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Patrick Stewart Recalls Ian McKellen Telling Him Not To Accept Star Trek Role

Sir Patrick Stewart reveals in his book how he chose ‘Star Trek’ over theater. This decision, against Ian McKellen’s advice, led to his huge success on TV.

In a recent interview at Vulture Festival, where he was discussing his latest memoir, ‘Making It So,’ Sir Patrick Stewart revealed that he chose not to take the advice of his long-time friend, Sir Ian McKellen. As it turns out, McKellen didn’t want him to star in the ‘Star Trek’ universe.

During the conversation, the host, Angelica Jade Bastién, asked Stewart about the time when McKellen didn’t want him to take the role of Jean-Luc Picard as it would make him leave the theater for television. She then told the actor why he went against his friend’s advice. Stewart started by talking about their friendship first:

“Well, Ian was the only negative response to this. I had the greatest respect for him. I didn’t know him well; we had never worked together, but I really admired everything that he did. It had been like that for decades.”

He then went on to reveal why Ian McKellen believed that way:

“You know, I’m being told that we’d be lucky for the show to last a whole season because you cannot revive an iconic series like Star Trek; you just can’t. People won’t want that; they’ll just want more of the original. I said, ‘So, are you telling me that this might not last a year? He said, ‘Well, of course. Your contract is for six years, so we have no say in that, but you’d be canceled.’ Well, 14 years later, we had not been canceled, but then finally, we were after 157 episodes and four feature films.”

As Stewart said, this decision would ultimately propel him to international fame as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ series.

Why Stewart Didn’t Listen to McKellen?

Stewart’s memoir, which has climbed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, traces his journey from a Yorkshire boy to a globally recognized actor. An excerpt from his book details this conversation with McKellen, who advised against Stewart accepting the role in ‘Star Trek.’ McKellen’s concern was that the shift from theatre to television might hinder Stewart’s flourishing stage career.

Despite McKellen’s warning, Stewart saw the opportunity differently. His view was that while theatre was a constant presence in his life, the chance to lead an American TV series was a rare opportunity. This choice marked a turn in Stewart’s career, which, until then, included notable but not leading roles in major television series like ‘Fall of Eagles’ and ‘I, Claudius,’ and film appearances such as in ‘Dune’ (1984) and ‘Lady Jane’ (1986).

Stewart’s theatrical roots run deep. His first professional stage appearance dates back to 1959 at the Theatre Royal, Bristol. His association with the Royal Shakespeare Company began in 1966 and lasted until 1982. It was here that Stewart first crossed paths with McKellen, though they did not collaborate on the same projects initially.

McKellen Regretted His Advice In The End

Despite Stewart’s initial skepticism about the cultural impact of ‘Star Trek’ and the likelihood of the show’s success, his portrayal of Captain Picard won him international acclaim. ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation‘ ran for seven seasons with 178 episodes and was followed by several movies.

Reflecting on this defining period, Stewart recounts in ‘Making It So’ that while McKellen was initially against the idea, he later admitted his misjudgment. This admission, according to Stewart, is something he enjoys reminding McKellen of, showing the friendly and deep bond that has developed between them over the years:

“In the years since, we have become dear pals and ‘X-Men’ colleagues, and Ian has acknowledged that he was wrong and I was right. More than once, in fact – primarily because I like making him say those words.”

‘Making It So: A Memoir’ is available for purchase and offers readers a closer look at the life and career of Patrick Stewart.

You can watch the rest of Stewart’s interview below.

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