What I've Learnt: Patrick Stewart

Actor and author, 83
Published: 28 December 2023

FOR YEARS, I NEVER SPOKE ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD—or my home life, or my education—because I was embarrassed by it. I wanted Patrick Stewart to be my own adult creation, not the product of my actual childhood. But the fact that I hid so much was doing more harm than good.

OUR HOME WAS CALLED A ONE-UP-ONE-DOWN, with a living room downstairs and a bedroom upstairs, where my brother and I slept together in a small double bed for five years. He was a wonderful boy and he was patient with me and kind. When he died 18 months ago, he was the one person who had known me for my entire life.

I WASN'T BORN IN A HOSPITAL or a maternity ward. I was born in that house.

IF I HAD STARTED THERAPY EARLIER, it would have benefited me sooner. Now I’m no longer afraid of talking about my childhood.

IN THE LITTLE TOWN WHERE I LIVED in West Yorkshire, there was a library, and it became the most important building in my life. I could go down there on a Saturday morning. And take two books home with me and devour them.

I BECAME ADDICTED TO AMERICAN LITERATURE. I also became quite interested in Russian literature, which led me to Dostoevsky. These were my escapist times.

THERE WAS NOWHERE TO READ IN MY HOUSE. In the living room downstairs, the radio was always on, and we were never allowed to go upstairs until it was time for bed. So when I needed to read, I would go to our outdoors toilet—our only toilet, with no electricity. I would take warm clothes and a wooly cap, and I would read books and keep my hands warm with a candle. That gave me a very unique experience of literature.

I RECENTLY FOUND A BOOK IN MY LOCAL BOOKSHOP here in Los Angeles, called Master Slave Husband Wife. It’s the story of an enslaved couple, and how they devise a means of escaping northwards to safety. It’s one of the most astonishing and dazzling stories. It has made a huge impact on me and I recommend it.

ONE DAY MY ENGLISH TEACHER, Cecil Dormand, put a paperback book on my desk that said The Merchant of Venice. I didn’t know what the heck it was. He said, “Patrick, you’re Shylock,” and to my horror, I saw that I had an immensely long speech.

I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I WAS SAYING, but there was something about those sounds in my mouth that excited me.

AT 15 YEARS AND TWO DAYS, my education ended. It was all that the law required.

I FOUND MORE SAFETY ON THE STAGE than I had experienced elsewhere. And one of the reasons was that I wasn't being Patrick Stewart. If I was acting a role in a play, I was someone else.

LAUGHTER was a very important part of my life.

I BECAME THE FIRST-CHOICE COMIC FOOL in the Royal Shakespeare Company: I played Touchstone, I played Launce, I played Borachio and I discovered that hearing laughter is a much more pleasant experience than hearing sobbing in the audience.

MY ADVICE TO YOUNG ACTORS, which may sound corny and trivial but nevertheless means something very potent to me, is to be brave and trust others. If I had done that earlier in my life, maybe everything would have changed.

THE BEST THING ABOUT BECOMING A FATHER is that great sense of playing with young children, which became absorbed into my work.

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A FATHER is that it’s more complex and challenging than people might expect.

I LOVED IAN MCKELLEN'S WORK BEFORE I KNEW HIM. We worked together at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but never in the same production, because I’ve been told there was no director who wanted both of us in the same production.

WHEN THE FIRST X-MEN FILM WAS SHOT IN CANADA, my trailer was next door to Ian’s. One of us invited the other in for a cup of tea, because we’re both English, or if we were working late, maybe even a glass of wine. I liked him more and more with every encounter and I loved working with him.

THERE'S A 15-MONTH AGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US, so he is older than me. There is something free about him. As an actor, he always makes you feel like he’s saying the words for the first time.

ALL OF US who were involved in Star Trek: The Next Generation are proud of the work. It’s always a pleasure to hear people speak about the impact on their young lives when they were watching the show.

WHEN I MET MY WIFE SUNNY, we found that both of us were crazy about dogs, so we began fostering. It can be quite a difficult job when you get so close to a small creature. We had one dog who we immediately sensed was unwell within 48 hours. We took him to the vet, who said he had to be put down. But every single fostering experience has been wonderful.

WE PROMISED ONE ANOTHER that a time will come when we shall choose for ourselves our own dog. He will be with me, hopefully, for the rest of my life. And I can't wait for that moment to arrive.

I'M NOT A COLLECTOR BUT I DO LOVE WATCHES. I was 18 before I had one, and I still look at it as an essential part of my life. I've never thrown one away, so I have some very ancient watches. Currently I’m very enthusiastic about IWC. They have everything I need.

MY MEMOIR WAS SOMETHING OF AN ACCIDENT, and honestly, we have Covid to hold responsible for it. Shooting television series or movies somewhere in the world, it's not possible to spend your spare time writing. Especially at my age, when I spend my spare time sleeping. But my agent said, “Look, nobody's going to be working, why don't you give it a shot?” So I said I would on the condition that if I wasn't enjoying it, we would return the advance and I would go back to playing jigsaw puzzles.

I NEVER ANTICIPATED THAT I WOULD WRITE A BOOK, never in a million years! Whenever I have it in my hands now, it scares me a little bit. But the experience of writing was profoundly satisfying. I enjoyed it so much.

Originally published on Esquire US

related posts