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There are very few people who love the Star Trek franchise and are not at least a tiny bit enamored of Jean-Luc Picard. This particular Starfleet captain came to us in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and (thanks in large part to the performance of Patrick Stewart) gave us a completely different view of what a Star Trek captain could be and how one could lead. Because of that, many still debate whether Picard or Kirk was the better captain. But, it turns out that Trek mastermind Gene Roddenberry was not quite as fond of Stewart as we Trekkies are, and did not get Stewart's casting at all.
Patrick Stewart was recently interviewed as part of The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actor Roundtable, and he talked a bit about his decision to come back and play Picard for the eponymously named new show on CBS All Access (which debuted Season 1 earlier this year). He was also asked how he thought Roddenberry would feel about his continued success in the role after so many years, especially considering how he felt about Stewart being cast as Picard in the first place. Hilariously, Stewart was completely forthcoming, and said:
It was very odd with Gene because I was dragged in to audition for him in his living room the morning after I'd been seen doing something at UCLA. My meeting lasted about six minutes, and then it was perfectly clear I was not wanted in that room any time longer. It was Gene who said, ‘What the hell? I don't want a bald, middle-aged Englishman.’ There was a faction who was very enthusiastic, but Gene used to come on the set once a week — maybe twice, it depends on who the cast were (Laughs.) — and I would catch him looking at me with an expression on his face which said, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing in my show?’ It was clear he couldn't understand why I was there. Somewhere in the cellar of Paramount Pictures, there's a Post-it note which says, ‘I do not want to hear Patrick Stewart's name mentioned again ever! signed Gene Roddenberry.
Man. It's still so hard for me to believe that Gene Roddenberry couldn't just get on the Patrick Stewart / Jean-Luc Picard train like the rest of us. Particularly at this point, when it's basically impossible to imagine anyone else filling that role so well and so completely. But, to be honest even when I was a kid watching the show from day one, the Picard I saw on screen seemed so right that it never occurred to me that Stewart's casting wasn't a perfect thing that everyone could agree on.
As Stewart noted during his interview, it sounds like he was brought in for Gene Roddenberry after he'd already been able to get a good group of the creatives for TNG on board with the idea that he was Picard. But, Roddenberry just wasn't having it, and hearing how he talked about our boy Patrick Stewart back then actually helps me to see why.
Captain Kirk (and, by extension obviously, William Shatner) was, in many ways, so different from Picard and the way Stewart filled him out. If Roddenberry was looking for Picard to be the same type (barrel-chested, young-ish, overtly horndog-esq and super rule-breaky) he was never truly going to be happy with the "bald, middle-aged Englishman" that they had fill the captain's chair for this very important series in the franchise. Considering that Star Trek: The Original Series was cancelled after only three seasons because of low ratings, and that show did have the youthful, virile captain that Roddenberry wanted, he probably thought that TNG would never stand a chance being led by Stewart.
Of course, Rodenberry was wrong, and thank the heavens for that. Seven seasons, four movies, over three decades and one Star Trek: Picard revival later, and it's pretty clear that we needed a more cerebral, less bravado-filled (but still plenty tough), gently sexy captain who could lead the way and make our futuristic dreams come true. At the very least, Roddenberry is probably looking down on his franchise and glad that audiences do still enjoy Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard.
Star Trek: Picard will be back for Season 2 at some point in the future, and you can catch both The Original Series and The Next Generation on a variety of streaming platforms (including on CBS All Access). But, for more new programming to watch in the coming weeks, check out our fall premiere schedule!