Sir Patrick Stewart and Mark Hamill On ‘Star Wars’, ‘Star Trek’, and Finally Working Together

Mark Hamill and Sir Patrick Stewart
Courtesy image

For many of us, Mark Hamill and Sir Patrick Stewart would have their faces carved in our Mount Rushmore of onscreen heroes. So the idea of these two legends hanging out with us in one conversation was almost too much epic to handle. But that’s exactly what happened this weekend when we jumped on the phone with Hamill and Sir Stewart to discuss their iconic characters that have defined our culture, the lessons learned, and the Uber Eats campaign that finally brought them onto a sound stage together.

When you are asked to think back on your early days on the sets of Star Wars and Star Trek, what comes to your mind first?

MH: There are so many incredible memories. Getting to work with so many creative people was an immense privilege. I will always have a special fondness for Yoda, because it was a character that was a way to speak about spirituality without making everyone uncomfortable talking about religion. The pleasure of having Frank Oz perform Yoda will always be a favorite memory for me, because I had loved the Muppets since I was a little kid. Getting to find out what a genuinely nice and kind person Frank is, beside him being so inventive, was a dream. Since then we have formed a true friendship that has lasted to this day. We have never lost contact since we did the original trilogy and through the sequels.

The last time I went out to dinner, before the pandemic hit, was with Frank and his wife Victoria. But even as amazing as that relationship has been, it is difficult to single out one specific connection that supersedes another. If I had only gotten to work with someone like Sir Alec Guinness, that would be more than enough, but on those films we had the benefit of being surrounded by the best of the best. The spirit on set was just so great, because everyone was so happy to be there. Especially after the franchise started to become established. On the set of the first movie I remember the British crew talking about how the movie was absolute rubbish and that there was no chance that it was going to be successful. They all considered themselves experts in the field of entertainment and once I started to get friendly with them they had no problem telling me their true feelings on how it was surely going to be a failure. But once that first picture came out, everything changed. Following that, every single person on that set was a believer and glad to be there.

PS: I have to agree with what Mark said. The job that we get to do is a curious one, in the worlds and emotions that we get to open ourselves up to. In doing so you make yourself vulnerable, and in good company that is something that is to be appreciated. Because there are risks that you are all taking. And then the job ends and everyone goes their separate ways. I often find myself wishing I had a transporter system where I could mention an actor or actress’s name and they would appear in the room alongside me, so I could give them a hug and a kiss. That isn’t really a feeling that most actors get to have after a project, but that is exactly how I feel about everyone involved in Star Trek Next Generation. I had no idea what a luxury that was at the time though, because I had never worked in Hollywood before that show.

I can remember my first day of shooting, which was the second day of production on the series, I was doing my first scene where I appeared on camera as Jean-Luc Picard. I was walking down one of the Enterprise corridors, and one of the sliding automated doors opened on my left and there was Commander Riker played by Jonathan Frakes. The script had him saying something to me, and I was just supposed to nod and then walk away. The director called, “Cut!” Then Jonathan yelled out, “That’s what they call British face-acting!” The whole crew laughed, and I remember gratefully thinking that I was going to be spending all of this time with funny people. This is going to be alright. That day was over 30 years ago, and I can say with honesty that there is no one of the principal group of actors in The Next Generation that I do not still think about, see, talk to, have dinners with, and absolutely adore. And I think it may be a little of the same for Mark with Star Wars, that that experience was unique to that project.

MH: It’s the people you remember after something like Star Wars is finished. My happiest memories are from spending time with the people, not just the main actors, but the crew, my stunt double for example. You end up spending more time with them than your family.

PS: Yes. True.

MH: Thinking back it was just non-stop laughter. Because if you can’t have a sense of humor about something as unusual as having full-on conversations with puppets and robots while flying in outer space, you can’t laugh about anything.

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Luke Skywalker and Captain Picard were two different kinds of heroes. What preparation did you do to prepare for those roles physically?

