Sir Patrick Stewart’s Making It So
The only time I opt for the audio version of a book is if it is a memoir narrated by the author. After listening to all thirty-one hours of Sir Patrick Stewart’s Making It So (Simon & Schuster), I feel as though I’ve had a nice, long visit with the man, and my first thought on finishing it was that I’m going to miss him.
Over cups of tea and glasses of wine, he regaled me with the fascinating story of his life, from his Dickensian upbringing in the working-class English town of Mirfield, to his schooldays and developing interest in the theater, to his many years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, his foray into film and, obviously, his time spent as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Picard.
Since I was asked to review the book for Warp Factor Trek, I was tempted to skip ahead to the later chapters in the book that deal with his time as Picard. But being (almost) as equally enamored with Shakespeare as I am with Star Trek, I couldn’t do it. And I’m glad of it.
Along the way – on the highly recommended audio release – we are treated to some priceless moments: he sings snippets of cowboy songs and recites scenes and soliloquies from Hamlet and Macbeth. Wonderful. He laughs when he remembers his first, very embarrassing (and funny) meeting with Sting on the set of Dune.
Throughout the book, Sir Patrick is candid about both his career and his personal life. We hear as much about his regrets and mistakes as we do about his many successes. He talks of his strained relationship with his abusive father. He is honest about his two divorces and the impact this had on his relationship with his daughter. He speaks of missed opportunities and truthfully questions some of his decisions.
What we also hear is the sheer joy in his voice as he recounts a life filled not with privilege, but with perseverance, presence of mind, a good deal of luck, and a fair bit of help along the way. He takes ample time to thank and honor the people who encouraged and influenced him: his boyhood English literature teacher for introducing him to Shakespeare, another who convinced him to apply for a prestigious drama program and a council grant to help him afford it, his fellow stage actors, his mentors, and his friends. There are moments, when he speaks of these people, that you can truly hear the sentiment in his voice.
On Star Trek: The Next Generation
Okay. Now for the Trek stuff.
When Sir Patrick Stewart talks about Shakespeare, recites from the plays and delves into plot and character assessments, I expect him to be animated, excited, and very knowledgeable. What I loved, though, and didn’t quite expect, is that he was equally so — on all counts — when he spoke about Star Trek and Jean-Luc Picard. He talks about his time on the show with absolute delight.
He admits that he was entirely unfamiliar with both Trek and Gene Roddenberry when his agent said a meeting had been requested. He talks about his bafflement at even being considered for such a thing. But he also says his years with the franchise were some of the most rewarding of his life, both personally and professionally.
We hear the awe in his voice when he recounts the storyline from “The Inner Light”, calling it some of the most beautiful writing in the show’s long history. No argument here. He admits that, when he re-watches the episode now, he still gets “choked up.” This, though, is partly because his own son, Daniel, acted beside him in it.
Sir Patrick is quick to compliment other actors in the show — both his castmates and the myriad of guest stars over the years. (As for me, I had no idea that, in Season 2, Mick Fleetwood played a fish-headed Antedian alien whose only line was “Food! Food! Food!”) He laments that he was not on the call sheet the day Stephen Hawking guest-starred as himself.
Another fan-favorite episode he discusses at length is “Chain of Command”, in which an old friend, David Warner, played opposite him as Picard’s torturer, Gul Madred. This, for me, remains one of the best guest appearances of the series. Warner played the role with such a convincing evil that it was actually frightening to me. More than once. And, in this book, Sir Patrick divulges that Warner played it without having even memorized his lines. He was reading from cue cards for most of his performance. Amazing!
He also tells of some unlikely Trekkies he’s met over the years. He once gave a studio tour to Ronald Reagan, for instance, who was, evidently, a huge Star Trek fan. He suspects that Frank Sinatra was a Trekkie, too, and laments that Old Blue Eyes never asked for a tour.
On Star Trek: Picard
When he talks about his character Jean-Luc Picard — especially in the Picard series — Sir Patrick might as well be speaking about Hamlet or King Richard III. He was, as we all know, reluctant to revise the character so long after the end of The Next Generation. What convinced him was when the writers talked about what an older Picard might be up to now. What was his life like? Who was he with? Was he… okay? And these things interested him. He was delighted with the progression of the character, he says. The anger in him, the deep impact from being assimilated by the Borg. He was glad, he tells us, to revisit him and finish his story. But is it finished? Excitingly, he teases the possibility of a Picard feature film.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Picard has always been my favorite captain. Sir Patrick has always been a favorite actor. I can’t recommend it highly enough. But get the audio. You’ll be glad you did.