Patrick Stewart: Captain Fantastic
Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger

Stewart was born in Mirfield, in northern England, not long after the fall of France in the summer of 1940. There was no bathroom in his house, but there was much love. He was coddled by his mum, Gladys, and two older brothers, but that all changed when Sgt. Major Alfred Stewart returned from the war when Patrick was five. His parents' relationship had already been contentious – Gladys had to sue Alfred in court to acknowledge his paternity of Patrick's oldest brother, Geoffrey – but after Alfred got home it was worse. Alfred worked as a laborer, but his drinking eventually became unmanageable, and while he never hit the boys, he went to war on Gladys frequently. The fights often ended with the police or an ambulance being summoned. But Gladys never left him, a fact that baffled Patrick.

The turmoil dictated Stewart's childhood, and like many children of alcoholics, he became a straight arrow, the perfect son. He was the head boy of his school, making sure the other kids stayed in their place. Unlike his future pal McKellen, who was mentored by Laurence Olivier, Stewart entered acting with no credentials. His drama-school teacher called him in one day and told him he had talent, but he wouldn't succeed simply by avoiding failure, a Stewart trait.

His not-abundant confidence was further sapped by the sudden loss of his hair, starting in his teens. Stewart employed a series of hats, comb-overs, and simply walking with his head down to avoid detection. "Wind was a nightmare," he remembers.

Then a pal did an intervention. Stewart had a Hungarian director friend who invited him for lunch one day. After eating, the Hungarian and his wife disappeared into the kitchen. They emerged with scissors, and the Hungarian placed Stewart in a bear hug while his wife snipped off his remaining wisps of hair.

"My friend took my shoulders in his hands and yelled, 'No more hiding!' "

Stewart caused a sensation last year by tweeting a photo of himself with what he claimed was his first ever slice of pizza.

The Cort Theater is one of the few things on Broadway older than Patrick Stewart, yet he has found a way to tame the old dame. For the five-month run of Godot and No Man's Land, he commandeered the theater's top floor, three flights up from everyone else. It has a toilet and a shower, and, most important, a window. It looks out on the grim side of a building, but it lets Stewart know what else is going on in the world. He can either leave it open or do some of the transcendental meditation he's been practicing for decades. Sometimes he thinks about the plays, particularly Godot, in which two beggars wait eternally for the arrival of a benefactor who never appears.

"I think it's the last six pages that make it a masterpiece, because I'm not sure it is before that," says Stewart. "Which is heresy, I know, but the message of the last six pages! Pozzo says, 'One day I went blind. One day we will go deaf. One day we will die . . . the same day, the same second.' And Vladimir realizes what he is saying. Which is, we are living that day, now! And it's racing by and this is all there is!" Stewart shakes his head and sips from a glass of white wine. "It's intense."

Stewart let life race by him even after his Star Trek success. He doesn't speak about his first two marriages with unkindness, but as opportunities missed. There was the Rufino Tamayo painting he didn't buy while filming Dune in Mexico because his first wife didn't like it. He debated buying a house on Oyster Bay in Long Island, but his second wife didn't think much of the idea. Both examples of lack of action clearly bother him. I ask him if he spends a lot of time thinking about time and opportunities past.

"I'm afraid I do," says Stewart. "I'm kind of obsessive in that sense. I now have three Tamayos, and one of them is sensational, but it's not the one I saw in the window."

Stewart's tendency toward the melancholy and the proper marred the first few years of his Star Trek experience. Despite the show's success, he lived for the first three years of the run in a studio apartment and drove a Honda Prelude that in car-conscious Los Angeles led one friend to inform him he would not ride with Stewart to a posh restaurant. On the set, Stewart admits he could be humorless. In one of the early seasons, he chastised the rest of the cast for joking around and wasting time, saying it just meant the crew had to work longer and harder hours. When a cast member pointed out that the jokes and pranks were what made the 14-hour days bearable, Stewart answered with a memorable and oft-lampooned rejoinder: "We are not here to have fun."

He tells the story now with a laugh, but with a bit of a sad admission. "I never knew how to have fun. They taught me over the next six years how to have fun."

The Star Trek cast became Stewart's surrogate family – he has two adult children – and they still remain close, with almost the entire cast attending his wedding last year in Lake Tahoe. Eventually, he accepted his place in the sci-fi pantheon – worshipped by millions, typecast by casting agents – so much so that when director Bryan Singer asked him to play Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men film series, he said yes.

"I loved his work, and he convinced me that a film character was different than television," says Stewart. Singer also played to Stewart's liberal politics, which have included decades of work with Amnesty International. "He explained it was a movie about a minority group being victimized and downtrodden and opposed in every way," says Stewart. "And he said, 'Look, you know, the mutant civilization are no different than the way that gay people were back in the 1950s and 1960s in the U.K., or women in the business world . . . ' and he got me excited about that aspect of it."