Sir Patrick Stewart

Aug 20, 2015
Originally published on April 5, 2017 4:43 pm

Growing up, Sir Patrick Stewart never dreamed of being a knight. "I just dreamed [that] there was some food for the next meal," he told Ophira Eisenberg on the Ask Me Another stage in Brooklyn. As a boy, Stewart's heroes were distinguished thespians — Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness and Sir John Clements. But recently, Stewart's friend Sir Ian McKellan pointed out to him, "You know, Patrick... those actors, those remote heroes, those gods we admired so much — it's now us!"

And certainly over his career, Stewart has been both an actor's hero and an action hero. He's appeared on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company for over 40 years, in film as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, and on TV as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite his legendary career and knighthood, he's quite down-to-earth. In fact, Stewart walked to The Bell House from his home in Brooklyn. "I [didn't] think sirs walk," Eisenberg said, to which Stewart jokingly replied, "Actually, they should be carried."

For his VIP game, Stewart was quizzed on the meanings of Shakespearean insults. Also in this episode, Stewart recites well-known song lyrics with the elegance and gravitas of a West End performance, including favorites by AC/DC and Taylor Swift. A clip of his delivery even went viral on Twitter and got back to Swift, who officially invited Stewart to join her unstoppable squad!

This segment originally aired on Aug. 20, 2015.


On getting around in Brooklyn

But nevertheless, I still had my limo drive me here. You know have you to keep up appearances, that's what show business is all about.

On the knighthood and politics

They say, 'How can you be a passionate member of the left wing and at the same time accept a knighthood?'

Ophira: Pretty easy.

Stewart: Well it was.

Heard in Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

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You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER, from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and with me right now is our very important puzzler, Sir Patrick Stewart.




STEWART: Thank you. Thank you very much.

EISENBERG: We're happy to have you. I know this was not much of a commute for you 'cause you're now a neighborhoody (ph).

STEWART: I know.


STEWART: But nevertheless, I still had my limo drive me here and drop me off.


STEWART: You know, you have to keep up appearances. That's what it's all about in show business.

EISENBERG: That's true.

STEWART: Doesn't matter how - whether you're good or bad, appearance is everything.

EISENBERG: And I don't think sirs walk.

STEWART: No way.

EISENBERG: No, no, no.

STEWART: Actually, they should be carried.

EISENBERG: I think so.


EISENBERG: I've never talked to a sir before, and I'm just wondering - it's an honor - was this something that you as a - even as a kid just dreamed of being knighted?

STEWART: Of being a sir.


STEWART: I just dreamed of hoping there was some food for the next meal.


STEWART: That was all. Almost everything about my adult life - I guess from the age of - can I call myself an adult at 19?

EISENBERG: Yes, definitely.

STEWART: Actually, I was an adult at 10. I matured very, very early. I was never a teenager, you know, in the sense - the common sense of - a friend mine said recently the thing you must understand about teenagers is they're not people.


STEWART: And it is so true.


STEWART: No, I tell you truly, I do pinch myself from time to time because when I was first really passionately interested in acting and that meant theater, not movies. I went to the movies, but the movies were an escape for me. They were a fantasy land, but the theater was what I pursued. That was, for me, romance and - but my heroes were Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Alec Guinness, Sir John Clements, Sir Donald Wolfit, and these were the establishment. And, of course, they were all old, too, you know, so they were remote feeling to me. And as some people may know, I'm very close to a dear friend, Ian McKellen, and when we were...


STEWART: Yeah - and I remember him saying to me one day, you know, Patrick, we're now them. And I said, who? He said, those actors, those remote heroes, those gods that we admired so much. It's now us, but nothing feels to have changed. Everything is the same, and I said, you're right. I don't feel worthy. I don't feel at all that I should belong to that hierarchy of these theater knights and dames. But all of a sudden, Helen Mirren, whom I've known and worked with for 45 years, she's a dame (inaudible) and this revered person, and others, so it's - where was I going with this, Ophira?


EISENBERG: You were just going to say that now you're part of this, you know, these dames and these sirs.

STEWART: Oh, yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: And I guess you all hang out...

STEWART: Oh, yes, yes, yes, thank you.

EISENBERG: You're welcome.

STEWART: I would ask you to marry me, but it's too late. I'm already married because you'd - sometimes it takes me a while to get back into where I was.

EISENBERG: We could talk about harem situation.


EISENBERG: But I think my husband wants to also come.


STEWART: OK, I got you, I'm sure.


STEWART: They say how can you be a passionate member of the left wing and at the same time accept a knighthood?

EISENBERG: Pretty easy.


STEWART: Well, it was.


STEWART: Yeah, but I accepted the knighthood, and this is genuine. It's not [expletive] - sorry.


EISENBERG: That's all right. It's all good.


EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah, we're...


EISENBERG: We'll work it all out. Don't worry about it.

STEWART: It's cool.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, it's all good. You know, I think of your role on this new television show, "Blunt Talk," where you play a man named Walter Blunt, which is not the first time you've used that name.

