On the trail to graduate with honors in college I sat with what Sister Mary Margaret called the “front row ladies” in a literature course. Four women with serious academic goals.
This particular class, Sister motioned that she was unable to talk and nodded towards a television monitor and VHS cassette. The word “quiz” in large letters was written and underlined twice on the chalkboard. After a couple of moments, a pitiful, grainy picture appeared. One of Shakespeare’s plays was being performed by what sadly appeared to be overly emoting actors. A groan rippled throughout the classroom, however, being serious students, the front row proceeded to watch, carefully making notations in dedicated notebooks. I’ve been exposed to Shakespearean literature before but was not even versed. I struggled and lost my way through Act 1.
As the performance droned on, a clear baritone voice announced a new character. The voice was appealing, the acting was much better than the co-stars. The actor, though, seemed familiar. The character came alive and drew me in. I still grappled with the dialogue but the believable actor helped me come away with enough understanding to manage the quiz with a passing grade. I searched the credits and found the familiar voice belonged to Patrick Stewart, the famed Captain Jean Luc Piccard in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I’m not a Trekkie. Far from it, but, being my husband is a sci-fi fan I had been exposed to the series and was familiar with the character. Stewart’s voice was still a distinctive baritone with outstanding enunciation and diction. His portrayal of the Captain was spot on, his acting being neither over the top or lacking in such a series. Before this, the only Star Trek series I had seen was the original late ‘60s version. Much ado about nothing it seemed (sorry for the pun and no insult intended Trekkies).
It was years later while on an Illinois freeway that I was listening to a radio talk show when I heard the familiar baritone voice. Patrick Stewart was the guest and the host was encouraging listeners to call in with questions for the actor. Not surprising, all the calls for the first twenty minutes or so were regarding Stewart’s role as Captain Piccard. There wasn’t a single mention of his other work.
As the show went on, I became more curious why the focus of questions was solely on Star Trek. Didn’t listeners realize the man had other credits? I thought I would take the chance to call in and ask Stewart about other experiences. My chances of getting through were slim as the host said the show was inundated with calls. Suddenly, I heard ringing! The call had gone through but I knew my chances of, “Hello Caller! What’s your name?”.
My call was answered! Dumbfounded, I quickly stated my name to which Stewart replied, “Well helllllohh Yvonne!” in a genuinely happy voice. “What would you like to know?”, Stewart asked. I blurted out that I was curious on how he came to perform Shakespeare for educational literature film recordings. He let out a clearly amused guffaw. The host quickly thanked me for the call and obviously prepared to disconnect the call. “No, no,” Stewart said, “I’d like to talk to Yvonne a bit more. Where did you see this atrocity of my work?”. More laughter. “In a college literature course,” I replied. “Oh, you poor thing! That is still out there? Well, I was a beginning actor needing experience and a paycheck. I had some training in Shakespearean acting and answered what’s deemed a cattle call for such.”.
He went on to explain how he worked to give the impression he was well experienced and quite comfortable with Shakespeare. “In reality, I knew squat!”, again the amused chuckling. He continued that he had apparently performed before an easily impressed casting agent and was cast in subsequent Shakespearean and similar roles. “I would have given nearly anything to have some range, comedy even! Buuut I spent a great deal of acting in serious roles.”
He found it quite amusing that I had seen this performance and asked if I had seen the other tapes in the series. I had, as Sister Mary Margaret had been without her voice the entire week. “What torture!” Stewart amusingly responded with more chuckling. He proceeded to ask my opinion of the performance and overall production, still amused. “We need to take one more call,” the host interjected. “No, no, I’d like to continue talking to Yvonne. Now, where were we? Oh…”. We had been talking for nearly ten minutes!
“Thirty seconds,” the host announced, annoyed. “I have to ask one Star Trek related question Mr. Stewart,” I interrupted, “would you say my favorite line? The one when you approach the food replicator?”. He cleared his throat and in his best Captain Jean Luc Piccard voice said, “Earl Grey, hot.”. We laughed in mutual delight. “Oh, thank you!” he exclaimed. “This has been such fun!”.
That day I learned that it’s okay to be a little star-struck, ask the unexpected questions, and not to be a Trekkie to appreciate a Star Trek character (no offense Trekkies).
Recently, I was half-heartedly listening to an animated show my daughter was watching when that baritone voice sounded. It was a good-for-nothing but hilarious CIA boss. I guess Stewart did get his wish.