Captain Funny, Patrick Stewart goes for the laughs on Blunt Talk
You know him for his deep, melodious voice and commanding manner, both used to great effect during his many seasons on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as “The X-Men” action films.
What you probably didn’t know about Sir Patrick Stewart—a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company—is that he’s a comedian at heart.
“I’ve always wanted to do more comedy in my work,” says Stewart, who doesn’t look anywhere close to his 75 years.
He gets his chance in Blunt Talk, his edgy U.S. cable comedy airing in Canada on shomi. Stewart plays a British news anchor who lurches from scandal to scandal as host of an American News Network hour. Think Piers Morgan meets “Mad Prophet of the airways” Howard Beale from “Network.”
Stewart says he’s having the time of his life working on the L.A.-based series. He’s so into comedy now he headlined last summer at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, where his shtick was translated into the CBC special “A Knight of Comedy.”
“I love Montreal,” says Stewart, who shot all of his “X-Men” movies in the Quebec city.
While he says he’s “a long way from seeing myself as a stand-up,” he’s also started working out with the Improvised Shakespeare Company.
“When you’re improvising, the fundamentals are you live in the moment and you listen very carefully,” he says, suggesting the experience has raised his total acting game. He also gets his funny out through Twitter, where his 2.14 million followers know him as @SirPatStew.
Stewart wasn’t always sold on comedy. He remembers seeing an interview with Laurence Olivier, his hero as a teenager. “He said, ‘It’s wonderful to hear an audience gasp at what you’re doing or cry out or scream or sob, but nothing compares with making an audience laugh.’”
The remark puzzled Stewart, who saw Olivier as “our great tragedian.” Now he gets it. “It is marvelous to hear people laugh. I like to think that my own life has got plenty of comedy in it.”
His professional life certainly got funnier after he met Seth Macfarlane. The prolific producer/writer/actor heard Stewart was a fan of Family Guy and suggested having Stewart voice a character on his follow-up animated comedy, American Dad. Stewart voices deputy CIA director Avery Bullock. “He’s clearly an Englishman among a group of agents so stupid none of them has noticed he’s English,” says Stewart. “They’re not the smartest knives in the drawer.”
Macfarlane also produces Blunt Talk but he doesn’t write it. That task falls to Jonathan Ames, the American novelist behind the droll HBO series Bored to Death.
In preparing for the series, Stewart and Ames, both living in New York, would meet in a coffee shop down 5thAvenue and sit for hours telling stories about themselves. They went over the plays they liked, books they’d read, and so forth. Stewart also wrote a back-story “bible” on Blunt for the writers, detailing what the character’s childhood was like. “Some of it based on my own experiences and some of it not.”
Stewart’s own childhood read more like something out of Dickens. Born in 1940 in a poor household in Mirfield, England, he and his two older brothers always kept a sharp eye out for their strict father Alfred, a Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army.
“It was said that when he strode onto the parade ground,” Stewart once said, “birds stopped singing.”
Stewart’s acting career began when a teacher at his grade school put a copy of Shakespeare in his hand and said, “Now, get up on your feet and perform.”
Perform he did, through 16 seasons of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1966 through 1982. Ben Kingsley and Sir Ian Richardson were among his fellow actors there.
He made his TV debut on the long-running British soap Coronation Street. Through the ‘70s, roles on Broadway and British theatre were juggled with many TV appearances in The UK.
He was still an “unknown British Shakespearean actor” to the Los Angeles Times when he was cast as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. At first he wasn’t crazy about the role or, especially, the crazy long hours required to crank out a U.S. sci-fi television series. Five feature films and millions of dollars later, Stewart came to embrace his place in the Star Fleet command, admitting the series, “changed everything for me.”
He hopes things continue to change for the funnier with Blunt Talk.
“It is endless days of fun,” he says of working with ensemble cast, including fellow Brit Adrian Scarborough who plays Blunt’s doting manservant Harry. “The experience is much more like daily reunions with dear friends than shooting a series.”