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O Captain, Our Captain

Sir Patrick Stewart on coaxing Trekkies to try a little Shakespeare or, this time, Mamet.


Normally, on a morning like this one, Patrick Stewart would be walking briskly up West 4th Street, muttering to himself. The 70-year-old Shakespearean master, better known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is finishing rehearsals for David Mamet’s two-man play A Life in the Theatre, and he likes to use his morning commute from Soho to the Atlantic Theater’s rehearsal space on 15th Street to run his lines. “I totally fit in in New York,” he says. “Here, you mutter on the street, and people just assume you’re crazy or you’re an actor. As long as I cover my head, I can go anywhere I like.” He’s wearing a newsboy cap.

Stewart prefers a “very regimented” daily routine. He wakes up early, makes his tea, reads the newspaper, listens to BBC’s “World at One” radio news as he showers, and walks to rehearsals, to which he is never, ever, late. He is so unwavering that when we walk into the local newsstand, the clerk immediately whips out a copy of the Guardian from behind the register. “We sold out this morning,” says the clerk, who adds that he always sets aside papers to protect regulars against a sudden influx of London tourists. “I think when I first came in, they thought I was just passing through,” says Stewart, “but now they’ve been persuaded that I will show up. I’ll be here, hopefully, for months”—Life is booked through January 2—“and,” he adds for the clerk’s benefit, “I get the Sunday Observer.

Today, Stewart has allowed himself leeway to meander with a journalist, even though our leisurely pace seems to stress him out. He will stop for coffee and a bagel at the Grey Dog and take me by his favorite architectural finds. Back home, he’s spent the last five years channeling his passion for pediments into remodeling a ten-acre property outside London; here, he spends a lot of time reading historic-building plaques. “Look at this fountain!” he exclaims, as he exclaims each time we pass a fountain, this one at Jackson Square. “It’s glorious! And it’s working! In England it would just be gathering dust and dirt and leaves.” Also on Stewart’s tour: the door of a townhouse built by Revolutionary War general John Sullivan, and the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard’s.

Stewart first came to New York in 1971 for Peter Brook’s famous “White Box” production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “But that doesn’t count,” he says, explaining that his real time as an honorary New Yorker began when he started making regular trips here for theater and films in 1990. Every time he comes back, he tries out a new neighborhood. Last time it was Tribeca, for easy access across the Brooklyn Bridge to BAM, where he was playing Macbeth. Directed by Rupert Goold and set in a regime resembling the Cold War Soviet Union, that production went to Broadway. It was also filmed for PBS, where it will premiere October 6. The production was a triumph for Stewart, who says he had to figure out how to play a role usually taken by a 40-year-old. His thinking: “Macbeth was lacking in the hunger for power that would ultimately lead him to murder and mayhem, but was married to a much younger, sexy woman with drive and ambition whom he was crazy for, and wanted to make her happy in every way.” It is entirely coincidental that Stewart met his girlfriend of two years, 32-year-old Brooklyn jazz singer Sunny Ozell, at the end of the BAM run. Though, you know, good for him, and—given how Stewart looks today in a snug Brooklyn Industries T-shirt—good for her. (Stewart’s sexiness is no surprise to Star Trek fans, of course.)

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