Sir Patrick Stewart On Dorothy of Oz, Captain Picard's Legacy, and His Favorite Scene

patrickstewart300.jpgThere are few actors who have earned as much geek cred and devoted followings as Sir Patrick Stewart, and certainly none others who were also performing Shakespeare on stage in the U.K. the night before flying across the world to greet fans at Comic-Con. (If only one could achieve warp speed on commercial airlines these days, international travel would be much easier.) So, of course, Movieline jumped at the chance for a few minutes in heaven with the erstwhile Captain Picard; what more perfect a Comic-Con experience could there be?

In town to promote his 2012 animated adventure Dorothy of Oz, a completely new musical extension of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz world co-starring Lea Michele, Stewart was all gentle smiles despite the lack of sleep, and happy to be addressed as "Captain." Comic-Con, where Star Trek is a way of life, is "a familiar world," and after playing Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard for seven seasons and four movies, he's used to the spectre of Picard that follows him around geek gatherings like this.

But there's more to Stewart than his Star Trek years, and even his turn in the X-Men films as mutant leader Professor X: His lifelong love of animation, his love of the stage, even his own personal geek-out recollection of meeting Oscar-winner Karl Malden, star of Stewart's pick in a round of My Favorite Scene. Read on for more.

Hello! May I call you... Sir Patrick?

You can call me Patrick, you can call me Mr. Stewart, you can call me Sir Patrick, whatever you feel is good for you. [Laughs]

Sir Mr. Patrick. Or perhaps simply, Captain.

Oh, Captain! Yes, that'll do.

I heard you had quite a fortuitous break in your schedule that allowed you to come to Comic-Con.

Yes, it was simply good fortune that our panel was at four o'clock this afternoon, because I got off a plane in Los Angeles at half past one and luckily got through immigration quickly and into a car, then hit some heavy traffic and got here 15 minutes before the panel began. And I had a show, I had a performance [in The Merchant of Venice], last night in Stratford-upon-Avon. I'm getting a little lightheaded now. I think it's something like three o'clock in the morning for my body clock right now.

Well, thank you for speaking with me! When you come to a place like Comic-Con, do you feel in a way that you've come home?

It's a familiar world, yes. I've been to many science fiction conventions, Star Trek conventions. You know, I had two franchises in my career, one was fantasy, one was science fiction. So this is a familiar world.

And yet you're here to discuss Dorothy of Oz, which seems like an interesting way to revive the beloved L. Frank Baum franchise. What appealed to you about this animated musical continuation of the Wizard of Oz saga?

I have loved animation all my life, since being a child. All my life. I try to see everything. I watched cartoons when I was a kid and I loved them. Something about the energy and the way it lifted me out of myself and into another world that I love. And currently, I think perhaps the most exciting work in filmmaking presently is in the field of animation. The diversity of work is extraordinary. You know, there was a time when most animated movies all looked kind of the same. Not anymore.

Add to that the fact that this is in 3-D...

Yes! Indeed, I've never seen myself in 3-D before. And I love contemporary animation, whether it's Pixar and American animation or some of the wonderful work that comes out of Japan, out of Ghibli Studios. So to have an opportunity to voice a character in an animated film has always been appealing to me. And I've done it several times before, this is not the first time.

It's also unique in that it's an animated 3-D musical, which seems to marry even more of your artistic interests.

I didn't know until a few days ago that it was a musical! I didn't realize there were songs in it.

Your character doesn't sing any songs?

I'm told that maybe I will now!

How would you describe your character, Tugg?

He's very old, rather disgruntled, rather weary, kind of a grumpy tree who donates himself to become the boat, the tug. And as a tug boat, discovers a whole new lease on life, cheers up, and becomes adventurous and excited. Then there is another thing which happens to him, which I can't talk about because it's a surprise.

Well, I must ask about Star Trek. The Captains documentary, which you did with William Shatner --

Yes, which they were here talking about yesterday and I missed! I was on stage.

On that panel, the captains were asked what they thought their contributions were to the series, to the character. What would you say yours was?

[Pauses] Thoughtfulness, I would say. There were many elements to him, but perhaps that was the most important one.

The actor Tom Hardy also happened to be here at Comic-Con this year, which reminded me of the time he played your clone in Star Trek: Nemesis. Do you recall that time?

Oh, vividly!

He's also in an upcoming remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which you starred in.

I know that! Yes, well he is having a thrilling career and doing brilliantly and I'm very happy for him.

Meanwhile, over in the X-Men universe James McAvoy was cast as a younger version of your character, Professor X. What did you think of that casting and his performance, and do you feel any sort of investment in watching where the character goes now?

Oh, it wasn't for me to approve or disapprove at all. I think it was a terrific idea to go far enough back to see the beginnings of the two characters of Magneto and Xavier were. But I have to tell you, I have not seen any film in the cinema for nine months, because I've been working in a stage production. So I haven't seen [X-Men: First Class].

Have you met James McAvoy before?

Oh, yes.

Did you see anything in him that suggested he could play a younger version of you?

No! [Laughs] But he's a brilliant actor.

At Movieline we play a game called My Favorite Scene, where you describe a scene in a film that moved you and stayed with you. Can you think of one?

Yes, I can. This was a film I saw when I was 13, and it changed my life. It is a scene in Elia Kazan's film On the Waterfront, when the priest in the film, brilliantly played by Karl Malden, goes onto a ship where a man has been killed by the mob, they've let a crate of, I think, Irish whiskey fall on him. Karl Malden's character goes down into the hold, and he makes a speech over the man's body, and it's not a speech about faith or religion or belief, it's about the cruelty of the stevedore's lives and conditions and the way they are used and manipulated. Then, he finishes his speech and he gets on the hoist and the hoist takes him up, through all the different levels of the ship until he's up on the deck. And halfway up he takes up a packet of cigarettes and lights a cigarette.

Not long after I had arrived in Hollywood I went to a dinner party one night, and I glanced through the door just before I went in as I was taking my coat off, and there was Karl Malden. I said to the hostess, 'You must sit me next to him, no matter what.' I was able to say to him, 'Was it in the script that you took out the packet of cigarettes?' And Karl said, 'No -- I needed a smoke really badly.'

Dorothy of Oz will be released in 3-D in 2012. Find more of Movieline's Comic-Con coverage here.