“Come and have a go if you think you’re ’ard enough!”

Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner arm the photon torpedoes, grab some dilithium crystals, replicate some dodgy clothes and sort out the bad guys in the new big screen Star Trek adventure, Insurrection
By Ian Spelling

Selected from the February 1999 Film Review
Patrick Stewart in the line of fire

They became the main reason why audiences tuned into the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. They are its heart and soul. While the TV series boasted a fine, diverse ensemble cast, Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner as the android Lt Commander Data are the main attraction. Everyone wants to see what moral ground Picard (Stewart) will take next and how Data (Spiner) will continue on his journey toward becoming more human.

Both actors (unsurprisingly considering what they’ve been paid!) return to action in the latest Star Trek movie Insurrection. This time around Picard quits the almighty Starfleet that he’s been part of for so long to save the Ba’ku people from the clutches of the nasty Son’a and their Starfleet allies. The bad guys are after the planet’s Fountain of Youth properties with no thought of the people living there. As for the android Data, he initially runs amok after being tampered with, then spends much of the film trying to convince a Ba’ku boy, Artim (Michael Welch), that technology’s not so bad, not always to be feared.

“All of us felt there was a need to create a different tone with this film,” Stewart opines. “We wanted it to be lighter. We looked for more humour, more interaction between the crew. In some ways, it is similar to the kinds of things we’d have done on the series. This cast is tremendously versatile. They can do anything. In feature film terms, we haven’t really begun to scratch the surface of what this ensemble can do.”

Spiner chimes in: “I think the whole movie is about the inherent dangers of technology, the need for people to get in touch, with the simpler things in life and the things that are a little more real than all these distracting toys that we’ve created so that we don’t have to deal with what’s really real.” Not so fine with Spiner was the scene in which Data walks straight into a Ba’ku lake. “It was 40 degrees [fahrenheit], and it says that nowhere in the film,” the actor jokes. “I’m sure it was at least 40 degrees colder than what Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were swimming around in (in Titanic). It was freezing.

Both men accept the fact Star Trek and their respective characters loom large in their careers and in the eyes of others. “Picard probably stands out as a towering peak in my career. Absolutely,” confirms Stewart. “I am paid very well to play him. But I also knew it would be very tough to free myself from the benevolent clutches of Jean-Luc Picard. To my good fortune, the first thing I came up with was Jeffrey, an independent movie [in which Stewart played a homosexual character] that helped me break the mould of Picard. I’ve had four-and-a-half happy and interesting years [since] which included a lot of theatre work, which is important to me. I’ve had a lot of real challenges, stretching roles. Sometimes people say that one of the best things for a marriage is an affair.”

During the course of the original cast Star Trek features, critics and even fans began to take note of the cast ageing, of the assorted toupees and girdles, of the fact that several actors looked, to put it politely, long in the tooth. Michael Dorn has already gone on record as saying he can’t foresee himself portraying Worf after he turns 50. So, then, assuming the public demand for Next Generation films continues unabated, how many more films are left in the cast?

“I don’t know,” Stewart replies. “I have no idea. I think there’s a possibility for another good Star Trek movie. I don’t feel that I’m getting too old. Do you? I see us on the screen and I think we all seem to be in pretty good shape. But who knows what the millennium might do to us.”

Spiner believes, at best, there’s one more film in him. Androids may not age, but the humans who play them do. “I’ve said for years that when I get too old for the character I’d stop doing it,” he reasons. “I may be kidding myself, but I’ve felt, up to now, I could still get away with it, that it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to still see me in this role. Unfortunately, time has had an effect on me, too, but I think not so much that it’s disturbing; I just don’t want to be there having to deal when it’s not looking right. My teacher, when I began acting, broke everything down in terms of what roles you played into ability and suitability. They were the two necessary things. When it’s unsuitable for me to play Data, I will stop.”

Picture copyright: Paramount
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