Sir Patrick Stewart praises ‘brilliant’ Fil-Am Isa Briones, young actors in ‘Star Trek: Picard’
(First of two parts)
LOS ANGELES—Three-time Olivier awardee and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to drama Sir Patrick Stewart praised Filipino-American Isa Briones, who is the female lead in his new TV series, “Star Trek: Picard.”
Sir Patrick revealed that the talented young daughter (she turns 21 tomorrow) of Jon Jon and Megan Briones, who was the only actor he requested to audition with among the cast, impressed him.
In the first episode of “Star Trek: Picard” that we watched, Isa’s meaty role in the CBS Television Studios series comes across right away as she makes her entrance as Dahj, described by CBS as a “mysterious young woman who is in need of Jean-Luc Picard’s help. Picard soon realizes she may have personal connections to his own past.”
CBS added about the first episode, titled “Remembrance,” this way: “At the end of the 24th Century, and 14 years after his retirement from Starfleet, Jean-Luc Picard is living a quiet life on his vineyard, Chateau Picard.” That is, until Isa’s character appears.
Sir Patrick—genial, charming, thoughtful and humble, as usual—preferred to stand up through most of this LA interview, a reflection of the stage actor in him. The venerable English actor, who also serves as one of the new show’s producers, felt more comfortable standing up.
We asked Sir Patrick how Isa, who played Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in a national tour production of “Hamilton” and won LA’s 2018 Ovation Award for featured actress in a musical (“Next to Normal”), settled into the role after what we can only guess was a nerve-wracking audition with him.
“Well, of course, Isa has relaxed,” answered Sir Patrick in his soothing, familiar baritone voice. “She feels safe and secure in the world that the producers and directors have created for her. It was a very wise move. And I’m not just speaking now in a politically correct sense.
“But the two-pilot first and second episodes were directed by a woman (Hannelle M. Culpepper). I think that, particularly for Isa, there was a reassurance in this. That she had someone she was comfortable with, they could discuss how the character and her storyline would develop, and so forth. You cannot overestimate the significance of that.
“And we have some actors who are more than twice the age of anybody else (laughs), so I’m carrying a lot of responsibility in that sense. But working with Isa, as well as with the other cast members, has been delightful because they’re brave and prepared to experiment a little. And perhaps examine things from a slightly unexpected point of view.
“That’s what acting, and entertainment, ought to be. I’m thrilled with the work that everyone is doing.”
He added about the cast, which includes Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Evan Evagora, Harry Treadaway and Alison Pill: “There is so much diversity in the series and the new cast. They’re a brilliant group of young actors. I do mean brilliant. And you watch them grow and take off as the series goes along. It’s fascinating.”
As for his return in the iconic Captain Picard role, Sir Patrick gently reminded us, “Jean-Luc Picard is retired. And furthermore, he was an admiral when he retired.”
Upon hearing that we’ve seen Episode 1, the veteran thespian said, “Oh, good. Then, you have an idea of the feel of the show and how different it is from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ I have to take a lot of responsibility for that along with Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, James Duff and Kirsten Beyer (producers).”
The actor, who has earned Tony, Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, explained how he was lured into reprising his beloved Picard character.
“This was not the first time that I’ve been asked to think about doing Jean-Luc Picard again,” he began. “I had always passed. Always said no because I was proud of all the work that we did in ’87 to ’94 (‘The Next Generation’). I had moved on and felt I had nothing more to say as Picard. I met with these wonderful people in order to tell them why I wasn’t going to accept their offer, and I did at length.
“And they said, ‘Can we then pick up some of your points and talk to you?’ They talked for about 45 minutes about their ideas for the show and when I left, I still said, ‘Thank you very much, but no.’ But I suggested to my agent that we should ask them to put on paper some of the things they’ve been saying. Two days later, I got 35 pages of pitch.
“It was so interesting. They had taken on board so many of the comments I had made and incorporated those into their pitch that it was something very different from what they had talked about. I was intrigued, so we arranged a second meeting.
“The conversation was with Michael Chabon (writer), at this second meeting. And it went so well. I felt myself being pulled without any resistance back into the role. It is 17, 18 years since I was last Picard in the film, ‘Star Trek: Nemesis.’ In those 17, 18 years, our world has changed. Particularly, the United States and the UK.
“My point is, if our world has undergone such a transformation. There is no reason why that shouldn’t have happened to the world of ‘Star Trek,’ too. The Federation is no longer the Federation that it was—reliable, trustworthy, dedicated to the prime directive. Starfleet is no longer that, too. Starfleet was a suspicious organization.
“Then of course, there was the whole massive refugee problem. The world that we’re in in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a different world from ‘Next Generation.’ And that ought to say enough.”
As to who in the show’s previous iterations are coming back, Sir Patrick answered, “I have to say we don’t see everyone. That doesn’t mean to say we aren’t going to see everyone in time, because we’re all excited about the prospect of having some of the ‘Next Generation’ cast showing up in this new world that we’re in now and what has happened to them?
“We will see what has happened to Counselor Troi and Commander Riker who are married with a family now. One whole episode is dedicated to what has become of them because I (Picard) am in trouble. I have to run somewhere to hide and go to them.
“We have, of course, Brent Spiner, whom you saw in the first episode. How can we have a character who we saw explode, blow up when an entire ship blew up at the end of ‘Nemesis’? As you were aware, that first appearance was a dream, which introduces Picard’s guilt and profound unease at the destruction of Data. As far as the ‘Next Generation,’ that’s all that we see.
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