In Starz’s comedy “Blunt Talk,” Patrick Stewart plays Walter Blunt, a British TV journalist determined to preach reason to the American public despite his disastrous personal life. The character has little in common with Stewart’s own calming and eloquent persona. But where did those traits come from? This might have something to do with his years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Variety first caught wind of him in 1966.
What do you remember about early performances with the RSC?
I had wanted to join the Royal Shakespeare Company for several years. I had been working in regional theater and finally, in late 1965, I wrote to the head of casting and begged him to give me an audition. I was working at the time at the Bristol Old Vic company. To my delight, they agreed to see me at on a November night in Stratford on a Sunday. They offered me a season of work. I immediately gave in my notice on the other job. And beginning in January, I was rehearsing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Interestingly enough, the role I was rehearsing was Sir Walter Blunt. It’s a very small role in “Henry IV: Part 1” and I was to play small roles throughout that season. But I didn’t care because I was, at long last, under the banner of the RSC. It was, at that point, the happiest year of my working life.
You clearly have many fond memories. Do you have any regrets from this time?
Not one. Except that I might have perhaps been a rather bolder, pushier and more extravagant actor than I was. I actually felt that — even though I was so happy — I was somewhat intimidated by the immense amount of talent that surrounded me in actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs and so forth. I must have done OK because the next season I got much better roles.
The 1966 Variety piece is focused on RSC actors at an anti-war performance. What have you learned about activism and celebrity?
There has been a lot of unfortunate sniping, sneering and criticism of celebrities who support all kinds of campaigns, both national and international. This strikes me as extremely unfair. Many people who have done well and who have established a reputation for themselves and who have deep convictions on many social issues are pleased that they can use their status to help promote causes they passionately believe in. And yet, that doesn’t stop the media from implying that this is nothing more than a self-promotional matter and the celebrities are just trying to get attention.
You recite lines from “Hamlet” in the first episode of “Blunt Talk.” Did you call on your training to do that scene?
No, but the lines that I speak were lines that I did speak when I was back at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009 appearing in a production of “Hamlet,” with Hamlet being played by the wonderful David Tennant. I was playing Claudius, who speaks those lines, so I was familiar with them and what they meant.
Were you ever worried you would end up like Walter Blunt?
Worried, no. Walter Blunt as a media person is very successful. He has his own nightly news show. The problems are surrounding his personal, private life. I have not led the colorful life that Walter Blunt has. In fact, I used to say on the set whenever it came up, which was almost every week (that) “I want you to know, I have never done this before.” There were quite a number of things I have never done before (“Blunt Talk”) — including, if you can believe it after more than 50 years in the business, my first post-coital scene. I’m not saying I’ve never been in a post-coital situation before, but I’ve never had to perform one in front of the camera.