The setting was noticeably different from Comic-Con.
Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, the septuagenerian bro-mancers of Shakespeare and science fiction, stepped away from taking TwitPics for a few minutes to appear on Monday at the classy Times Talks atrium in New York City. Amid red velvet seats, ushers in conservative dress and a posh audience that, as my Uncle Ira would say "smelled from money," the pair fielded questions from New York Times theater editor Patrick Healey.
Stewart and McKellen are currently on Broadway in a repertory run of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. They've also just completed production on that other sci-fi/fantasy project they are known for…, oh, I forget what it is called. X-something or other. (A thousand lols at the Times Talks emcee who introduced Stewart as Professor Xavier before saying Captain Picard. As if the two should even be mentioned in the same breath. Then again, our Captain is hardly one to worry about ego. He's much more interested in studying Ventanan archeology or saving the Galaxy from a crystalline entity.)
The evening stayed focused on Stewart and McKellen's formidable career in the theater. These are two men who can whip out quotes from A Winter's Tale without missing a beat. They refer to Macbeth as "The Scottish Play" with no irony. They can feed each other straight lines and truly know how to spin a yarn.
We in the audience learned how McKellen once disappeared from a full dress rehearsal of King Lear to go get a "Danish pastry," how he and Michael Gambon get mistaken for one another and he was blogging before there was even a word for it. We also learned how Stewart's fascination with acting came from watching On The Waterfront, that he once freaked-out like an exasperating fanboy at Karl Malden and would love - somehow - to one day play Cleopatra.
We were also quickly reminded that McKellen was one of Stewart's friends who tried to convince him not to take the role of Captain Picard. McKellen warned him that a long-term contract would freeze him up, but Stewart felt confident that the show would never last that long. "Everyone said The Next Generation would be a failure. You can't revive something so iconic!" Later in the evening, when Stewart mentioned he would love to play Shakespeare's Falstaff, McKellen dramatically gasped and said, "Ugh, don't do it - it's the most overrated part!" then quickly corrected himself, "Well, I'm the one who told you not to play Captain Picard, don't listen to me!"
Indeed, Stewart was unequivocal in what Star Trek has meant to his career. "I went from being told what roles I could have to choosing them myself," he said, "and initiating them from the ground up." (It should be pointed out that both he and McKellen are both producers on the Pinter/Beckett run.)
When discussing the final days of Picard, Stewart was quick to point out that Star Trek: Nemesis was not a financial failure. "It didn't lose money. It simply didn't make as much as all the others." He also said that Nemesis writer John Logan told him that "somewhere out there" there's an outline for a script with "all of the Star Trek cast members in it" that we'll never see. No, he didn't elaborate to say if that meant Sisko and Janeway and Archer, too. You'll just have to imagine and argue what in the heck that could possibly mean.
Other tidbits that got an "ooh" from the audience concerned the topic of missed opportunities. Stewart said that he once turned down a role that later won an Academy Award for the person who played it. Despite a nudge from the moderator, he would not dish on the title. All he said was "ouch." (Note to self - get Stewart liquored up on some Chateau Picard and see if he'll spill.)
All told, I felt like I had been invited into the smartest living room in New York City for 90 minutes. Stewart, in his sharp beige suit, often played the straight man to McKellen in his loose-fitting scarf. You can plainly see that their friendship - one born in a trailer while "waiting for Hugh Jackman to finish up" - is not just for show. An extremely entertaining and erudite evening.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.