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Bloody Great!

Patrick Stewart discusses playing the title role in Rupert Goold's acclaimed production of Macbeth. logo
Patrick Stewart, Rupert Goold, and Kate Fleetwood
(© Tristan Fuge)
On Friday, February 8, BAM hosted a Media Roundtable in conjunction with director Rupert Goold's production of Macbeth, which arrives for a six-week engagement there on February 12 after acclaimed runs at the Chichester Festival and the West End. Stage, screen and television star Patrick Stewart, who has already won numerous accolades for his performance and is nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award as Best Actor in a Play, plays title role opposite Kate Fleetwood. Here are some excerpts from Stewart's remarks.

I bought every book I could find that had anything to do with Joseph Stalin -- it was a pile about this big. I only read one of them, which was the thinnest, slimmest, little volume. That wasn't out of idleness -- although we were under a certain amount of time pressure -- but because I was intrigued to find out that Martin Amis, who is a writer that I admire immensely, had written a book about Stalin. I'd never heard of it, so I began to read it and found that on almost every page it was directly affecting the way that Rupert and his design team had conceptualized this play. It helped me to understand something about the monster that at times was Joseph Stalin and the monster that a lot of the time Macbeth was. It was not so much a historical document, but an examination of the murderous machinations of an individual's mind. I would come in each morning bringing these tales of the next horrible thing that I'd learned that Stalin had done and sometimes we would try to introduce them into the production.

When I was 14, I learned a lot of Shakespeare by heart and Macbeth just happened to be one of the plays. He does have some especially colorful soliloquies that are particularly appealing to a 14-year-old -- at least this particular 14-year-old -- and so I got a lot of pleasure walking in the woods and the grounds of my home and just yelling these speeches out loud. But that would not have done for this production. I think I had to grow up a little bit and re-examine them, because I'd never been in the play. Even though I knew all these speeches, in every other essence, the play was new to me: The relationships, the politics, the sexual dynamics of the play, and particularly the world that Rupert created for us. It's a very real world -- not a world of blasted heaps and old hags with cauldron full of blood and so forth, but a very pragmatic and social and political environment. I also found that if you banish, or attempt to banish, the influence of other actors' performances, other recollections of other productions, and clichés about how things should be done, and simply look at the language and the relationships, then a world begins to emerge which is personal only to those people involved. In this case, it was particularly my relationship with Lady Macbeth that became very, very personal, distinctive, idiosyncratic, and nothing to do with any other Lady Macbeth or Macbeth. These days I feel it's important just to leave yourself open as long and as deeply as possible to things just bubbling up to the surface. I feel so strongly these days as an actor that Shakespeare is holding out this big strong hand to me saying: "Come on. It's actually easy, it's alright. It's all there, just open yourself to it."

Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart
in Macbeth
(© Manuel Harlan)
There was a period of 17 years when I could have been available to play some of these great Shakespearean roles on stage, but I wasn't because I was living in Hollywood. I became acutely aware that time and these roles were passing me by. I also had observed the fashion of casting the Macbeths younger and younger and younger. So I actually thought that the moment had gone when I could play this part. Then I thought, maybe it hasn't gone if there is a very much younger actress playing Lady Macbeth, and if we emphasize the generations of difference between them. Here is a man who's made it; he really has done spectacularly well, he is honored by the king, he is respected by his peers and colleagues. He's counting on the fact for the rest of his life that everything is going to be great, and then the young, beautiful, passionate, imposing woman he's married to says "it ain't enough." That is a tremendous dynamic to inject into the play. Certainly it helps me in those early struggles of "yes, I want it, but I don't think I should go for it and I'm a decent man, yet at the same time I want to make her happy and it would be good to be king, and so on and so forth."

I have succeeded in sort of dissuading people from coming to a show dressed in Star Trek uniforms. I have tried to put it out there that I don't look on that as a compliment. Still, I have to say since then, people I meet at the stage door or write to me often say, "We came to see this to see Captain Picard. I've never seen a Shakespeare play in my life or I've never been in a theater in my life before, and I loved it and I can't wait to come see it again." It's so deep and satisfying to find that people are being converted from watching science fiction television to not just live theater, but classical live theater. I sometimes feel that I have been single-handedly responsible for creating a certain percentage of new audience members, and that's a good thing.

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