Sir Patrick Stewart OBE sat down with a small group of journalists in New York this week to talk about his new Starz television show, “Blunt Talk,” premiering Aug. 22, 2015 at 9pm (set your DVRs now). Seth MacFarlane developed the show specifically for Stewart in order to give the actor a chance to show off his comedy chops.
Stewart certainly gets a chance to do just that in “Blunt Talk,” in which he plays a Piers Morgan-esque television celebrity whose personal life is a train wreck. In it, he hilariously does all sorts of things you’ve never seen Patrick Stewart do before – the kinds of things you’d never expect, which is one of the reasons it’s so funny. Believe it or not, the show includes his very first sex scenes.
Entering our room while eating a chocolate chip cookie, Stewart asked someone for a cup of tea with two bags and said, “I invented tea with two bags.”
I said, “And you’ve never gotten credit for it,” to which he said, “No, I haven’t!” He then went on a semi-mock diatribe about the perils of ordering tea in American hotels and how he doesn’t understand iced tea – all with enormous charm and humor, of course.
Patrick Stewart is 75 years old, but you could easily guess him to be 20 years younger, not just because of how he looks but because of his joie de vivre. His energy was infectious, and he put everyone at ease immediately.
I asked the first real question regarding “Blunt Talk,” inquiring as to whether he was having as much fun on the show as it looked. “More!” he answered. “It’s nearly 55 years I’ve been in this business. I don’t think I’ve worked harder or had as much fun as I have done in this show. It’s partly because we have very clever scripts that are very entertaining, fun to speak. But I’m surrounded by awesomely funny actors, people who have made their careers out of being funny. I mean, Richard Lewis is playing the shrink!”
At that moment, costar Adrian Scarborough and writer/showrunner Jonathan Ames peeked in the door and interrupted us to say goodbyes. Hugs ensued with a “Travel safely, my love” from Stewart to Scarborough.
“It’s a new world for me,” Stewart continued regarding “Blunt Talk.” “I once guested on ‘Frasier’ and loved every moment of it in the last season. Kelsey Grammer tells me I helped to win him his Emmy that year. But where’s my Emmy?”
“It’s coming,” I said.
Stewart went on to talk about how much he loved working on “Extras” with Ricky Gervais and “American Dad” with Seth MacFarlane. He had always wanted to do comedy but had written it off as not possible in his career.
“Let me give you an illustration. I’ve been in productions of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ five times. What have I played? Oberon, King of the Fairies twice. Duke Theseus twice. And I’ve played Snout the Tinker in a very famous Peter Brook production,” he told us.
“All I’ve wanted to play was Bottom the Weaver. I wanted to play the comic character. And I pitched myself. They say, ‘No, I don’t see you as funny.’ Maybe that’s about to change. I don’t know. But I have wanted to dip my toe into this world, and having dipped it in quite a bit in the last ten years, I’m very happy to stay put. That’s not quite true, actually, because I’m doing a serious play on stage next year. Ian McKellen and I are reviving the Harold Pinter play we did here two years ago, in London. It’s not all laughs. Some tears.”
Last year, Stewart and McKellen performed the Pinter play, “No Man’s Land” on Broadway in repertory with Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”
Someone asked Stewart about his Twitter presence, which is quite prominent. “I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of social media,” he said. “I absolutely didn’t want to go anywhere near it.” But his PR company insisted, so he relented and quickly became hooked. “I remember being so thrilled within 20 minutes of sending my first tweet that I had a couple of dozen followers.”
“I have had vivid evidence of the power of social media and the often alarming power of social media, too. It can be a dangerous territory…. Now, Facebook and Instagram are becoming my world as well. I enjoy them for the fun that we have. I enjoy them because it allows me to make a public platform of social media about things I care about and maybe even bring other people on board about these organizations and issues – human rights being one, Amnesty International in particular. It’s fun to be shocking and a little bit scandalous, but it’s most of all fun to poke fun at Patrick Stewart.”
When asked what’s left in his career that he hasn’t yet done, Stewart said, “Well, first of all, live long enough to do these things. At the moment, I’m healthy, so there’s no reason why not. But still, 75 is 75. There are some great classical roles I haven’t played. King Lear, for instance. Falstaff, which is, actually, the role I most want to play. I haven’t played Bottom yet, but now, maybe there might be an opportunity because I have an idea about how to play him.”
