Even after decades on the stage and screen, Sir Patrick Stewart still seems to be having an awful lot of fun, and his latest project is no exception. “Blunt Talk,” created by Jonathan Ames and produced by Seth MacFarlane, features the legendary Shakespearean actor and starship captain as Walter Blunt, a talk show host whose love of misbehavior could cost him everything. But with the support of his valet Harry, played by Adrian Scarborough, he might just muddle through.
At the TCA Press Tour this year, Stewart and Scarborough sat down with Indiewire for a wide-ranging conversation that included everything from how “Blunt Talk” came to be, the craziest stunt Scarborough had to pull off and Stewart’s strong opinions on the Falklands War. (Also, did you know Stewart met Billy Wilder once? Because he totally did.) An edited transcript is below.
I’m really curious about how the project came together for you guys.
PS: For me? It came together the morning after the Academy Awards two years ago, when I had a long-standing early lunch appointment with Seth MacFarlane. It was only a few days before that that I realized he arranged to have a twelve noon lunch with me the morning after the Academy Awards. So I called him up and said, “Look, you’re crazy. You’re either gonna be in handcuffs on a plane being flown out of the country, you know, or you will have been lynched at the Oscar party.” Something bad will have happened. You’re not gonna want to have lunch with me! And he said “No, no, no, not at all.”
And thank God he turned up, 12 o’clock. You should have seen the heads in the restaurant turn when last night’s host of the Academy Awards walked in. And it took him five minutes to pitch the idea, and I said, “I’m in.” Right away. Because I’d been working with him for eight or nine years on “American Dad,” and occasionally “Family Guy,” and then on “Ted 2,” and “Ted,” we’ve had a long relationship. So it took five minutes to say I’m in, and then we talked about baseball. Adrian is a different story.
Adrian, when did you come into it?
AS: I came into it last August, the day before I was going on holiday for a fortnight, and I received two scenes, which I read and made me laugh out loud. I got my son to put me on tape, because I was in London, and it got sent over here and by the time I came back from my holiday I’d landed a job.
Lovely. What’s interesting, I think, is while it’s coming from Seth MacFarlane, Jonathan Ames, of course, is the writer on it, and it’s really his voice.
PS: Oh, absolutely! It’s unmistakably, distinctively Jonathan’s voice.
Did you know he was involved in the beginning?
PS: No, no. I think Seth might have said something like, “Oh, you know, I probably won’t be available to do much.” And indeed, he hasn’t been around much. But about a week later, I got an email saying, “Jonathan Ames says I’m really interested in meeting this guy.” Turned out we lived close to one another in Brooklyn. So we met for coffee on 5th Avenue one morning, and that little coffee shop became the kind of creative spot for “Blunt Talk.” Because we met every couple of weeks, drank coffee for a couple of hours, and just talked about stuff.
I had already, a couple of years earlier, read one of his novels, and LOVED it. The very sophisticated quality of his language, his writing, his dialogue; it was terrific. And I thought it would be marvelous to have somebody running our show who had that novelist’s interest in character and in the way individual characters express themselves. The way he writes is very idiosyncratic.
It’s interesting, because when you first hear the premise, your instinct is to imagine something more “Entourage”-y, something really hedonistic, and it’s actually a really sweet character piece, in part because of your relationship as characters on the show. Did you know each other before you started?
AS: We did. We spent two days in a radio studio together, just the two of us, with a director. But that’s been it. We haven’t been on stage together.
PS: That was it. In the UK, it’s still okay — in fact, often applauded — actors do radio. You’ll find, most important— I mean, I was with Benedict Cumberbatch doing a play only the other day. He’s a big movie star, but he goes in, does two or three days’ work on a radio play. Because that’s what we’ve always done. It doesn’t mean to say, sometimes people think, you’re only doing radio because you can’t get anything else. It’s not true. We did this really nice play, just the two of us.
What was the play?
PS: It was about Raymond Chandler. You know, Raymond Chandler? The thriller writer, creator of Philip Marlowe. There were two plays, in fact: It was Raymond Chandler, who was me, his relationship with Billy Wilder, and another play that we did a couple of months later of his relationship with Alfred Hitchcock. He worked with both of them on different movies. So, there were two-handers, and Adrian was Billy. And we had a really great time.
Did you have to master a German accent for that?
AS: I did, yes. Rather unnerving, the first time I met Patrick, about getting that one, yes. [laughs]
PS: [laughs] Oh, we had so much fun.
AS: A lot of fun with it. [Chandler and Wilder] very famously didn’t get on. Didn’t see eye to eye, not really. They were constantly at loggerheads with one another, so that was rather entertaining.
PS: It was. Two big personalities who didn’t really like one another. I met Billy Wilder, you know.
AS: Did you?!
PS: I met him in Chasen’s, which is no longer Chasen’s. It’s now Bristol Farms. It’s a supermarket. Chasen’s was a great, legendary Hollywood restaurant. And in the supermarket, they’ve got huge photographs up on the wall of movie stars in the ‘30s and ‘40s sitting in Chasen’s. You know, having cocktails and things. And yeah, used to have a table by the door and I ran into him one night, and somebody said, “Oh, you know Mr. Wilder, here’s Billy Wilder.”
PS: Yeah, great Hollywood moment.
AS: That’s wonderful. Amazing.
I don’t know what to say to that!
