Whether he’s on the bridge of the USS Enterprise as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, leading heroic mutants as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men films, or performing on the classical stage, Sir Patrick Stewart is an imposing presence, bringing gravitas and authority to his roles. Providing the voices of Stonecutter Number One on The Simpsons and CIA deputy director Avery Bullock on American Dad!, and guest-starring as a slightly off-kilter version of himself on Ricky Gervais’ Extras, Stewart proved he can take that gravitas and flip it on its head.
Stewart makes his biggest flip yet starring in the new Starz live-action comedy series Blunt Talk beginning Saturday, Aug. 22 at 9pm ET, playing nightly cable news show host Walter Blunt, a Brit who uses his platform — imagine Piers Morgan Live by way of FOX News Channel — to proselytize on how Americans should think, feel and act. Meanwhile, his own life is filled with neuroses, drugs, alcohol, fetishes and just generally poor decisions on both personal and professional fronts.
Blunt Talk is co-executive produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, the man partly responsible for exposing Stewart’s comic prowess. Stewart’s not entirely certain how his collaboration with MacFarlane began roughly 10 years ago, but he thinks MacFarlane’s love of The Next Generation led to the American Dad! role. “It was an unexpected offer for me, because at that time I wasn’t doing much of this kind of comedy,” he says. “But that was what initiated, along with Ricky Gervais’ wonderful program, roles that shifted the perception that people had of who Patrick Stewart was. A certain kind of gravitas had been set by Next Generation and by X-Men, so it’s been decidedly entertaining, for me anyway, to explode that perception.”
The creative engine of Blunt Talk is showrunner Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death), who adroitly blends the astute with the absurd. “Jonathan Ames is a wonderful screenwriter, but he is also a brilliant novelist,” Stewart says. “You have a man with a very rich knowledge of the arts, of movies and literature and drama, and it’s something that he draws on without really attracting too much attention to them.” Blunt Talk is best viewed with smartphone at the ready to Google things like Burt Lancaster’s trapeze movie, Renée Richards, The Once and Future King, The High Decibels’ “Miss Cindy,” fecal impaction therapy and why Great Britain went to war with Argentina.
“I hope people will have fun connecting those references and maybe asking, ‘Where exactly does Blunt Talk fit into a reference about the great Spanish film director [Luis] Buñuel?’” Stewart says. “I like that there is a high level of thoughtfulness and of intellect behind what is going on.”
Blunt Talk isn’t all highfalutin conceit, however. The bathroom humor is taken quite literally in a particularly funny scene in which Stewart has a prolonged struggle with automatic fixtures in an airport restroom. “I was a little scared of that scene,” Stewart recalls. “Verbal comedy, repartee, that’s something that I’m familiar and comfortable with. Physical comedy, on the other hand, is not. … All I did was follow the stage direction in the script, and be as serious about the problem as I was serious about my desire to make in Extras a movie about a chap who can make all women’s clothes fall off. The more serious you are, the funnier it can become.
“The only thing I hope for in all of this is that from now on, anyone who has seen the show, whenever they go into a toilet and want to try to use one of those covers or whenever they go to try and wash their hands in a public bathroom, maybe they’ll think of me. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.”