Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Thar She's Blowin' in the Wind

A whale of an interview with Patrick Stewart.

By Peter Keough

MARCH 16, 1998:  Patrick Stewart, the enduring Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, soon to be seen as Captain Ahab in the USA Channel's four-hour adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (airing March 15 and 16), orders his lunch from room service at the Ritz Carlton. He requests the penne and -- a telling move for someone starring in one of the greatest fish tales ever told -- asks them to hold the clams. There seems to be a problem about the delivery time, can't they speed it up? Perhaps he should simply tell them to "make it so."

"Those words will never leave my lips again," he says in the commanding tones known to millions.

Grateful as he is, Stewart seems a little ambivalent about his fame as a Star Fleet commander, about his place in the hearts of cultish worshippers.

"Respect them? No, not people whose whole lives revolve around that. I've got accustomed to being called Captain -- a rank that I never held, as I was never in the services, and it always irritated my father, who was a regular soldier. I've come to be quite comfortable with that -- but I don't allow it to dominate my life. So far as the series is concerned, it's background. Although we are just weeks away from going into production on what will be Star Trek IX, as yet unnamed."

In the meantime, he has taken on a role that ranks in stature with those he has played in his long, meritorious career as a Shakespearean stage actor.

"I know as I get older I'm lucky to have roles like Ahab. Melville has written a great adventure story, and what we have to do is to tell the adventure story. Far more important than coming out with any philosophical proofs in this is that we entertain. I always look on that as being paramount, in everything that I do. Entertainment is everything."

An element that, Stewart suggests, Melville may have lost touch with in the original -- he's been quoted as saying that the author "could have used a good editor."

"Yeah, I did say that. I got in some trouble for it. The Melville faction, they don't really approve. But I think it's true. And I think it's tragic that his great work was a failure in his lifetime, was not recognized at all for being what it was. I think that if he'd been working with an editor, a sympathetic, sensitive editor, they might have been able to shape that book in such a way that it would have been more appealing.

"As a performer, it saddens me when I read of artists whose work was not recognized in their time. That must be the most difficult thing of all to live with. I have no want of public recognition. The series has brought enough of that. But there are certain jobs that you hope will be recognized and identified. And sometimes they're not, and that can be frustrating. I have a couple of movies that have not been released, we couldn't get them distributed. So it's frustrating because there are big chunks of one's career and work that just get left out."

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