Cometh the Eleventh Hour

PATRICK STEWART could not be happier. In fact, if you were to ask him, the actor would say that he is having "the best time in his life in every possible way".

The reason behind this joyful appraisal of his life is mostly down to his relocation from Los Angeles to the UK 18 months ago, to continue the acting career here that he says he missed while he was doing the Hollywood thing.

Before he moved there in 1987 to head up the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he had established himself as a respected theatre actor, working for the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Royal National Theatre.

There had been TV and film roles as well, most notably in the BBC's 1975 adaptation of North And South and in the 1981 film Excalibur, but nothing that made him a household name.

That would come with Star Trek, and later the X-Men films. But, nearly 20 years after he had left, Stewart decided it was time to come home to the UK for good.

"I missed the career that I'd been building here," says the 65-year-old of his return. "Don't get me wrong, what happened in the States was absolutely fantastic. I wouldn't change any of that.

"But I missed England as well. I missed the shorthand and the detail of being here, of picking up references, of feeling the fabric of English life around me, in all its subtlety and complexity - and infuriating aspects," he laughs.

The Yorkshire-born actor has, of course, had no trouble picking up his career in the UK or, as he puts it: "If I had fantasised about how I'd like to be spending my time on my return, this past year would have been it".

It began with a Mamet play in the West End, followed by the filming of two television roles. The first was in Ricky Gervais's Extras. A last-minute replacement for Jude Law, Stewart played an exaggerated version of himself with aplomb.

The second is the highly anticipated thriller Eleventh Hour, a high concept new drama in which Stewart plays Professor Ian Hood, a physics professor serving as a Special Adviser to the British Government.

With his Special Branch bodyguard Rachel Young, played by Extras' Ashley Jensen, Hood investigates and tries to solve disasters caused by modern science. Each of the four episodes covers a scientific hot potato - cloning, disease control, global warming and finding a cure for cancer. "Having played many roles of scientific intellect I do have an empathy for that world," says Stewart. "One of the things I miss about living in the States is the weekly science supplement in the New York Times. It was written for people like me who know nothing about science.

"It's been hard on me because flying the Enterprise for seven years and sitting in Cerebro in the X-Men has lead people to believe that I know what I'm talking about," he laughs. "But I'm still trying to work out how to operate the air conditioning unit on my car."

After picking up his old life in British television, he made a quick return to his Hollywood existence, to film the third instalment in the

X-Men franchise in Vancouver, Canada. Since then, Stewart has headed back to the stage. He has completed a December run of his one-man version of A Christmas Carol and at the end of this month begins a 16-month stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company, with whom he has not worked for more than 20 years.

"Going back to the RSC is the culmination of a dream that I've had for years," says Stewart, "and for a long time I thought it would not happen.

"I'm going to play Antony in Antony And Cleopatra, and Prospero in The Tempest and anything else they throw my way in the next 16 months."

Stewart's sunny demeanour is not just to do with his career, however. It is also to do with his romance with 25-year-old actress Lisa Dillon, with whom he lives in central London.

After three years of marriage to Star Trek producer Wendy Neuss, Stewart got divorced in 2003, another reason he was to leave LA.

He met Dillon that same year, when she auditioned for a part in the Ibsen play The Master Builder, in which he was appearing.

His private life is off limits for discussion, however. He will only say: "When I say I'm having the best time in my life, it's more than professionally, it's in every possible way".

He is a little more open about his health, which has also been under scrutiny in the past year. In May of last year he was taken to hospital for a check-up after feeling unwell on the set of Eleventh Hour.

After under-going an angioplasty in 2004, stories that he had suffered a heart attack quickly spread, but Stewart says they were blown out of proportion.

"The producer took me to A&E for a check-up and I was back on set in the afternoon, running down stairs and throwing myself in front of a car," he says. "The story was enraging because I was then on the phone all night reassuring my family and friends.

"I went back to LA and saw all my doctors in August, one year after my angioplasty. They have given me a 100 per cent clean bill of health and said: 'Whatever you're doing, keep doing it'.

"I work out with a personal trainer three times a week and I do my own exercises on the other days as well. I love it and it feels great.

"Also, I'm playing Marc Antony in the spring and I've got to look like a warrior somehow."

• Eleventh Hour, Scottish TV, Thursday, 9pm

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