The universally acclaimed character of Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the starship USS Enterprise-D and portrayed by Patrick Stewart, became a vital part of the Star Trek franchise in 1987 with the production of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. His fictional predecessor, Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise, appeared in the original series, the animated series, and seven Star Trek feature films.
Captain Kirk, portrayed by William Shatner, was an aggressive man of action who didn’t veer from violence and was known to authorize the use of deadly force quite frequently. In the original series, he exhibited enviable physical strength and agility in many close combat scenarios and was an enthusiastic womanizer.
His successor, Jean-Luc Picard, refreshed the series with a sense of intellectualism: he was a just, serious, and authoritative leader who preferred to negotiate his way out of tricky situations. Both characters became cultural icons, and Star Trek fans worldwide still cannot decide which one of them is the best Starfleet captain.
By the mid-1980s, although the series had been off the air for years, the Star Trek franchise was immensely successful and had gained cult status across the world. In 1986, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, announced that a new Star Trek series would be released in 1987. He decided to renew the franchise with a new setting, ship, and crew, with The Next Generation taking place roughly 100 years after the events depicted in the original series. Roddenberry named the new captain after the prominent Swiss scientists August and Jean Felix Piccard and loosely based him on C. S. Forester’s fictional character of Horatio Hornblower, a naval officer from the era of the Napoleonic Wars.
Initially, Roddenberry didn’t consider Patrick Stewart for the role of Captain Picard: he stated that he wanted the new captain to be masculine and virile–and to have a lot of hair. His first choice was Stephen Macht, an actor known for his portrayal of hard and uncompromising men. Patrick Stewart was supposed to be cast as Data, the lovable, erudite android (later portrayed by Brent Spiner). Thankfully, producers Rick Berman and Robert H. Justman persuaded Roddenberry to audition Stewart for the role.
Since Patrick Stewart had already prepared to play the role of Data, he was initially somewhat reluctant to audition for the role of Captain Picard. He probably wondered why the producers favored a classically trained, mild-mannered, and middle-aged English actor over a man who would be a perfect embodiment of masculinity and soldierly authority. However, he was keen on impressing Roddenberry and even had a special toupee delivered to him from London.
Fortunately, during the audition, Roddenberry decided that Stewart’s hairpiece was awful and asked him to remove it. Also, he and the other producers present were impressed by Stewart’s stentorian voice, his gentlemanly demeanor, and his flawless delivery. Furthermore, as a teenager, Stewart had been a fan of C. S. Forester’s adventure novels, so he was glad to find out that the character of Captain Picard was based on Horatio Hornblower, the most famous of all of Forester’s characters.
Stewart proved to be the perfect actor to portray Captain Picard, and in no time Star Trek fans could hardly imagine anyone else in his place. He greatly influenced the development of the famous character of the captain: he infused it with versatile erudition, Shakespearian grace, and intelligent allure. Also, Captain Picard has several British habits, such as drinking Earl Grey tea and singing songs usually voiced by the cadets of the British Royal Navy. The bald captain appeared in The Next Generation series, five feature films, and various other franchise-related media such as comics and non-canon cartoons.
Stewart’s performance as Picard continues to amaze and inspire numerous Star Trek fans throughout the world. His talent reaches far beyond the realm of science fiction,too: he has stated that his portrayal of Picard inspired many fans of the Star Trek franchise to read Shakespeare and attend Shakespearean plays.
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Performing in Shakespearean plays is Stewart’s primary passion, but he says he is truly happy when he spots a Trekkie in the audience.