Before he was knighted (leading to the much-loved Twitter handle @SirPatStew), before he was Professor Charles Francis Xavier in the X-Men movies and Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and before he started bagging Olivier Awards for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Patrick Stewart had this friend who pulled a knife on him.
“We were drinking in a pub, and he followed me into the men’s room and stood barring the door with the knife in his hand,” Stewart recalls. “When he drank, he’d undergo a personality change that made him violent, threatening, and aggressive. I thought I wasn’t going to get out alive. We talked and talked and finally, he put away the knife. He’s long since dead but I recalled him and that experience while playing this bad, violent, unspeakable character in this new movie—only with this man, you couldn’t exactly have a rational chat.”
The bad man in question is the centerpiece of Green Room, a brutal thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin). Stewart plays the velvety-voiced leader of backwoods white supremacists who terrorize a touring punk band (played by Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner). “It was the unlikely nature of the role that caught my attention,” Stewart says. “I got to page 35 of the script, put it down and went around my home making sure all the windows and doors were locked. I thought, If the script can terrify me like this in the comfort of my home, what will it be like in a movie theater?”
About his choice to play a character who, bald head aside, is light-years away from Stewart’s elegant and sympathetic oeuvre, he says, “He made me think of Norman Bates in Psycho, who seems so mild, quiet and reasonable—for a while. I’ve been looking for roles that will help fracture the perception of me. Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier came to characterize who Patrick Stewart was, in a way that I didn’t particularly enjoy.”
Mild, quiet and reasonable aren’t exactly how you’d describe Walter Blunt, the f-bombing, sexed-up wild man news anchor hero of Blunt Talk. In the Starz series, brainchild of Seth MacFarlane and Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames, Blunt gets arrested with a transgender prostitute, dreams about Burt Lancaster in tights and begins to deal with PTSD from his army service during the Falklands invasion of 1982—and that’s just season one. “To play Walter’s wacky, unpredictable behavior is always fun, but his PTSD is something I’d love to see us explore much more,” says Stewart, whose father suffered from the condition. “It’s a massive problem with veterans and military personnel.”
But don’t let the heavy roles fool you: SirPatStew, ageless bon vivant, lives on. With the 75-year-old’s ongoing commitments, including another Wolverine movie, how can he hope to be available when Taylor Swift—who made him part of her “squad” after he recited her lyrics on NPR—invites him to one of her pajama parties? “I’ll pack a book of etiquette so I can make absolutely certain I don’t misbehave or offend in any way. The invitation has not yet come.”