Sir Patrick Stewart is a legendary actor who inspired millions as Captain Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and then later as the eponymous Professor X of the X-Men movies. Sir Patrick hosted this year’s Scientific and Technical Academy Awards and I had a chance to speak with him to discuss progress, green screens, and previs: Make it so.
Q: How does technology empower you as an actor, both on-set and off?
I know how important it is and how television programs like Star Trek and the subsequent movies could not have been made without it. I do however feel a little uncomfortable to have to admit that I have absolutely no idea how any of it works. All the days and days and weeks I spent in front of green screen and blue screen, I really wish somebody had taken me to one side and said, “Okay, this is how it works.”
I am not a great fan of violence, of explosions and blowing up things, we’ve been doing that for decades without the benefit of technology. What I enjoy are some of the more sensitive and subtle aspects of what science, engineering, and technology have provided for us. It leaves me gasping.
Q: What are some of the ways in which on-set technology changed between Star Trek: The Next Generation and the X-Men movies?
The technology became much more sophisticated and complex and expensive. You take a film like Shape of Water and look at what that achieved in what was otherwise an extremely naturalistic setting. The technology is providing cinemagoers and television watchers with experiences they could not have had only 10 years ago.
As for Star Trek, there was not a huge difference with the first X-Men movie although in terms of location and setting, technology did a great deal more for X-Men than we had ever required in Star Trek. If we look forward to X-Men: Days of Future Past, that was when I first encountered previs (short for previsualization, technology that allows complete movie scenes to be visualized prior to filming). On this movie, before you shoot a scene, the director sits you down in front of the previs and plays the scene for you. And there you are, acting out lines you haven’t even spoken yet, in a scene directed by engineers and scientists. It’s an extraordinary asset. If I were a director, I would make use of that asset continually; that is one thing that comes to mind when I think of advances in on-set technology. Another is how technology can create whole worlds, which we weren’t able to do on Star Trek since we had sets.