It’s incredible. But going back to you guys forming a bond on the show, is there something specific to the relationship between your characters that you think you personally brought to it?
AS: Oh, I usually get cast as downtrodden losers.
AS: So it was a thrill for me. I got the opportunity to be something of a mini hero, which is great. Sort of rescuing you [Stewart] from yourself a lot of the time. Yeah, I’ve played a few servants in my time, and that’s been quite interesting. I like playing the next man down.
It’s interesting, because there’s so much undignified stuff that happens to both of you, but you manage to have a lot of dignity despite that.
PS: It’s the way we talk, yeah.
It’s the accent!
PS: That was something that I actually think was very significant for both of us. We are two English actors in an American TV series, and although we were only together once, the tentacles of our friendships, and relationships, and people we’ve worked with… it’s quite a small community in the UK, of actors who are working regularly. I think that gave us a subtext for the relationship. That proved invaluable.
Well, that also speaks to how your characters have that history as army buddies. I’m gonna ask a stupid American question: I don’t know if I personally understand the significance of the Falklands War, and what it means for your characters to have been survivors of it, or veterans of it. Is there a particular context to that that is important?
AS: I don’t think so, other than the fact that they served together, and they were put in a very, very difficult emotional situation. I suppose the hierarchy is relevant. You were in command of me. But the relevance of the Falklands? Well, no.
PS: It doesn’t resonate for Americans. It’s kind of a little war that just happens somewhere down in the South Atlantic. For a lot of English people, it’s an important part of our 20th century history because the war should never have happened. This is partly Walter Blunt speaking, the war should never have happened. It was manufactured by our then-prime minister, who you all adore, Margaret Thatcher. It got her reelected. Which wars do. Wars are great for getting reelected. And it was a tragedy for the hundreds of servicemen who died. Argentinian, as well as British. It should never have happened. And the Americans, your people in Washington, had a deal almost in place that would have brought everybody round the table, and before that could happen, an English submarine attacked an Argentinian ship and sank it. And then it was too late.
So when you found out that was going to be a key part of your characters’ back story, what was your reaction?
PS: I loved it, because as you can tell, I have strong feelings about the Falklands War. It was Jonathan’s idea, and it amazed me, because Americans don’t talk about the Falklands War at all. But this guy, his area of knowledge and interest is so huge, and he wanted it to be a non-show-business backstory, and then it gave us this history of… you know, we actually have a scene in the Falklands. We shot a scene under combat in the Falklands. Of course, it was actually California. [laughs]
AS: It looks really good!
PS: It does look good! I was really pleased. I always said— Have you ever done a foxhole scene before?
AS: No, I hadn’t.
PS: I hadn’t either! Every actor ought to do at least one foxhole scene. [laughs]
They were not exploding actual bombs right by your heads.
PS: No, they were not. But it was noisy, and there were things going off, and it’s—
AS: A lot of noise and shouting and running about.
PS: It’s a great scene.
I mean, the whole show seems filled with delightfully unexpected moments like that. What’s the most ridiculous thing that happened over the course of filming?
AS: I got to slide down a very long banister.
PS: Yes, you did.
AS: Which was hilarious fun. They had to wire me up to stop me from falling off because it’s so high at the top. I had to sort of come down on the wire.
AS: Oh, a fair distance.
PS: Yeah, it’s a big old Spanish house.
AS: Sort of goes round the corner. It was great fun.
PS: Great fun. I went in to watch that especially.
AS: They suspended me from the ceiling, wonderful fun. It was like being Peter Pan.
PS: I think the towel whipping scene was, for me… [laughs] I had never done anything like that before. When I first read the towel scene I thought it was brilliant. That they have this ritual of, when he’s got a bad hangover, beating the poisons out of him. That was quite extreme. And they were gonna have a stunt double stand in for me because they said, “This is gonna hurt.” But it didn’t! But having a chance to do something so wacky was great fun.
The show seems like a really great vehicle for that.
AS: Yeah, Jonathan is so in these eccentric incidents. Everybody is eccentric in that show. Nobody is straight up and down normal. The team we’re surrounded by— Take Jacki, Jacki Weaver’s character. It’s… I never felt at any point in that three and a half months that we were doing something formulaic. That, you know, it’s a comedy, and therefore it must follow a certain pattern with certain incidents and characters that are familiar. The unexpected is continually happening on “Blunt Talk.”
PS: It’s made very exciting by the fact that the scripts — because we didn’t have all 10 at the beginning — the scripts would come out, and I would sort of scurry home and hurry to read them just to see what wonderful wacky extraordinary eccentric things would happen, and the different journeys the characters would go on.
AS: But you’re right that it wasn’t my individual character that interested me. It was sort of everybody else and where they were headed.
PS: Because everybody goes on a fantastic emotional journey. Everybody. Including, even, the characters that come into the show. Like Ed Begley and Romany Malco, the head of the network; Elisabeth Shue, who is an extreme right-wing Fox News type journalist who I have some fun with. And Jason Schwartzman, he’s really funny. And we can’t not mention Richard Lewis. If anyone were to be cast as a very eccentric Freudian analyst, in this day and age, it had to be Richard Lewis. He’s perfect.
I don’t know if he’s ever done that before.
PS: He just slipped right into it. He’s completely convincing. And yet, at the same time, you think, would you put your, you know, your unconsciousness in the hands of a guy like him? It’s fantastic.
“Blunt Talk” premieres Saturday, August 22 on Starz.