Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Making It So

Patrick Stewart: Making It So (2023)

With his patrician voice, I had no idea that Patrick Stewart came from a working-class Yorkshire background. In this memoir, he tells how he made it from obscurity to worldwide fame, and from a way of life that was practically Victorian into shows and movies that imagine a space-age future.

The first part of this book was the most interesting for me, with all the details of that time and place, another world by now.

It was moving to learn of the people who generously helped him along the way, mentors and teachers, simply because they wanted to give a talented boy a chance. Learning about his training and growth as an actor was fascinating and inspiring.

On the other hand, it was sad to read of the hardships of his childhood and the violence of his father — which he doesn’t actually dwell on in much detail, but that clearly had a huge impact on him and remains very difficult to heal from. Maybe many actors want to enter the imaginary world of the stage to escape such real-life traumas; Stewart admits that it could be so in his case.

A dog named Blackie costarred with Stewart in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, sometimes stealing the show

After he became successful, although it was entertaining to read about his famous friends and some backstage stories, I found it somehow less compelling. Maybe that’s because though STTNG amped up his fame and fortune tremendously, and had some clever and thought-provoking episodes, it was a bit of a step-down from Shakespeare and Co. Still, Stewart kept his hand in the theatre game, and comes across as classy without being snobby. He likes to poke fun at his earlier, clueless self, like the time he met Sting when filming Dune and thought he played double bass in a police band.

It seems to be in Hollywood that he really learned how to loosen up and enjoy life more. He refers several times to a story about how he sternly told his STTNG compatriots in their first season that they “were not there to have fun.” After a moment of silence they all cracked up. In time, he accepted that they were right and he was wrong, and clearly this was a turning point in his life.

Stewart admits he’s made mistakes in relationships, and gone through a spell of substance abuse too, but he comes across as trying to recover his integrity and do the right thing. He appears humble about his achievements and grateful for his success. The most troubling thing is that with all the love showered on him by his audiences, he seems to have ended up estranged from his children. It’s not easy having a parent so much in the public eye.

Anyone who’s interested in theatrical memoirs will benefit from this, as well as those who enjoy Stewart’s shows and movies. I was really glad to have learned more about the man behind the roles.

Featured image shows a young Patrick outside the Bristol Old Vic, where he attended theatre school. For more vintage photos, see this gallery from Yorkshire Live

Read for the Nonfiction Reader Challenge (Memoir or Biography), and for Reading the Theatre

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6 thoughts on “Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Making It So

  1. Stewart is an actor I’ve always managed to miss on the stage – which is a shame. Although I am a ST:TNG fan, when I think of Stewart’s acting it’s more often his scene-stealing turn with no dialogue as Karla in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or as Sejanus in I Claudius. This is on my shelf to read, so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    1. His range is certainly impressive. I think the first movie I remember seeing him in was Lady Jane. Never on stage, alas, although I just watched the film version of Macbeth (and will be posting about that soon).

    1. It was an interesting take, though I thought the modern dress setting did not entirely work. But it gave me an idea for how Macbeth could be done: it would start in medieval dress (where the plot of killing the king and taking over would make much more sense) and then changing gradually through the course of the play until it’s in modern dress at the end — suitably reflecting the transition to our godless times. That’s something I’d like to see!

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