Patrick Stewart on the Joy of Being Whipped with Wet Towels
You were very serious early in your career. How did you loosen up? Did the Star Trek cast help you?
They did. They were solely responsible. If I’m funny in any way at all, they made me funny. “Oh, my God, if I’m going to keep up with these guys, I’ve got to find a way to be funny as well.” And so, I did. On Star Trek, we made this pledge to one another. Each one of us would be responsible for one big belly laugh a day. So you could say that’s seven to nine big laughs. That’s not bad for a day of work, is it?
Did you have an interest in doing comedy growing up?
Laurence Olivier was my hero when I was younger. I remember reading an interview with Olivier, where they were talking about his impact on audiences, and he said, “Oh, yes, of course, it’s wonderful to hear audiences gasp or cry out or sob. But it’s not as wonderful as hearing them laugh.” And I went “What?!” My hero! My tragic, dramatic actor talking about making people laugh! But of course, he is right. And then in another interview I heard him say, “The first thing I look for in any script I read is where the comedy is.” It is a brilliant observation. So here I am, this great age, approaching my 55th year in this business, suddenly, the lead actor in a comedy series.
“The towel-whipping is actually not an unpleasant experience.”
And you’re getting whipped onscreen.
[Laughs] Yes, whipped with towels. That’s actually not an unpleasant experience. He hit all the poisonous alcoholic chemicals out of my body. I’ve done a lot of things in this show that I’ve never done before.
Daily, I would announce to the crew, because it amused all of us, “By the way, first time I’ve ever done this before!” I’ve never done a bedroom post-coital scene before. And I got to do it with Elisabeth Shue. I mean, how wonderful is that? I’ve never been chased by an irate husband through the canals of Venice in Los Angeles. I’ve never, never done a line of cocaine in my life. Adrian Scarborough and I had to have someone come on the set and show us how to do it. I won’t name names.