Do you think that is a natural trajectory in an actor’s life?
Patrick Stewart: I have no idea, but it was mine. I’ve quoted this so many times you’ve probably seen it. But just before I finished my training, the principal of my acting school called me and gave me a really serious talking to. The last thing he said was, “Patrick, you will never achieve success by insuring against failure.” I thought then, ‘Yeah, I get it.’
But it took about 30 years to truly get what he meant, which is don’t play safe, be brave, risk everything. What’s the worst that could happen?
What were the risks you took with this film?
Patrick Stewart: Playing an American was the biggest challenge actually. Even though I’ve lived here for so many years, it’s challenging, and we couldn’t afford to have a dialect coach on the set all the time.
Was it challenging culturally?
Patrick Stewart: Oh no, I’m just speaking technically about the sounds that I make. He spent most of his time working abroad and that’s the reason why he occasionally sounds weird and not American.
Is there a risk when you take on a role like Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men?
Patrick Stewart: I perceived a big risk in that, which is why initially I’d turned it down. So, when X-Men came along I thought, “I’ve already got one albatross around my neck. Why would I want to have two?” But then I met with the director (Bryan Singer), and you know the way directors are. They say the greatest things. He persuaded me that this time it would be different, and it was different. It has not been like that at all.
From the time that Star Trek finally came to an end, I had had a couple of experiences that showed me there was a handicap to having been in such a successful and popular television and film series. I had been pursuing a supporting role in a movie. I’d seen the script, and loved it and really wanted it. I was desperate to get in to see the very successful film director and persuade him I was the guy to do this. Finally I did. We had a lovely meeting and he said, “Yeah, you’d be great for this. I don’t have any doubt at all that you’d be perfect for it, but I have to ask you, ‘Why would I want Captain Picard in my movie?’”
What advice would you give actors to avoid being typecast?
Patrick Stewart: I always cite Dustin Hoffman as one of my heroes for the choices he made at the start of his career. I’m sure he was being asked to do The Graduate type over and over and over. But what did he do? He starred in such films as Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man and Lenny. The diversity of what Hoffman did made it so that whenever you went to see one of his movies, you never knew what kind of experience it was going to be.
Did you see a similarity with the way dancers approach their craft and the way actors do theirs?
Stephen Belber: I do think there are parallels and that’s probably why I tapped into this dancer’s story. I think we all know what it’s like to walk the fine line between rigor and living freely-to live with an aim of ambition and goals and then to allow life to happen to you in a way that’s not neurotic. I was interested in the relation between dancing and acting, between dancing and any artistry and between dancing and life.
How have people reacted to Match?
Patrick Stewart: They have no idea what’s coming. I can almost time to a second when the first tear appears. Then, soon after, I’m surrounded by people who are weeping.
What have you discovered about yourself through characters?
Patrick Stewart: This role in Match was such a great experience. The past becomes increasingly interesting to me. I had an experience recently in which I learned things about my father.
Can you give an example?
Patrick Stewart: After the war in 1945, he was a weekend alcoholic. He was very upright and splendid Monday through Friday, but from eight o’clock on Friday nights until midnight on Sundays, he was a drunk. He was violent and beat up my mother and home was a scary place to be on the weekends.
While shooting a documentary about his military career for the BBC, somebody presented me with a news clip which said Sergeant Alfred Stewart was one of the last soldiers to leave France after the disaster of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. He was suffering from severe shell shock. We know now what that means and I sat down with an expert on PTSD who said my father was an absolutely classic case. Back then he would’ve been told, “Pull yourself together and act like a man.” My mother and I never knew that he was suffering. I thought I’d gotten my father absolutely in place in my mind, but how wrong I was.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Patrick Steward and Stephen Belber for taking the time to sit down with us. Match is still awaiting distribution, so be sure to check back here for more updates.