It takes 11 hours (plane, 10; taxi, one) to get to Patrick Stewart’s house.
But I arrive at 6pm on the dot, as agreed, and the taxi screeches to a halt outside a cream bungalow in the leafy Hollywood Hills. The door opens and a familiar figure emerges. In his perfect mahogany voice, Sir Patrick Stewart asks: “Are you here for me?” He’s standing in his doorway, beckoning me in.
“Cocktail?” he suggests. The man who once traversed galaxies as Jean-Luc Picard is smaller than I expected, and he’s wearing tracksuit bottoms. By ‘cocktail’, he explains, he means ‘gin and tonic’. He sorts some ice for both of us and explains that he couldn’t talk for an hour without a strong drink. “There’s no point in drinking weak cocktails,” he says with authority.
This is Stewart’s home from home – he only rents the place, though he lived in LA for 17 years – and it’s tasteful and sparsely decorated. Vaulted wooden beams line the ceiling and a huge fireplace stands in the living room. He flops down on to the sofa and raises his glass. “Cheers,” he cries.
As Stewart begins to explain what he is doing at the moment, I’m momentarily distracted. There’s a huge squirrel behind him, in the garden. It’s massive. Patrick sees me looking past him and knows what I’m staring at. “Is he on the spinner, eating the sweetcorn?” he asks, with something like affection. “I watch them all the time.”
THE DARK KNIGHT
I’m here to talk to Stewart about his latest film, Green Room. The horror-thriller focuses on a punk band who play a remote venue in Oregon, which turns out to be a neo-Nazi hangout. After witnessing a murder, the band lock themselves backstage and have to figure out how to get out alive. Stewart plays Darcy Banker, the enigmatic leader of the neo-Nazis, who sets out to remove the problematic ‘witnesses’ by any means necessary.
To call it a bloodthirsty film is an understatement. There’s disembowelling, throat-slitting, vicious pitbulls and savage skinheads. Stewart says the film enthralled him from the outset. “I loved the nature of the fear,” he says. “It was absolutely real. It was not The Walking Dead, not zombies or any of that bullshit.” When he first read the script, alone in his 10-acre Oxfordshire home, he turned on all the perimeter lights and went cautiously around the house, triple-checking the locks and alarms. “And then I poured a large glass of whisky. I was so hooked by it. And really, really frightened. I found it so alarming.”
It is Stewart’s reassuring presence, however, that makes Darcy Banker work so well as a villain. As a viewer you’re tempted to think that the band are going
to be all right. In Stewart’s words: “There’s never a moment where it has any chance of being all right. He has an agenda which he is determined to pursue. He will see it through, no matter what – no matter what the cost.” His voice turns thunderous; it fills the room.
The most bizarre feature of my career to date
The film was so violent that Stewart’s wife, Sunny Ozell, had to leave the press screening twice on account of the gore. Stewart watched the film at 1.30am at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the audience turned into a hysterical “football crowd. Their visceral response to it was so extraordinary,” he says.
Green Room feels like an odd fit for Stewart simply because of the image he has cultivated in recent years. The 75-year-old has flourished in the age of Twitter, going viral thanks to regular posts, including photos of himself with Ian McKellen, dressed as a lobster in a bath and taking the piss out of David Cameron. How did he start?
“Two-and-a-half years ago the head of my PR company took me out to lunch and said, ‘Honey, it’s time – social media.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no, please. Please don’t make me do this. I don’t want to share my life with people I’ve never met.’” But he’s now a convert. What’s he got lined up next? He tells me, a twinkle in his tiny eyes, that he’s got a zinger lined up about “the dreadful Trump”. You heard it here first.
Talk soon turns to Stewart’s friendship with Sir Ian McKellen. He says he found his friend intimidating when they first met at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Seventies. “I was dazzled by him,” he says. “And he was so gorgeous, too. And so gifted; so exciting to watch.”
Not until X-Men did the two cultivate what would become a famous friendship. “We found ourselves with adjoining super-luxury trailers,” he says. “Gradually we found that we had a huge amount in common – despite the fact that he’s a Lancastrian and I’m a Yorkshireman. It is another one of the great gifts of my life.”
LIVING IT UP
Stewart says he’s had a magnificent year. “I’m 75, and I have no idea how it happened. None.” He vividly remembers his 40th birthday and describes it as being a few months ago, though we both know he may be exaggerating.
Like his foray into violent horror, Stewart’s segue into a comedy career also appeared quite leftfield, but he’s taken to it like a duck to water. As well as voicing CIA deputy director Avery Bullock in American Dad, Stewart stars in TV’s Blunt Talk, where he plays a jovial British newscaster trying to conquer American cable news.
“[It’s] the most bizarre feature of my career to date,” he says. “Ricky Gervais is originally to blame for this, because of inviting me on Extras.” Stewart’s appearance (in which he talks proudly of a film he’s written about taking off women’s clothes with the power of his mind) is the show’s funniest cameo. Now he embraces not just comedy but improv, telling me he only half-learns his Blunt Talk lines. “I’m getting such a kick out of it,” he says. “I have the feeling that I have nothing to lose any more.” Alongside this, he’s filming the third Wolverine film. “I can’t talk about it – I would get into so much trouble.
“After a year as perfect as this, it could all blow up,” he says. He’s not fooling me. He’ll be all right. He is, after all, ageing like a fine wine – or perhaps a fine G&T. He’s not going anywhere. I am, however. Our time together has come to an end. I prepare to book a taxi. Patrick stops me. “No, no,” he says. “I’ll order you an Uber.” The definition of a gentleman.
Green Room is at cinemas nationwide from 13 May.