Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart (Audiobook) – Review
By Roger Crow
The rags-to-riches tale of one of Yorkshire’s finest acting exports does not open with a bang, one of those mid-career moments which then segues into chapter two of the usual early days coverage. Instead, we get a hugely detailed analysis of Patrick Stewart’s early life, growing up in Mirfield. At times it’s like that Yorkshiremen sketch by the Monty Python team. “We had nowt, but we were happy”-style anecdotes, which is just as well considering the future thespian’s father was a wife-beating weekend alcoholic. Young Pat had to put up with the authorities berating his poor mum when she got a battering rather than the unhinged dad.
When young Patrick gets a taste for drama, his road to the stage is beset with pitfalls. He lands a job on a local paper, often reporting on dead people, before realising there’s a way he doesn’t have to see the body as the bereaved request. He’s also a rather good salesman, trying out different personas to shift products. But his heart of course lies in being other people, and when he finally realises he can make a living out of it, trying to train in Bristol and getting the money to do so proves to be one of the most moving sections.
Everything is explained for an overseas audience, so there’s no danger of alienating the masses with colloquial terms, which is fine, though a little annoying. Admittedly broad Yorkshire slang does need to be translated for those beyond our region, but it seems every other element of British life and geography is also broken down for those who live overseas.
I listened to the audio version, and Patrick is sounding a little frail these days bless him, though the first chapter is him finding his voice if you like. We do get treated to his singing voice, with some songs which go on a little too long, and there’s a little frisson of pride when he mentions his turn at the West Yorkshire Playhouse a few years ago in The Merchant of Venice. (None of the journos present at the Press launch dared mention Star Trek or the X-Men saga, either through indifference or for fear of appearing like nerdy fans).
There are anecdotes of him losing his hair rather early, and his sexual conquests. Sadly there’s no mention of 1981 offering Excalibur, but as a Dune nerd, it’s hard not to share his the joy when Pat found himself flying to Mexico first class. It’s fascinating to discover that director David Lynch pretty much blanked him from the first meeting to the end of the shoot, and Stewart hadn’t really got a clue who Sting was when he arrived on set.
There are also thoughts on Pat becoming a sex symbol thanks to his turn as Jean Luc-Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the mis-step he took by telling the rest of the cast that they were “not here to have fun”, when the joking on set got a little out of hand.
The point when he is cast as Picard is naturally a must for any Trek fan, and it’s fascinating to see how many thought the show wouldn’t last after that first season.
“Feast of anecdotes”
It’s also great to be reminded of his TNG two-parter with the much-missed David Warner, who was the darling of the stage when Stewart was in training. Warner was no stranger to the Trek movies in the late eighties and early nineties, but he stole the show on TV in an Orwellian saga of a tortured Picard being brainwashed by his captor. Chain of Command remains one of the finest feature-length eps.
As a side note, now that the spin-off, Star Trek: Picard has come to an end, there’s a real sense of closure after 20 years for those who thought the film saga has left the characters high and dry after the disappointment that was Nemesis.
Just about every aspect of his life is documented in the chapters that follow, including a moving section involving the death of a squirrel that goes full circle by the end; his friendship with Ian McKellen, the success of Pat’s version of A Christmas Carol, and Extras.
The latter, Ricky Gervais’s classic sitcom, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and Patrick playing a version of himself, half RSC thesp and half sex-obsessed screenwriter, is thankfully addressed in detail. The fact Patrick accepted the offer without reading the script, and then Ricky could barely film a line without cracking up laughing only makes the finished thing funnier.
If you are listening to the audio version, set the speed at 1.1, and Stewart sounds like he did a decade ago, though obviously it’s worth hearing him as he is. Yes, that voice is a little slower and ragged, but what a feast of anecdotes about life on stage, working on TV and in Hollywood, not to mention the fact he almost turned X-Men down, and nearly rejected the chance to make that Picard reboot.
You may need hankies for some moments, especially the end as he says goodbye to his dying brother Trevor, but for every poignant moment there’s an uplifting section too.
For the kid who left school with barely any qualifications, ‘Sir Pat Stew’ has not done too badly.
‘Making it So’ by Patrick Stewart is published by Simon & Schuster