [Laughs] It reminds me of where I grew up—the same kind of community atmosphere. Already, I would say I’ve met half the people on my block here. I walk to the subway, I go to the market, and I’m in the street, I’m in the community. It feels great. And here we are, you know? I get on the F train and 15, 20 minutes later, I’m in Manhattan. That easy. When I was young, Manhattan was a dream to me.
You’re an outspoken supporter of charities that work to end domestic violence. Do you see it as a duty to use your voice to promote causes that you care about?
No, I don’t think it’s a duty. I am drawn to issues of domestic violence and specifically violence towards women because of my own childhood experience. I do this work on behalf of my mother, for whom I could do very little when I was a child. Now I can do something for women and their children who are in a similar situation. One of the most gratifying things in my life is that, I would say daily, someone stops me in the street or at the stage door and will mention the work that I’ve done there.
Also, because of a BBC program that I was involved in last year, I learned that in 1940, my father came back with the remnants of the British expeditionary force from France, absolutely defeated and decimated. And he was suffering from severe shell shock. I had no idea. It was never spoken of in my family. In those days, soldiers were told to pull themselves together and act like a man. Well, that’s not the most appropriate treatment for what we now know is PTSD. So I’m now a patron of an organization in the U.K. called Combat Stress. And I do this for my father, for whom nobody did anything back in the 1940s and ’50s.
That’s fantastic that you can be a part of that now.
It gives me enormous pleasure to do it. I wish I could do more. I’m also chancellor of a university in my hometown in England, and I’m so proud to have this job. I left school when I was 15—I never sat for an exam in my life! But here, I have been able to talk to high-school students about graduating and going onto college. I do these things because they were part of my life, and I feel that I have an authentic voice I can use in support of these causes.
How was it returning to the role of Professor Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past?
Have you had a look at the trailer? Whooo—it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to see it! Ian and I are only in a portion of it. There is time travel involved, and we’re stuck in our own time frame. Lucky Hugh Jackman gets to move backwards and forwards. We had such a great time filming it. And of course, we were reunited with many of our original X-Men, and a whole new, wonderful group. James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender…now that would make a repertory company right there! I would love to do a season at Stratford-upon-Avon with those people.
No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot are at the Cort Theatre through Mar 2. X-Men: Days of Future Past opens May 23, 2014.