After years in slumber, Star Trek TV shows are back in the big way, with Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard already running on CBS All Access, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the animated show Star Trek: Lower Decks on the way.
All of these shows target different kinds of Trek fans, with Picard being a direct continuation of The Next Generation. To use Patrick Stewart’s words, the new Jean-Luc Picard is “angry, moody, guilty, sad, lonely,” which is something he wanted for the character, so there would be a contrast to the more optimistic person we knew from TNG.
In fact, the tone of Picard is a lot darker in general, with Star Trek’s traditional optimism giving more to a more cynical view of life in the galaxy, although it is ultimately hopeful.
With that darker view comes a change in style, including a lot more swearing. Speaking to TV Guide, Stewart admitted that the cursing took him aback, particularly after Picard had always been so careful with his language, forbearing from using curse words even if he wanted to. “When I came across the first swear word in the first script, I can honestly tell you, I was deeply shocked,” Stewart said. “I grew up in a family where swearing was second nature. Every other word was a swear word, and yet when I read… it might have been the F-word that I read and I was shocked and unsettled by it. I think I did have a conversation with [showrunner] Michael [Chabon] about this use of language and how comfortable were we with it. It was something that had never been a part of previous Star Trek.”
But here’s the other thing. The world we are living in has changed. It’s changing. My wife showed me some videos on her phone of some of the violence aimed by police at protesters. African American people, women, young teenagers, old men. In one instance, a white old man. It is horrifying, so we have to look at this world and ask ourselves, “What can we do to make it better?” And that was always the theme of Next Generation and yet, in a different context, it’s also the theme of Picard.
Stewart is out here spilling all kinds of things about his history with Jean-Luc Picard, including how somewhere along the way he found it difficult to separate himself from the character. “During the seven years that we filmed Next Generation and the four feature films that followed it, without intending to, Picard came closer and closer and closer to me, to Patrick,” he said. “After a while, there was no place that I could identify where Jean-Luc left off and Patrick Stewart began.”
I felt with both [Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier] that they do have an impact…on my private life. In that there was a sort of standard of morality and behavior that you needed to uphold because if you didn’t they would reflect badly, negatively, on the character that you were playing.
A lot of this conversation happened, interestingly enough, while Stewart was in conversation with Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the DC Extended Universe movies. And if there’s any character who holds himself to a high standard of morality and behavior, it’s Superman.
While Cavill hopes “to play more of Superman in years to come,” his latest hit is The Witcher on Netflix, where he plays the taciturn monster hunter Geralt of Rivia. Stewart was impressed with how physically imposing Cavill looks on that show. Cavill chocked that up to “the wonders of good camerawork,” but does find that the process of physically becoming Geralt changes the way he feels in the role:
When it came to the character and how he looks, there are descriptions in the books, and there’s a very popular video game series. I wanted to draw on elements of all of those things. It was about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour process every morning before rehearsals. And by the time I was in my full Geralt rig, as I call it, it was like I was looking at a different person, and I felt halfway to the character just through the physicality. I would move slightly differently, and then as soon as the contact lenses went in, everything shifted. And my interactions were completely different, and the only time they went back to being truly Henry was when I was passed out asleep in a chair in my trailer for 20-minute breaks.
That also extends to doing his own stunts, something he learned to appreciate on another of his gigs. “For me, when it comes to that kind of thing like stunts, I’ve always enjoyed doing the physical stuff. Working with Tom Cruise [on Mission: Impossible — Fallout] really helped — or maybe, in the eyes of the producers, made worse my enjoyment for stunts. I really want to do them now, and I think it’s an essential piece to the character. If an audience is watching Geralt on-screen, they must believe that it is me. If it’s not me, I feel like I’ve betrayed the character in some way, and so I try and do as much as a production will let me.”
For the record, Stewart lost his fondness for stunt work when he was sword-fighting a guy on stage for a play, and the dude threw his sword and hit a member of the audience. I can see how that might sour you on the practice.
Star Trek: Picard and The Witcher both went on filming hiatuses thanks to the coronavirus, but The Witcher, at least, is back on the horse. Let’s hope we get to see new seasons of both shows before too long.