May 2003
X2 (X-Men United) : An Interview with Patrick Stewart

Interviewed by Godfrey Powell

X2 (X-Men United): An Interview with Patrick Stewart

Once known as Capt. Picard from the Star Trek: Next Generation, Patrick Stewart has jumped from future science fiction to contemporary fantasy now playing the renowned Professor Xavier. In an interview with, Patrick Stewart talks about playing Prof. Charles Xavier in X2 (X-Men United).

GP: You are currently preparing for a play. Tell me the differences between switching from film to theatre.

PS: Right now there’s one simple crude answer for that. I became an actor to work on stage. The play that I’m rehearsing is 129 pages and I appear on 121 of them. Right now in my learning process I’m on page 75. Sometime in the next 10 days a point will come when I can say, “I know it. I can do it off book.” That is the one major difference. What is it that American actor said ?, “Gimme my lines and a comb and let’s shoot it.” I’ve had no life for the last two weeks and will have no life for the next few weeks.

GP: Which play are you preparing for?

PS: The Masterbuilder by Heinrich Ibsen in London. It’s charming too because Sir Ian {McKellan has been knighted} is doing August Strindberg’s Dance of Death on the West End stage. I went to see him last week. It was delightful to see a bunch of fans outside who in one hand, had programs from Dance of Death and in the other, photos of Gandalf and Magneto.

GP: Do you treat the work of Stan Lee with the same focus as classic works?

PS: Absolutely. The moment you don’t do that…go on! Give it up. It is as important a serious piece of work as Strindberg or Ibsen. You don’t shortchange the work because it is a comic book franchise for a studio. I think entertaining is a serious business and shouldn’t be taken half-heartedly.

GP: How did you prepare for the role of Professor X?

PS: I did a movie for Dick Donner. His wife, Laura Donner, who is also a producer called me in and said, “What do you know about the X-Men?” and immediately I thought I heard X-Files. She said, “No, no. X-Men” And then she showed me the comic book and I saw this familiar looking guy. That was my first exposure to the book. I was completely innocent as I was with Star Trek. So my research was lightweight. I was sent over piles and piles of comic books. It’s not like reading Michael Myers, Life of Heinrich Ibsen.

GP: Many people think you were born to play this role because of your striking resemblance to Professor X.

PS: Yes, I realized when I said to Laura that I hadn’t heard about X-Men..that wasn’t quite right. From time to time at [Star Trek] conventions, some people might have said, “Mr. Stewart, Mr. Stewart have you ever considered playing Professor Xavier.” And then when the movie became distinct possibility there was this huge web campaign for me.

GP: How many hours did you have to sit on the Cerebro platform? [An extensive plotline involves Cerebro]

PS: Oh, I spent days up there. And it was hard to get down and there was nowhere to go up there. Sometimes I would nap because it was vary warm. Or I’d meditate. But I’m a Tetris man. I had a little pocket hidden on the back of the chair where I can hide it from the cameras. I could just pull it out and just play. The great thing about Tetris is you can play it mindlessly and be amused and all of a sudden an hour has passed.

GP: So you had them specially make you a pocket on Professor X’s chair?

PS: Yes, a little place where I could slide it in. They did the same thing when I was filming Moby Dick. They made a pocket in Captain Ahab’s coat. And I don’t play anything else. Just Tetris.

GP: I heard about you and Sir Ian McKellan and your problems playing chess.

PS: Yes, Bryan Singer [Director] set up a scene where Ian and I were playing chess. He said, “Ok, why don’t you all just make some moves.” I said, “Well, I don’t know how to play.” He said, “Ian?” Sir Ian said he didn’t know how to play either. Brian rolled his eyes and said, “Get someone on the set. We just need to believe that they are making the right moves.” The next day we arrive on the set and yep, there’s someone there who knows chess. A Canadian Grandmaster. I told him, you are so overqualified for this job. He said,(whispering) “I’ve never been on a set before.” And he stayed all day.

GP: There were rumors of re-writes and improvisation on set.

PS: Improvisations? Well, in a sense but don’t look at it in a perjorative way. It was creativity and Bryan is a perfectionist. And if he doesn’t feel that something is right or doesn’t make sense he won’t roll camera. We were filming quite late a scene in London and improvising a scene. And I could think of nothing more pleasant or pleasing than talented people in a communal collective way trying to make something good.

GP: How would you like to see Professor X evolve?

PS: In future ones, I’d like to be more Proactive. Professor Xavier is always reacting to something. In both movies, I spend a big chunk of time out of action or being controlled by someone else. I thought Professor Xavier was the most powerful mutant in the world. I think I ought to have a really intense scene with Rebecca [Romijin-Stamos].

GP: Thank you for your time.

PS: Thank you. It was a pleasure.