Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard is one of the most beloved characters in Star Trek. Indeed, the way the actor conveys his humanism, diplomacy and intelligence has led many to consider him the epitome of Star Trek‘s philosophy and morality. But, as it turns out, original creator Gene Roddenberry didn’t want Stewart to get the role, didn’t have a good relationship with him and never understood why he was so well liked.
The story came out in a recent roundtable in which Stewart participated. Here, he revealed his awkward first audition for the part, explaining:
“It was very odd with Gene because I was dragged in to audition for him in his living room the morning after I’d been seen doing something at UCLA. My meeting lasted about six minutes, and then it was perfectly clear I was not wanted in that room any time longer. It was Gene who said, “What the hell? I don’t want a bald, middle-aged Englishman.””
Producers Robert Justman and Rick Berman disagreed, pushing for Stewart to get the role against Roddenberry’s complaints. According to Stewart, though, even after settling into the job, Roddenberry was never happy with him.
“Gene used to come on the set once a week, maybe twice… it depends on who the cast were. And I would catch him looking at me with an expression on his face which said, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing in my show?’ It was clear he couldn’t understand why I was there.”
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Still, he clearly respected Roddenberry and tried his best to form a relationship with him. But those efforts amounted to a single lunch.
“I had lunch with him only once, just the two of us and I said, “So Gene, to help me: Where did the idea for the character spring from? Can you give me any connections that I could use and build on for this?” And he said, “Oh yeah I’ve got it here with me,” and he pulled out a beaten-up paperback copy of one of the Horatio Hornblower books, and said, “It’s all there.” So the character, it turns out, was based on Horatio Hornblower, but as I was in a spaceship and not an ocean-going ship, I felt that I never really satisfied Gene the way he wanted to be satisfied.”
Roddenberry died in 1991 and never saw how much the Star Trek community embraced The Next Generation crew and particularly, Patrick Stewart. Perhaps if he’d seen some of his best episodes he might have come around, but I suppose we’ll never know. For now, though, the character lives on (albeit now as some kind of robot) and his adventures will continue in season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, which will probably land in late 2021/early 2022.