Patrick Stewart says Ian McKellen told him not to accept the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"When I told him I was going to sign the contract, he almost bodily prevented me from doing so," Stewart wrote in his new memoir, Making It So. "'No!' he said. 'No, you must not do that. You must not. You have too much important theater work to do. You can't throw that away to do TV. You can't. No!'"
Before becoming world-renowned for his portrayal of Captain Picard, Stewart was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Academy and an Olivier-winning actor featured on London's West End. The Los Angeles Times even referred to him as an 'unknown British Shakespearean actor' when The Next Generation cast was first announced.
"There are few people, particularly with regard to acting, whose counsel I trust more than Ian's," writes Stewart. "But this time I had to tell him that I felt theater would return to my life whenever I was ready for it, whereas an offer of the lead role in an American TV series might never come again."
It's a good thing that Stewart went with his gut, as the role would launch him into stardom and cement his status as a pop culture icon. The actor would portray Picard from 1987 to 1994, totaling 178 episodes, before reprising the role for a series of Star Trek films from 1994 to 2002. In 2020, Stewart would play Jean-Luc once more in Paramount Plus's Picard series, which chronicles the captain's later years.
McKellen would go on to become a pop culture icon himself, portraying Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Stewart and McKellen would go on to star in 2000's X-Men as Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Stewart also writes that McKellen later admitted he was wrong about Star Trek, writing, "In the years since, we have become dear pals and 'X-Men' colleagues, and Ian has acknowledged that he was wrong and I was right. More than once, in fact – primarily because I like making him say those words."
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