'Captain Picard' talks about family, acting, and ... plaster

Patrick Stewart stands with his feet planted squarely on the ground, his hands pushed deep into his hips. If a photo were taken at this exact moment, it could be captioned, "lord of all he surveys."

This isn't a scene from a "Star Trek" movie, with Mr. Stewart playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard, directing intergalactic activities from the starship Enterprise. It is Patrick Stewart enjoying his new role - owner of an English estate, with a sweeping view of the countryside.

"For years, I've wanted this," he confides. He spreads his hands out into the air, as if to surround the historic house and property, perched high on a hill in the north of England. "It's been my dream to be near my brothers, so we could all be together as family on holidays, both winter and summer."

Stewart has a large family, and many members live nearby. "My two brothers have seven children between them, and their children have children. Add to that my own seven children, and you have the beginning of a crowd!"

Of all Stewart's offspring, the only one to follow in his acting footsteps is his son Daniel. He just made his Broadway debut in "Not About Nightingales."

Stewart's smile spreads at the thought. "It might just happen that Danny will be playing in New York at the same time I'm there."

Stewart is referring to bringing the Arthur Miller play "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" to Broadway. He starred in it last fall off-Broadway, where it ran 26 performances. There's been talk of bringing it back to a larger theater for a longer run.

Stewart's other project in England (besides the house) is filming "A Christmas Carol," a Hallmark TV special scheduled for Christmas 1999.

The timing couldn't be better: "I'll be able to check on the house from time to time," Stewart says. One of his first appointments is with a local historian to discover more of the estate's history. Also, there's much restoration to do. Stewart says he is a member of the Do-It-Yourself Club. He looks forward to bricklaying, carpentry, and cementing. "I'll plaster a wall for you," he volunteers, "but I will not do a ceiling or electrical work - they are in advance of my skills."

American audiences have seen Stewart perform his one-man show based on Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" in New York and Los Angeles. The TV version features a full cast. "I only play 'Scrooge,' " he says. "It was a pleasant realization when I looked at the script and thought, 'This is a role I do not have to learn!' "

On the set, Stewart is surrounded by friends. Robert Halmi Sr., the producer, says, "Last year Patrick played Captain Ahab in 'Moby Dick,' which I also produced. He is the most dedicated actor I know. There he was in Australia, in the roaring ocean, with one leg pinned up, never complaining, but giving the performance of his life."

David Jones, director of "A Christmas Carol," has been a colleague and friend of the actor for more than 30 years. Peter Barnes, who wrote "Enchanted April," adapted the Dickens classic for TV.

Stewart has a lot going on back in California, as well. "Actually," the actor says, " I have made another purchase. Nine months ago, I relocated to Los Angeles, so I needed a second home. This is where much of my work has been - 'Star Trek Insurrection,' the film for Paramount, and the TV movie 'Safe House' for Showtime. Also, my production company [Flying Freehold Productions] is based in L.A."

The production company is headed by Wendy Neuss, former producer for the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" series. "Wendy is the power behind this company, and we're partners in multiple senses," Stewart announces. "We are engaged."

Some people thought while Stewart was in Australia filming "Moby Dick," it might develop into a honeymoon. "Wendy came down before shooting began. Then, she returned to the States, and I was left to fight that whale on my own."

Ever thinking of the future, Stewart is optioning novels, working on screenplays, and casting films. "Producing also gives me freedom to play all kinds of roles, not just the ones Hollywood usually casts me in."

"I've told my son Daniel to be as honest as possible in the [acting] work he does.... We should never stop dreaming....

"It might just lead to buying a haunted manor house - on the wind-swept hills of England."

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