It would be quite a feat if the British thespian makes the shortlist of supporting actor nominees. With the exception of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” Academy Awards voters don’t tend to reward superhero films. But then again, as Stewart readily admits, “Logan” is a different kind of comic book movie. It’s more interested in plot and character development than mutant battles. The film, which finds Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) camped out with a frail and elderly Charles Xavier (Stewart) on the Mexican border, is really a meditation on violence and friendship, one that evokes classic westerns like “Unforgiven” and “Shane.”
As the awards heat builds, Stewart talked with Variety about why “Logan” is his “X-Men” swan song, what it would take to bring him back to the Starship Enterprise, and why he hopes the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal will inspire meaningful change in the movie business. Just a warning, for readers who haven’t watched “Logan,” spoilers abound.
How was working on “Logan” different than the other “X-Men” films you’ve shot?
We shot the movie in dramatic sequence, so when I walked on the set of “Logan,” I did was my first, quite long scene where I’m talking to Logan. My last shot was me dying in the back of a truck at 2 in the morning somewhere in Mississippi. Hugh and myself and, of course, James Mangold, our director, we developed the tone of this story together. It very much depended on the complexity and richness and truthfulness of the relationships in order to work. The roles here were very much reversed. In the early days when Logan was so messed up and carrying so much baggage around, Charles was very much his protector and advisor and caregiver. In this one, Logan is the one looking after Charles.
This film doesn’t feel like a standard superhero movie. Did it seem like you were acting in a different genre?
It’s sort of a combination of a western and a road movie. It was not a superhero, comic book movie with a lot of high-intensity special effects. It was about narrative and character. When James [Mangold] came to my dressing room on Broadway and told me about the kind of movie that he wanted to make, it was instantly recognizable as a different approach. I knew he would be looking probingly into Logan’s relationship with his one-time boss and the rich dependency between the two of them. It’s what makes this an “X-Men” movie that stands apart from the others.
How did you prepare to play an aged Charles Xavier in “Logan”?
I lost 20 pounds. I’ve always been blessed by being able to lose weight easily, and I spread this out over the span of a few months so that it was easier to take. When I lose weight, it tends to be most noticeable in the face, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to look sick and undernourished and stressed and frail and vulnerable. Hugh had to carry me in the movie, and I assured him that I would do my damnedest to make sure I was carry-able.
Is this your last “X-Men” movie?
Oh, yes. Hugh had been on record that this would be his last time before “Logan” even started shooting. I hadn’t given it a thought until I saw the film for the first time with an audience at the Berlin Film Festival. It was Hugh and James Mangold and myself, and when it got to the last 10 minutes of the movie, it was emotional and intense, and I could feel myself getting choked up. Then I looked over at Hugh and he was wiping his eyes, and I thought if Wolverine can weep at a movie, Charles Xavier can do the same thing. Then Hugh reached over and grabbed my hand and we held hands for the rest of the movie.
When I was still wiping my eyes and smiling through the credits, which were very long by the way, it became very clear to me that there would never be a better way of saying goodbye to the franchise than the one I just witnessed. Charles dies in Logan’s arms with Logan profoundly saddened. No better opportunity to say au revoir could ever extend itself.
Would you ever reprise your “Star Trek” role as Jean-Luc Picard?
Oh, lord. I cannot think of another instance in which that might happen. My feeling is I hung up the space suit and left all that behind a long time ago. Maybe if someone came up with a brilliant idea, I’d do it. One thing that might interest me would be to bring all the existing casts of “Star Trek” from the last 50 years together for one big story.
Will you be back on Broadway?
I have no more plans for Broadway, but I do have plans for a small play in London. It may or may not be in the West End. It’s a piece I co-wrote and adapted from a novel over 25 years ago. It should happen some time next year for a short run.
What’s the novel?
I would rather not tell you. It is a very well known novel. There’s a movie based on it and it’s been around in people’s minds for awhile. I just keep hoping someone else doesn’t get the same idea.
Since allegations of sexual harassment and abuse emerged against Harvey Weinstein, the media and entertainment industry has been consumed with accusations of misconduct involving dozens of other high-profile figures. What do you make of the scandal?
It has been a shocking and yet remarkable experience. I applaud the courage of these women and men who have come forward with stories of abuse and harassment.
How has this gone on for so long? I remember I was just 17 and in my first year of drama school and I already knew what the term “casting couch” meant. Now how did I know that? Victimizing and controlling and stigmatizing young actresses and actors has been standard for decades. I’ve never been involved in anything as a victim or as an antagonist, but one was aware that bad things were generally happening from time to time. Yet there was an atmosphere of insecurity and fear and an unwillingness by people to deal with it properly. Now thanks to the courage of women and men who are coming forward almost daily, we can change things.
Do you think things will improve?
It already has, and it has to. This can’t be allowed to happen any longer.