Within the first five minutes of “Blunt Talk,” a bawdy new comedy about an egomaniacal cable-news commentator making ugly headlines, Patrick Stewart manages to accomplish what legions of Borg and mutant-hunting robots could not: destroying Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier.
The actor’s long associations with his “Star Trek” and “X-Men” characters have certainly been prosperous. The films have earned roughly $2 billion in box-office sales and a knighthood for their stoic star.
But in recent years, Stewart, 75, has rallied to shatter the stereotype of the unflappable leader, portraying himself opposite Ricky Gervais in a 2005 episode of “Extras” as a horndog obsessed with playing a superhero who can make clothes melt off women’s bodies, and lending his voice to numerous Seth MacFarlane projects, including “Ted” and “Family Guy.”
No surprise then that MacFarlane had Stewart in mind when he helped create “Blunt Talk,” which premieres Saturday with our soused protagonist getting caught on camera nuzzling the bosom of a nearly underage transgender hooker. In future episodes, Blunt sneaks out of an Alcoholics Anonymous session to infiltrate a sex-addicts meeting and fakes a remote report from the center of a storm to keep up with the competition.
Stewart chatted earlier this week about showing off his naughty parts, but not before we asked him to step into the transporter for a trip back to 2001, when he graced the Guthrie stage as belligerent George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”:
Q: What are your memories of that time?
A: It was one of the best stage experiences I’ve ever had. The play was the last piece of work I did before joining the cast of “Star Trek” in 1987. We were going to take the show from the Young Vic to the main stage in the West End, but that didn’t happen because I went to Hollywood.
For many years, I couldn’t get the part out of my head. I was talking to Joe (Dowling) one day and he said, “Why not do it at the Guthrie?” The Guthrie really sticks out in actors’ minds, probably more than any other regional theater in America, because it was named after one of our great directors and it was forward looking from the very beginning. The audience for “Woolf” was very focused and appreciative. Most people don’t know how much the audience can give to a production.
The only downside was living through two or three months of a Minnesota winter. I’ve never experienced cold like that. My apartment was only a six-minute walk from the theater, but there were some mornings I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
I always wondered why there were so many screened porches in the area. I heard that if you wanted to be outdoors in the summer, you need the screens so you don’t get eaten alive. Someone told me that there are only two or three weeks in which Minneapolis is truly habitable.
Q: In “Blunt Talk,” it doesn’t take long before we see that Blunt is nothing like Picard or Xavier. Are you deliberately toying with the public’s expectations?
A: It’s often in my mind that I’m linked to those two characters and for many years it’s been interesting and amusing to undermine expectations. If most people know my work from only those two franchises, they might be a little taken aback.
Q: The first time I noticed that other side of you was in “Extras.” That appearance remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV. Did it stick out for you?
A: That was a landmark event for me. Very, very significant. I was at the market doing some shopping when Ricky Gervais called me. At first, I thought it was a friend of mine who does wicked impressions. I was a big Ricky fan. I had been watching “The Office” and thought it was brilliant. The afternoon we shot the scene, he had to be banned from the set because he couldn’t stop giggling.
Q: Around that same time, you started doing voices for Seth MacFarlane. What is it about his brand of comedy that attracts you?
A: It’s his boldness. He goes to places a lot of TV writers would be a little intimidated to go. I love his frankness and explicitness, his willingness to do risky and risqué sequences.
Q: “Blunt Talk” satirizes cable news. Are those shows something that you regularly watch?
A: I’m a news junkie. In order to take your phone call, I had to turn off BBC News radio. I particularly admire some of the newsmen in the United States. Anderson Cooper does a terrific job. So does Charlie Rose.
I’m also a big fan of Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. When I was preparing for this role, I asked both of their producers if I could be a fly on the wall while they put their shows together. That was terrifically helpful. For Blunt, I tried to adapt Rachel’s speed, intellect and the ability to absorb news. I also tapped into Jon’s passion and mockery.
Q: “Blunt” has already been picked up for a second season. What else are you working on?
A: I’m looking into doing a play I’ve never done before. Ian McKellen and I are also reviving “No Man’s Land” for the West End. I’ve got a couple films to shoot as well. My dance card is pretty full.
Q: Well, let’s hope you can find time to return to the stage in Minneapolis, even if it’s only for those two or three habitable weeks.
A: I would love that. I would really love that.