Patrick Stewart kept engaging science fiction and fantasy after Star Trek.
Even before Patrick Stewart took the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Shakespearean-trained British thespian had science fiction and fantasy credits in his resume. He didn’t have many of them, but they were notable!
Excalibur (1981), director John Boorman’s ambitious and extravagant adaptation of Le Morte Darthur, was “the first large-scale movie that I was ever in,” Stewart told the Associated Press. In it he played Leondegrance, one of young Arthur’s early supporters and father of Guenevere.
In another ambitious and extravagant genre film, director David Lynch’s Dune (1984), Stewart played Gurney Halleck, who trains young Paul Atreides in weapons and warfare. Although Dune helped make him a familiar face to U.S. audiences, Stewart told a 2013 Emerald City Comic Con audience he wasn’t even supposed to be in it!
Fortunately for us Star Trek fans, heads other than Gene Roddenberry’s prevailed in casting Stewart as the captain of the NCC-1701-D. It’s hard to imagine our favorite franchise or science fiction and fantasy without him!
As we celebrate Sir Patrick’s 81st birthday, let’s look back at some of the many science fiction and fantasy roles he’s taken on since he last “made it so” on the Enterprise.
Patrick Stewart made a marvelous Professor X
Patrick Stewart is one of few Star Trek actors whose status as a bona fide sci-fi icon rests in equal measure for their work in another major genre franchise.
In 2000, he began his tenure as Charles Xavier, better known as “Professor X”—the enigmatic telepath who brings together Marvel Comics’ merry band of mutants, the X-Men.
Here’s his first appearance in the role, in X-Men (2000):
Through four more films—X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and Logan (2017)—as well as an uncredited cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Sir Patrick brought all the dignity and gravity you’d expect to the role.
Although Professor X can be a bit of an unpredictable character in the Marvel Comics (especially in the earliest issues, where he’s carrying a torch for Jean Gray—yikes!), Stewart plays the mutant mentor as relentlessly reasonable, principled, and genial.
In one scene in The Last Stand, he treats Wolverine with some of the brusqueness and insensitivity Xavier’s capable of showing in the source material (“I don’t have to explain myself, least of all to you”). On the whole, however, it’s easy for audiences to see why the Professor, as Stewart plays him, inspires such loyalty among his pupils.
Both Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as his lifelong friend and enemy Magneto elevated the comic book characters they played in a mass audience’s eyes. Their work is no small reason we’re still living in a golden age of superhero entertainment today.