Starship alert! Starship alert! (Warning: Trekkies, take your seats. We cannot be responsible for the impact of the following transmission.)
The commander of the starship Enterprise, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, also known as Patrick Stewart, is not a science-fiction fan."Gosh, no! Not at all. I have no enthusiasm for it whatsoever," the 50-year-old British actor confirms over the phone from his Los Angeles home.
Can this be? Not only has the syndicated TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation" made him arguably the most recognizable bald actor since Yul Brynner, he even has his own fan club: the International Audience Alliance for Patrick Stewart, which boasts more than 400 members and publishes a quarterly magazine devoted exclusively to him.
At the College of Notre Dame of Maryland here recently, Stewart performed a one-man program of dramatic excerpts, "Uneasy Lies the Head," to benefit the fan club and its activities to promote literacy and the arts.
His appearance here was especially timely because at the end of last season Picard was transformed into an evil robotlike creature known as a Borg.
All last summer, there was concern among "Star Trek" aficionados that Stewart was being written out of the series. But no, he did return.
If Stewart isn't a sci-fi fan, what is his passion? In a word: Shakespeare. A leading actor with Britain's esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company for more than 20 years, he has also contributed articles to a number of Shakespeare publications, an impressive credential for someone who left school at 15 because he was simply "not interested."
In addition, since the 1970s, he has been an associate director of the Alliance for Creative Theatre, Education & Research, an organization based in Santa Barbara, Calif., that uses British actors to teach Shakespeare's plays as living scripts.
In fact, he was delivering dramatic readings to accompany a lecture at the Univeristy of California, Los Angeles when he was spotted by Robert Justman, a producer of the original "Star Trek," who was casting the syndicated sequel. "He claims he turned to his wife and said, `We've found our captain,' " Stewart recalls.
"It's been an accident that for the past 10 or 15 years a lot of my film work has been science fiction or fantasy," he says, citing "Dune," "Lifeforce" and "Ex-calibur."
"Uneasy Lies the Head," the two-hour program that he performed, included relatively little science fiction. Instead, it's "70 percent Shakespeare," he says, explaining that the show will include excerpts from Shakespeare's plays such as "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2," "Henry V" and "Antony and Cleopatra," as well as scenes in which he will portray various leaders, including Churchill, Lenin and, of course, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard.
"It's about power and leadership," he says. "The conclusion is that for the most part, power is something which, once achieved, often proves to be very much less attractive than it appeared to be when it was being pursued."
Whenever he appears at "Star Trek" conventions, Stewart says he tries to perform some Shakespeare. Knowing his connection with the Bard, fans frequently write telling him they "have turned to Shakespeare for the first time or turned to him again after not having read his plays since school," he says proudly. "So that might be said to be a sort of missionary work."