STEWART: No, no, it was my pseudonym for nearly 25-30 years - not anymore, of course.


STEWART: I've blown that. It's gone. Yeah, Walt - Sir Walter Blunt was the first character that I ever played when I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966. He's a very minor character in the first part of "Henry IV." And he dies really rather comically and miserably at the end of the play. We're talking about this new television series I have coming out. It's about a British journalist media person who has his own five nights a week news program, a half-hour news program. And I had been meeting and talking with our creative genius behind this, Jonathan Ames, who is...

EISENBERG: Jonathan Ames - fantastic.


STEWART: Yeah, and he said, oh, come on. Look, we've been talking about this character now for months. We've got to give him a name. Is there a name - actually, this was done by email. He said, I like combining famous names, you know, and I, you know, the only name that I've ever been drawn to is the name I've used for 30 years - Walter Blunt. And within seconds came back an email and the title of our show is "Blunt Talk."

EISENBERG: That's amazing, yeah.

STEWART: Well, that's why he's a clever writer, and I'm just an actor because of things like that.

EISENBERG: That is amazing. Patrick, we are going to subject you to your own challenge a little later in the show, but right now, as you know, you are going to actually help us out with a game. Let's welcome Mary Kate Polanin and Ali Desjardin.


EISENBERG: Now, Mary Kate, you work for an ad agency specializing in Hispanic marketing and Ali works in marketing operations at an employee benefits operating system. That's very long, but that's what it is.

ALI DESJARDIN: Software company.

EISENBERG: Software company - so you both are used to convincing people of stuff.


DESJARDIN: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: In your opinion, what is the worst hit song, let's say, in last two decades, Mary Kate?

POLANIN: Anything by Nickelback.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.


EISENBERG: Ali, was that what you were going to say, too?

EISENBERG: No, no, I think that - I mean, like, everyone loves to hate on Nickelback.

EISENBERG: Oh, wow, too obvious.

DESJARDIN: No, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

EISENBERG: Too obvious (unintelligible).

DESJARDIN: They're not as bad as everyone says they are.

EISENBERG: Sure, I - you're not making any friends here, Ali.


DESJARDIN: Sorry. I think maybe my worst song of the past two decades would be Britney Spears's "Perfume," which was just a shameless plug for all of her perfume.

EISENBERG: Good to know. Well, everyone knows if you want something to sound smart and highbrow is you have to get a British person to say it.


EISENBERG: And since we have the smartest, classiest Brit with us...


EISENBERG: So we've given Sir Patrick some song lyrics that are well-known, but aren't quite the level of Shakespeare that he might be used to, but he's going to recite them with all of his usual eloquence and gravitas. So you just have to ring in when you know the answer, and we're looking for the name of the song. Sir Patrick, take it away.

STEWART: She was a fast machine. She kept her motor clean. She was the best damn woman that I ever seen. She had the sightless eyes, telling me no lies, knocking me out with those American thighs.



DESJARDIN: "Shook Me All Night Long."



EISENBERG: Now, Sir Patrick, I go to you on this one. What is the difference between British thighs and American thighs?

STEWART: Oh, the difference is huge.


EISENBERG: Zinger - a zinger.

STEWART: I will be sorry for that remark in the morning.


STEWART: I was speaking about theatrical knights earlier. Maybe this is how Laurence Olivier might have read this one.


STEWART: I know that I must do what's right, as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become.



POLANIN: I don't think this is the title, but "I Come From A Land Down Under."

EISENBERG: No, no, right, you're thinking a different thing, but yeah, I get it. Ali, any guesses?

DESJARDIN: "Africa."



STEWART: Well, we're a little - had a little - a rather crude taste of Laurence Olivier. Here's maybe how John Gielgud might have read this next one.


STEWART: I tell you what I want, what I really, really want.


STEWART: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want. I want to - I want to - I want to - I want to - I want to really, really, really woman zigazag ah.


EISENBERG: All of a sudden I saw a starving man who was desperate to get something.

STEWART: Yeah, you got it.


DESJARDIN: "Wannabe."

STEWART: Yeah, that's three...

EISENBERG: Sorry, say that again.

DESJARDIN: "Wannabe."

EISENBERG: "Wannabe" is correct, the Spice Girls, yes.


EISENBERG: And your final clue.

STEWART: So just back to me now.


STEWART: But a little acting required I think in this one. Screaming, crying, perfect storms, I can make all the tables turn, rose garden filled with thorns. Keep you second-guessing like, oh, my God. Who is she? I get drunk on jealousy, but you'll come back each time you leave 'cause, darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream.



POLANIN: "Blank Space."



EISENBERG: 'Cause I love the player and you love the game. That was amazing. Thank you so much.


EISENBERG: That was a very tight game and so much fun. Ali, you are the winner of this round. You'll be moving on to our Ask Me One More final round. Thank you again to Sir Patrick. We'll see you later in the show for your own challenge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.