MH: I had never done any swordplay before Star Wars, and that was a specific skillset they needed me to have. I did a lot of martial arts training leading up to the movies, like taekwondo an jiu-jitsu. The fitness training was needed to get me up to speed, but I was working with these incredible stunt coordinators, in my case it was Peter Diamond in the United Kingdom. And the stunt double for Darth Vader was Bob Anderson who was an Olympic fencing champion. The fights were very choreographed, the fights were completely mapped out, it was all about running through them over and over again. Doing those fights in repetition was all of the fitness training I really needed at the time to get in shape.

PS: I trained and worked out for years before I ever got in front of the camera playing Picard. My father was a military man, and he ended his military career at the end of the second World War in 1945, as a regimental sergeant major of The Parachute Regiment. For every gentleman from the outside looking in, he was a superstar. It took me decades to come to the realization of how much he influenced me not only as a man but also as an actor, especially when taking up Picard. Sadly, he passed before I started working on Star Trek, and it’s one of the great sadnesses in my life that he never got to witness what he gave to me through seeing his self-discipline and hard-working spirit. So through him I had an incredible role model for the character, even if I wasn’t consciously pursuing it.

How do you feel when people compare Star Wars to Star Trek?

MH: I have to say that difference between Star Wars and Star Trek to me, is that Trek is classic science fiction, with humans going out to space and encountering aliens. Star Wars was purposely set in a galaxy far, far away because it is fantasy, not science fiction. I remember a good friend that I had in the 1980s was up for a part in what was going to be a new Star Trek. I told him I was shocked they were doing another one, but he said it was going to be “this whole new thing”. I said good luck at the time, because the show was already so iconic that redoing it without Spock and Kirk seemed crazy. That friend was Brent Spiner, who not only got the part and had a wonderful career playing Data but proved me wrong as far as the ability to take the series and make it their own.

I have been asked on multiple occasions about a rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek, but I have to say I feel like it is really apples and oranges. You can like either or both, or none of them. That is why this campaign struck me as funny, because I knew what they were doing pitting us up against each other.

PS: I will admit that, at least for us on Star Trek, we have fantasied about a combined universe between Star Wars and Trek movie. There have been a lot of ideas thrown about on putting together two iconic universes, and having all of these great characters coming into contact. I would personally get such a kick out of that.

Had you met before working on this campaign together?

MH: We only met one time before, I remember it was an event around the Golden Globes and I was with my wife. I said, “Oh look, there’s Patrick Stewart, I should go try to say hello on the pretense that I am friends with Brent Spiner.” Because I felt like I needed a reason to bother him. I am glad I did at the time, because he was charming, everything that you wanted him to be and more. We talked, took a selfie, and that was it. I thought the odds of us ever working together were very slim, because Hollywood doesn’t usually grant those opportunities. I am a big fan of Patrick, not just for his work as Picard, but if you have seen his, A Christmas Carol, it is a masterclass on acting. So the chance to work with him, however brief, was not one I could pass up.

PS: I am going to comment on something that Mark just said, he mentioned not believing that he was ever going to work with me. I remember awhile back having a day off and going to see the first of the extraordinary Star Wars movies. During that time I was doing a regional theatre show, on the rare chance that you went to the Liverpool Playhouse you may have seen me, but other than that you had no idea who I was. So to find myself a few weeks ago on a sound stage with Mark Hamill, who I had seen in a packed movie theater so many years ago as a fan, seems surreal.

MH: That’s wonderful.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Mark Hamill attends the European Premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the Royal Albert Hall on December 12, 2017 in London, England.

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How do you think Luke Skywalker and Captain Picard would feel about each other if they really met?

PS: I would think that Picard would want Skywalker on his crew, but would be sure to keep a careful eye on him. Because he has a few personality traits that Picard might want to keep tabs on.

MH: [Laughs] I think Luke would very much respect Picard and the Starfleet force as a whole. The Rebel Alliance that he is a part of is much less organized, and would be put to shame as far as execution by what he would see on the Enterprise. I also believe Luke is a life-long student, despite the fact he becomes a Jedi Master, and I think he would have a lot to learn from Picard.

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