Patrick Stewart never really considered himself a funny guy.
After commanding a starship and a team of mutants in sci-fi and superhero franchises, Stewart has a new mission: starring in his first-ever TV comedy. With his role in Starz’s Blunt Talk as naughty newsman Walter Blunt, the classically trained theater actor is discovering at age 75 that he can make folks laugh.
“It’s a fairly recent development,” Stewart said earlier this summer on the show’s set during a break from filming a scene with guest star Jason Schwartzman. “When I first worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, I started in what’s called ‘low comedy’ roles, like Touchstone, Grumio and Lancelot. Then, something happened, and I was only playing deeply disturbed kings and neurotics. I never really went back.”
While he’s best known as Professor Charles Xavier and Captain Jean-Luc Picard from the X-Men and Star Trek series, Stewart has spent more of his career on stage than in the X-Mansion or on the USS Enterprise. Besides playing everyone from Claudius to Macbeth, he has performed a one-man rendition of A Christmas Carol and finished a West End and Broadway run last year of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot with buddy Ian McKellen.
“It’s no different,” Stewart said. “It’s just a lot more fun. I was talking about this with Jason. The fundamentals don’t change because going for truth, realism and spontaneity is all still the objective, but now it’s also about going for humor. I’ve found the more serious you play the words from the script, the funnier they can become, so to my relief, it works.”
In Blunt Talk, which debuts at 9 p.m. Saturday, Stewart plays a cheeky Falklands War veteran and host of a cable news show. In the first episode, the booze-and-cocaine-loving anchorman is caught in a car with a prostitute and attempts to rehabilitate his image by interviewing himself.
“Walter wants to change the world, but his private life is a complete disaster,” Stewart said. “That’s where a lot of the humor comes from in the show. How can he possibly balance his journalistic passions and keep his life in somewhat reasonable order?”
The series was created by Seth MacFarlane, who worked with Stewart on Family Guy and American Dad, and Jonathan Ames, who created the HBO comedy Bored to Death. Ames collaboratively fashioned the role of Blunt with Stewart.
“I wrote this show for Patrick Stewart and created the character for him. It was the actor first, then the character. It began with how he looked. Patrick Stewart has always played leaders and heroes. I wanted to make Walter Bunt a hero but a confused hero, a Don Quixote,” Ames said.
During a visit to the show’s newsroom set, Stewart was downright giddy as he observed Schwartzman improvising at the end of each take while they were filming a scene where Blunt meets Schwartzman’s eco-activist character for the first time.
Afterward, Stewart noted such moments reaffirmed his decision to return to the grueling pace of TV production. He didn’t think he’d ever be back as a regular on a series after Star Trek: The Next Generation warped away over 20 years ago.
“It feels so good and so different,” he said. “I truly felt when Next Generation ended in ’94, I could not face that pressure and those hours anymore. The idea of a half-hour comedy show had never been part of my game plan until Seth called me, and here I am. There’s no going back now.”
DERRIK J. LANG
AP Entertainment Writer