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It’s been seventeen years since Sir Patrick Stewart hung up Jean-Luc Picard’s Federation uniform when Star Trek: Nemesis ended up being the last adventure for the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast. At the CBS All Access press day for Star Trek: Picard today at the Television Critic’s Association winter tour, Stewart joined the executive producers and new cast for the series to talk about legacy and new beginnings.
As he’s admitted before, Stewart reiterated that he was never expecting to play Picard again. “I was proud of the work with the seven years of the series and the four movies,” he shares.
But when Star Trek executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman pitched a story he found merit in, Stewart was convinced to step into his skin once more. With the first season of Picard in the can, Stewart admits, “It has been far easier than I expected to make this transition [back] nearly 20 years later. Because the man exists inside me.”
“Picard has never left me,” the actor intones. “It’s a relationship I’m happy to continue, absolutely thrilled to continue.”
Helping to generate creative excitement for Stewart was his upgrade to a co-executive producer on the series, and his involvement in shaping the story of Season 1.
“I have never been a co-EP on any show I have been on before,” the actor shares. “I was welcomed into the writer’s room so generously. And I have never been in a writer’s room before. Listening to them pitching, and pitching and becoming excited and then becoming gloomy,” he chuckles. “I mostly kept quiet because I couldn’t compare.”
In those creative sessions, Stewart reveals they created an intricate backstory for Picard about where he’s been, and what he’s been doing over the last twenty-years. “We talked for days about the backstory,” he shares. “And little snippets will creep into the series. It’s important that the audience know why we are living in the world we are in the show.”
“And I only appear briefly in my uniform, another one of [the] presumptuous requirements,” Stewart jokes. “I wanted a lot of distance between TNG. Not ignore it, but halfway through Season 3 of TNG, I no longer knew where Jean-Luc started and Patrick ended.”
Another by-product of Stewart’s creative inclusion even showed up in the series structure. “The season function in chapters,” Kurtzman clarifies. “Like, not a lot of time is spent on Earth in most Trek [series], and we didn’t want to rush that here. The look, tone, and feel is all different by design.”
While several original TNG cast members appear in Season 1 of Picard, including Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner and Jonathan Del Arco, Stewart hopes to welcome more as the series unfolds.
“We all talk all the time,” he says of his ongoing rapport with the TNG cast. “I love all of them and we talk all the time. It is my hope that whenever we are wrapping the series, we will have encountered all of the principal actors from TNG.”
Having spent three decades deeply associated with Star Trek, Stewart was asked where he is now with the legacy of the character on his career and life. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says frankly. “Partly because there are some people, with the initials Bill Shatner, who might take a little offense. But I am very content to stand in Bill’s shadow,” he smiles.
“But it has at times been a burden,” he continues. “I found soon after we wrapped Nemesis, I had hung an albatross around my neck. I interviewed with a director to play a small role in his film, and he said, ‘Why would I want Jean-Luc Picard in my movie?’ So, I went about finding as many diverse roles as possible. It has taken awhile for me to truly absorb the impact of this work. Being with a new and brilliant ensemble, in a sense, I am a symbol and I am content about being that because it’s all about the quality of the work.”