I was always obsessed with the stage. From the age of 12 when I was first put in a play with adults, I felt more at home and safer than I’ve ever felt in my life. For most people the stage is terrifying, a darkened auditorium, all the light’s on you – it’s the last place most people want to be. But when I’m up there I know who I am, what I’m doing, and I can express myself.
I didn’t own a television until I was 24, so I hardly saw TV shows at all. Of course, I went to the movies, but I saw Hollywood movies. They were thrilling and distracting, but they were happening over there, they weren’t part of my life.
I was kind of odd looking. I lost my hair when I was 19, so the obvious juvenile roles were never going to come my way. I never looked like the kind of young actor to be involved in movies so I never thought of cinema being an option for me. So film, and then television were a happy accident to me.
There is documentary evidence - I’ve seen a photocopy of the programme – that in around 1949 I appeared in a local pageant, in which I played a character called ‘Tom of Towngate’. I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever, but that was probably my first stage performance.
I find the thrill of stage performing is greater now than ever before, and it gets greater all the time. Why? Because now I only get to do great pieces of work, sometimes classic, sometimes modern. The excitement of a live performance has never left me. I think that since I’ve been doing film and television, I find the process even more intense.
But I love filming. I love being on camera and the different challenges of acting for a camera.
I find watching myself on film very hard indeed. I don’t know an actor who doesn’t. I think actors who love watching themselves on film, probably aren’t very good. You’re putting yourself at risk, and putting yourself out there. I don’t watch dailies, it would completely intimidate me if I did. Once I feel comfortable about the work I’m doing, once I feel it’s probably OK, then I might watch it several times.
Lately I like doing more comedy than I’ve ever done before.
I knew almost nothing about Star Trek before I took on the role. I was called back to Hollywood to audition for it three times. So I had to consult my children. In the sixties, I would come back from performing in the theatre to find my son watching this show with American guys wearing coloured t-shirts but that’s all I recall.
I get irritated that the Star Trek fan base has such a bad press. They’re very knowledgeable, not just about the show but about science fiction. They take the programme quite seriously, and – with the exception of those who like to dress up and occasionally shave their heads – they’re really quite ordinary people. They’re enthusiasts, and over the years, with one or two exceptions, I’ve never had any problems with their fans.
I like sneaking in a film and watching it with an audience, because it really gives you an insight into how the whole thing is received.
I’d love to work with Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman. These are actors from my generation or older, but they come from my cinema-going experience when I was a lot younger. I also think Matt Damon is terrific.
My children have taught me about perseverance
What advice would I give them? Be fearless.
I was baffled a lot by women when I was younger. Not anymore. What baffled me once, delights me now.
Four years ago I became a skier, I’m officially now an intermediate level skier, and that was at the age of 69.
One of the most important things about the internet is as long as I have a phone in my hand, I’ve always got something to look at.
Esquire was talking to Patrick Stewart at this year’s Chivas Regal Legends Dinner.