He isn’t only interested in the classics, however. “I would really like to find some brilliant, original, unique film script. But then, every other actor who is in movies is looking for exactly the same script, and there are usually only two or three of them a year that come up. I want to do more comedy on stage, if I can,” he said.
And he’d like to do musicals. “I am singing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra this month. We’re doing a concert version of ‘My Fair Lady,’ which I’ve always wanted to do. I will never play the role because I’m much too old now, but I will at least get to do it in concert, which will be fun. I don’t sing much now because I’m married to a fabulous singer, so I keep my mouth shut. But I would like to do one major musical before I have to hang up my makeup kit, but I don’t know what it would be.”
Then, a beloved musical came to mind. “I would have given anything to have played Sweeney Todd in the Sondheim musical. I did do it in concert, though, with the wonderful Lynn Redgrave. That was a fabulous experience.”
I told Stewart I had pictured him playing Judge Turpin in “Sweeney Todd” when I saw him whipped with a towel in an episode of “Blunt Talk.” “Well, here’s my plan,” he responded. “I am continually trying to persuade that one of the major roles that Hugh Jackman must have lined up for himself is Sweeney. He would be incredible with that voice and that acting ability, and the way that he looks. He would be a terrifying Sweeney Todd, but the condition is that I get to play the Judge.”
When asked about the next “X-Men” movie, Stewart confirmed that only the younger actors are in the new one. “But there is, I am told, a ‘Wolverine’ movie in development that would include Charles Xavier, but a very different Charles Xavier from the one we’ve seen before. And I don’t quite know what that means. But I’m very, very excited about it. I love Hugh, and I love working with him. And James Mangold is set to direct, who’s terrific….”
“I’ve loved being in those movies,” he continued. “I’m very passionate about the ‘X-Men’ movies, and unlike ‘Star Trek,’ where I was captain of the Enterprise but somebody had already been captain of the Enterprise before me ([whispering] you know, Will Shatner), I created Professor X. Now, James [McAvoy] has taken it over, and he’s wonderful. So flattering to have him as a youthful me.”
We ended by getting some final words from Stewart about “Blunt Talk,” which he called “liberating,” especially since it’s a cable show without the censoring that network television shows endure. “We are, I like to think, following in the footsteps of some great comedians who have paved the way for us in being able to talk about things that you could not talk about on any kind of television once upon a time,” he said.
“There is humor in personal experiences and especially the way female comics have investigated the lives of women from the very personal, intimate, sexual, bodily function way that only, I feel, five years ago you could not have seen, could not have heard. And it’s thrilling.” (I didn’t ask, but it sounds like he might be a fan of Amy Schumer, among others.)
I took the last question of the afternoon. Since “Blunt Talk” has already been promised a season 2, I asked Stewart what shenanigans he would like to see his character of Walter Blunt getting into in upcoming episodes. “I have, from before we started shooting, I keep saying tiresomely, ‘I really would like to be interviewing people on the show,’ and I do from time to time…. But they’re scripted interviews,” he said.
“I have had this urge, enthusiasm for conducting non-scripted, real live interviews with politicians, celebrities, sports people (I’m a big sports fan.) They wouldn’t be long – 10-minute, maybe 15-minute interviews…. It might not be able to happen within the context of the program.”
Someone then suggested a web series, and Stewart seemed to think that might be an option.
“Would people want to come and be interviewed by Walter Blunt? I hope so. I’m very blessed to have a good friendship with a late Secretary of State, and she has said that she would agree to be interviewed if we can find the time. I think Madeleine Albright is an extraordinary and brilliant woman. I once sat with her in a restaurant, and we were sitting near the door, so that everybody who left or arrived had to walk past our table. It’s maybe not the most comfortable place. But without exception, person after person stopped to say, ‘Secretary, we miss you. We wish you were still with us. Thank you for what you did.’ Person after person! It was so exhilarating to experience that! I’m a fan and a friend, so if we could kick off with Secretary Albright, I think that would be a good start.”
With that, our time with Patrick Stewart was at an end, but he graciously allowed each of us to take a photo with him. This is something journalists hardly ever do, and I never do. But don’t judge me – it was Patrick Stewart!
Don’t miss “Blunt Talk.” Stewart is surrounded by a wonderful ensemble cast playing well-drawn, quirky characters. Check out my interview with costars Jacki Weaver and Adrian Scarborough, as well as creator/showrunner Jonathan Ames, and watch the trailer below.