Patrick Stewart: ‘Take on Trump? Make it so’

Mutant mutineer, starship captain and legal alien, Sir Patrick Stewart says the revolution starts here

Patrick Stewart arrives late to Claridge’s but, crucially, unflustered. His drive from Leicester Square was “calamitous” he sighs – taking 50 minutes when it should have taken 10. When I, unthinking, suggest he could have taken the Tube, he shoots me a gaze of either pity or contempt that I would even suggest such a thing, given his enormous fame at the helm of two colossal TV and film franchises – Star Trek and X-Men. Patrick Stewart, we can safely presume, is not in possession of an Oyster card.

Patrick Stewart as Star Trek's Captain Picard

He is slight but sprightly, dressed dandily in a florid shirt, a tweed jacket with elbow patches like a geography teacher and a pocket square like a country squire, black trousers and brown leather shoes with a double side buckle. He has a gaze that could split marble and a stentorious voice as if he’s shouting through a loudhailer in a lift shaft – all booms and echoes.

Logan has emotional honesty and frankness about it. Which would be bold if it were a $100m independent movie

He is in London to promote  , the final film in the X-Men franchise in which he and Hugh Jackman star, a bleak dissection of those ground down by a life fighting evil. It is unsparing in its slow-motion demolition of physically, psychologically and emotionally broken superheroes when the life and the fight has been sucked out of them. He quotes director James Mangold who described the film as “a $100m independent film”. It’s not really but it’s a good distillation of its intent.

“It’s bleak,” he says of this closing chapter. “But it’s also got an emotional honesty and frankness about it. Which would be bold if it were a $100m independent movie. But, given what it is, it’s exemplary that it has turned out the way it has.”

Patrick Stewart starring in Logan alongside Hugh Jackman (Logan) and Dafne Keen (Laura)

He describes Charles Xavier, his character in the series, as previously being “considerate, intellectual, compassionate, persuasive – a man who resorts to talk instead of action” but is now “frail, fragile, unstable, erratic, angry and dangerous”.

When things fall apart is, he feels, when an actor can really get their teeth into a character. “People have asked me if it was challenging,” he says. “It wasn’t challenging at all. It was all grist to the actor’s mill. We love being given a different perspective on something and being told to go for it.”

There are parallels, I suggest, between the themes of the film and Stewart’s own father who was undiagnosed with PTSD after a long military career as a sergeant major and seeing active service in World War Two – all of which had a terrible impact on his family. Stewart has spoken candidly in the past about the domestic violence his mother suffered at the hands of her husband, and has been a patron of Refuge since 2007. “It took me many years to acquire this understanding, unfortunately, and I wish it hadn’t taken so long,” he says, clearing his throat and gathering his thoughts.

“But now it’s there, I live with it all the time. It’s like having antennae that sense this in the world around you.”

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You can sense a brokenness in people? “Yes – or at least the potential for it and how it is brought about,” he says. “There are people right now in the United States who are, because of the election and first month of Trump in office, close to breakdowns; they are so frightened and alarmed at what is happening. My wife is a case in point. She couldn’t sleep after the election. She was so anxious and afraid of what this would mean to have a dangerous child in the Oval Office.”

We talk about Donald Trump’s frenzied opening weeks as president and I ask Stewart if he thinks this is a ‘statement’ month to appear decisive or if he’s just getting warmed up.

Nobody can change Trump – until somebody knocks him on the head. Which is not what I am recommending

“There is no complexity and there is no subtlety,” he says of Trump. “And that ain’t gonna change. Nobody can change him – until somebody knocks him on the head. Which is not what I am recommending!

“I used to say to my wife, ‘Look, he won’t make two years. Don’t worry about eight years in office – he’s not going to make two years’. I know enough about people in the Republican Party who will eventually come together to say, ‘Enough’.

Patrick Stewart and his wife, singer-songwriter Sunny Ozell

But if Trump steps down, Mike Pence will step up. Isn’t that worse? “Mike Pence is at least a professional,” he counters. “He’s a politician.” But his views on gender, abortion and homosexuality are abhorrent. “But I would rather have a politician with whom you can argue and reason than a dangerous child,” he says. “[One who is] unpredictable, volatile, self-obsessed, delusional.”

Stewart, who long ago swapped Yorkshire for New York, is one of those “immigrants” Trump has been warning about. He, it turns out, could easily have been classed an undesirable. “When his first policy initiative on refugees and borders came out, I was one of the ones that would be banned,” he says.

“I have a Green Card and have had one for – oh, bloody hell, 38 years – so I am a ‘resident alien’ in the United States, not a citizen.”

He suggests Logan, possibly unconsciously or perhaps plugging into the zeitgeist by accident, has allegorical resonance in 2017. A race of mutants, victimised and demonised in the dystopian near future, are seeking escape to a utopia.

“It’s an invented society but nevertheless, these people are set apart from the rest of society. The principal characters in our movie have one super-objective – and that is to get to a border and cross it into safety. Well it just so happens that we are living in a time where there are hundreds of thousands of people in exactly that situation. But the country that our people are trying to get out of is the United States. And the border – and safety – is [sinking into a low whisper] Canada.”

This leads us, somewhat inevitably, to Brexit and its ideology of isolation over integration. For a lifelong Labour voter and flag-waver for the unions, his stance on this is no surprise.

Patrick Stewart: An interview with the intrepid actor, still boldly going...
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“I am an Englishman who was once so proud to be a member of the European Union,” he says. “As an Englishman watching my government negotiate our departure from the European Union, I am embarrassed and ashamed.”

One person, he feels, is wholly to blame but has sidestepped any of the responsibility. “I am outraged at David Cameron who got us into this mess,” he roars, his voice powering down on key words and adding extra punctuation to drive home his point. “It was completely unnecessary. He did it to pacify a handful of backbenchers. That’s the ONLY reason that there was a referendum. It went wrong? HELLLLLLLLOOOO! How well did HE understand the British people? Now we have a Prime Minister [Theresa May] who voted to stay but who is now leading the exit. I. Don’t. Quite. Follow. That.”

Britain on the horns of Brexit and America under the heel of Trump are not going to collapse into the wastelands of Logan. Even so, as Stewart reminds us: worst-case scenarios are not always fiction.

Logan is in cinemas now