Edinburgh International Film Festival: Star Trek star's visit to Edinburgh well worthwhile

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SIR Patrick Stewart has described how he spent "one of the most enjoyable weeks of his adult life" as a judge at this year's 64th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival.

• Mike Hodges, Laurence Kardish, Britt Ekland, Rafi Pitts and Sir Patrick Stewart – the jury deciding the best UK film. Picture: Dan Phillips

The veteran film and theatre actor came face to face with an army of admirers yesterday at Cineworld Fountainpark.

Clips of some of his most famous roles were shown during a question and answer session and the audience had a film acting masterclass with the man who is now internationally known for his role as Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Artistic director Hannah McGill paid tribute to her guest and said: "I was a huge fan before I met him and now I am even more so. It has been fantastic to have his great presence and support at the film festival."

Sir Patrick said he had seen about 30 films during his week in Edinburgh. "I am at the end of what has been one of the best weeks of my career – being here in Edinburgh in this glorious weather watching film after film. There is always something to be learned – something to be discovered."

Star Trek fan Alex Patterson, aged seven came dressed as Spock and wearing a communicator on his belt. "I am excited because I have never been to something like this before.

"My Dad bought the movies and we watched them together."

Q "How did you come to play Jean-Luc Picard?"

A "I remember saying to my agent, 'I need to get some screen time, because I am never going to improve without more screen time'. So be careful what you wish for.

"At the time I was working at the Young Vic on a salary of 125 a week. I knew I was being offered something most actors would love to do. But at the same time I was in the middle of a stage career.

"I was offered a six year contract and I took it, because everyone said it would never work and would only run for one series."

Q "Do you feel a commitment to Star Trek fans?"

A "I don't feel a commitment or a responsibility towards the fans, but I had a responsibility towards my character and towards the series. Thankfully Picard was an admirable sort of person – and I was always conscious that there were families that watched together."

Q "What is the main difference between acting for film and for the stage?"

A "Stage acting is more about action and film acting is more about thinking. You can see actors thinking on stage, but it doesn't have the same intimacy as it has on screen because on screen you can look into the actor's eyes."

Q "At this stage in your career are you entirely comfortable on stage and on film?"

"Not entirely. But over the last few years, when I have prepared to work on stage – for instance in Waiting for Godot – a kind of quiet comes over me. I don't think I have got to that stage in my film work."

Q "What actors did you admire when you began?"

A "Alec Guinness – who I worked with on Smiley's People – John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier were the people I admired.

"I went to see a film called On the Waterfront and I remember being really disappointed it was in black and white. I had never seen work of that quality before and I still watch it regularly. Before I saw that film I didn't realise people made films about people like me. I grew up in a working class mill town, my mother worked as a weaver. I knew about the inequality that existed and about the enormous profits that were made. There was a wrong there – and here was a film about a wrong."

Q "Are you glad to have begun to work on television in the era of I Claudius?"

A "It is so miserable now. I am so grateful that I got my experience when there was a play a week and a play of the month. Instead now we have a lot of reality television and the thing that always strikes me about reality television is how fake it is. I Claudius in 1976 was the first important role I had on television. Of course I Claudius was the launch of many careers – most notably Derek Jacobi and John Hurt."

Q "Do you enjoy playing comedy – for instance in Frasier and with Ricky Gervais?"

A "I got a huge kick out of doing Extras. As Laurence Olivier once said, the greatest satisfaction is in making people laugh. It can make you feel so bad to make an audience feel miserable.

When I stepped on to the set of Frasier I suddenly understood how people can get overwhelmed when they walk into the Enterprise. To walk into that flat in Frasier is just surreal."

Q "Has Sir Sean Connery ever said anything to you about your portrayal of King Richard (in which Stewart imitated Connery's accent] in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights?"

A "Sir Sean has had the good grace never to refer to that."

Q "Are you glad to have left Los Angeles?"

A "I had 17 years living in Los Angeles. I began increasingly to feel the desperation of so many aspects of my life in Hollywood. There is so much anxiety, stress and ruthless ambition and that can get very draining."

Q "How do you feel about Hugh Jackman's comment that you and Sir Ian McKellan are the Al Pacino and Robert De Niro of the Shakespearean world?"

A "Hugh Jackman. What a Prince. Bless him, that is lovely."

Q "Did you worry about being typecast?"

A "I have been typecast all my career – it is just that the type keeps changing."