From stage to screen, from Shakespeare to Star Trek, Patrick Stewart has long been one of Britain’s most respected actors. But he tells us his latest role might just raise a few eyebrows…

“There’s a growing sense that something really bad is going to happen"

Patrick Stewart Green Room
Patrick in Green Room

“I settled down one evening at 8pm with the script, and on page 40 I got up and checked that all the doors and windows in my house were locked,” says Patrick Stewart, chuckling at the memory. “My house in Oxfordshire is quite isolated, so I put the lights on and turned on the perimeter security system. I checked that the cameras were actually working. Then I poured myself a large glass of Scotch.”

Anyone who’s seen Patrick’s new film Green Room will be unsurprised by this reaction. A grim, violent and frankly terrifying thriller set in a confined location, it’s the kind of film that has you looking over your shoulder a long time after it ends. 

“There’s a growing sense that something really bad is going to happen. You’re dealing with people who won’t be interested in sitting down, having a chat over a cup of coffee and working things out.”

If this is hard to reconcile with the Patrick Stewart we’re used to seeing as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek or Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men films, then it’s even harder when you meet him face to face. Chatty, lively, funny and downright charming, he’s the kind of man who instantly puts you at ease. Somewhat different, then, from the character he plays in Green Room—Darcey Banker, the leader of a white-supremacist group—is less than reassuring. So what’s a nice guy like Patrick doing in a film like this?

 

“My character is driving his Jag down Hollywood Boulevard, drinking whiskey out of a flask, eating chocolate marijuana and picking up a transsexual prostitute."

 

 

“In the last few years, my main pursuit has been diversity,” he replies, after a thoughtful pause. “I have Picard and Xavier on either shoulder, and they’ve had such an enormous impact on my life. Often there’s a misconception that these characters are who Patrick Stewart is. It’s been a blessing and curse.”

It’s a blessing in the sense that you can confound people’s expectations by playing completely against type, I suggest. There’s evidence of that in another recent project: Blunt Talk, an edgy TV comedy series produced by Family Guy creator and comedian Seth MacFarlane, which completed its first series in America last year. Patrick agrees.

“Five minutes into the very first episode,” he observes, “my character is driving his Jag down Hollywood Boulevard, drinking whiskey out of a flask, eating chocolate marijuana and picking up a transsexual prostitute. So the reputation I’ve acquired—which I thought was an albatross—has become this launchpad for doing outrageous things.”

 

 

"I don’t know where the last 30 years have gone"

patrick stewart activism
Patrick in one of his many activist campaigns. Here for Amnesty International

It’s clear that, despite living in Los Angeles for 17 years, the Hollywood milieu was never an ideal fit for Stewart. He returned to Britain permanently in 2014, and today seems more engaged than ever in British public life. As a self-proclaimed socialist and activist, he doesn’t shrink from expressing his opinion on the current government and the state of the Labour party.

“I think that Jeremy [Corbyn] has begun to find a voice that’s clearly authentic and passionate,” he states with conviction. “I’m beginning to have a feeling that there’s a route for Labour that might be very exciting for the country. I carried a placard for the first election after the war in 1945, when [Labour prime minister] Clement Attlee got in, and those principles remain my principles.”

He leans forwards and fixes me with a determined look.

“I fear the stubbornness and self-obsession of the Tories, and the damage they can do. We all know the Tory party is essentially a party of self-interest, no matter what they say. What’s the phrase they use? Oh yes, ‘compassionate conservatism’. Bulls**t! There’s no such thing as compassionate conservatism. It’s exclusively about self-interest and protecting the status quo.”

 

 

"What’s the phrase they use? Oh yes, ‘compassionate conservatism’. Bulls**t!"

 

 

His outspokenness has even led him into the world of Twitter and social media—albeit at the urging of his publicist. “She took me out for breakfast about three years ago and said, ‘You’ve got to get involved. It’s essential for the work that you do and the work that you want to do. You’ve got to engage.’ ”

Indeed, there’s plenty to engage with in the near future. Although now 75, Patrick appears to have the energy and drive of someone 30 years younger.

“I don’t know what happened,” he says, shaking his head. “I mean, that’s not an affectation on my part—I really don’t know what happened. I was 45 the other week, and I don’t know where those 30 years have gone. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gone back to meditation, because it slows time down. 

 “Also, I take more care of myself now than ever before. I hold onto the bannisters when I go downstairs and look both ways many times when I cross the road. Although I’m mystified by how I got here, I don’t want to leave now. I want to hang around this place as long as possible. I didn’t use to have fun—I was too serious and insecure—but now I’m having such fun.”

 

Read the full interview in May's issue of Reader's Digest

Green Room comes to UK and Irish cinemas 13 May

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