Patrick Stewart: How we filmed 'Macbeth' in 18 days

Patrick Stewart first appeared in the Rupert Goold's production of Macbeth in 2007 at the Chichester Festival, before the play transferred to London’s Gielgud Theatre, then the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and finally Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in 2008. A new filmed version of the play, with the original director and cast, transmits on Sunday 12 December at 7.30pm on BBC Four.



How are you adjusting back to life in London?



I am adjusting myself to these temperatures. I just came from New York, where it’s in the low 50s. I am trying to bring some warmth to my house. Everything is beginning to heat up.



When did you first see this new filmed production?



I saw the film in New York around two months ago just before it premiered on PBS. They arranged a screening at the Paris Cinema. That was the first time I’d seen it with the neutral audience. This was the first time I was sitting with a group of strangers. It was new to them. It has been received terrifically well, which is very gratifying.



Do you find it easy to watch yourself?



It is very difficult. I don’t know any film actors who find it easy. I divide a lot of time between film, television and theatre. On Broadway, one of the things that draws me back to theatre when the show begins is that the actors are in charge of the quality of the performance which is what makes it unique each time. With the cinema, it is too late to change things.



There is a feeling of vulnerability, particularly with a role like Macbeth, which is well known. Every line that the character speaks is a famous line. You feel you will be judged in a way [that wouldn’t happen] if it were an original piece of work. On different levels one feels vulnerable. The great advantage for all of us. Every single role in the film is assumed by the same actor who played it in the original production in Chichester, apart from the children.



The film project began with a group of actors who had material at their fingertips who had been living inside it in different spaces. I think we were by then confident with the material because we were shooting very quickly. What you see there is 18 days of work which is very few days for a film which is around three hours long.



How quickly was the production pulled together?



Occasionally it was necessary to complete the day’s projected work and we had single takes. Sometimes Rupert Goold would check with the actors and director of photography after a single take. More complex moments we would have two or three. Three was about the maximum because we had to keep moving forward. I think it was Burt Lancaster who said ‘They pay me for waiting, I do the acting for nothing’. It gave an energy and impetus to the filming. It is a great testimony to the filmmakers that we got this in the can in 18 days.



Do you still get a thrill from the sometimes uncomfortable working conditions which surround making a film?



When we were filming the X-Men series there were at different times 12 to 14 leading actors all of us with luxurious trailers. Good company. Right next door to me was Ian McKellen, conversation was always interesting, even though on those films I spent far more time in trailer than on the set. I remember on the third movie frequently more than 30 takes.



The environment in every way was pleasant. If I look back to filming Star Trek: The Next Generation we were making 43 minute movies in seven days. We had to shoot seven to 10 episodes a day. Out of that comes this rhythm of work which never close to what you experience on the stage it keeps the day go quicker.



Do you think modern directors are distracted by the need to attract audiences?



I have been in many Shakespeare productions with contemporary settings. I have never been in one where I think it’s been done to make it more attractive to audiences. Rather, it is to give it contemporary resonance.



I feel our credentials have been delivered and accepted with the performances and production. We never had an empty seat in any of the theatres we played in. The production sold out in London in Brooklyn and on Broadway which is immensely gratifying for a play written over 400 years ago.



I have always seen myself in a line of actors who have all struggled in their own way with a role to give meaning and theatricality to it and never feel it has to be precision perfect. There’s much in the film in subtlety of performance that wasn’t there on stage. I have always been attracted to the fact that most stage performances live only in people’s memories.



Why did your recent role in a A Life the Theater [which ended its Broadway run five weeks early last month] end so quickly?



On Sunday at about five o’clock my association with A Life in the Theater ended for all time. It was one of those frustrating experiences where audiences who came had a great time but we were unlucky to have a very poor review from The New York Times and that is still a review that can do huge damage to a production. We had many reviews that were really positive but a poor review in The New York Times is harmful. Coupled with the fact that Broadway seems to be going through an extraordinarily difficult time right now. We are being followed immediately by two or three other [productions]. I have heard different numbers but I’ve been told between eight and a dozen Broadway shows are under the axe.



This is so frustrating for everyone. I discussed this with our producer and this is traditionally one of the best times of year on Broadway in the lead up to the holidays. It is very disappointing that so many shows aren’t doing well. I knew we wouldn’t make it beyond 2 January because that is the worst month in Broadway. To have this happening now. We are in a recession, people are anxious about jobs, pensions, health and theatre prices are high. It continues to shock me. We are so fortunate in London; we can see the best of British theatre. If you are going to the National Theatre at a very reasonable price. On Broadway you take three people to see a show can you pay $1,000 just for the theatre tickets alone.



Do you think London theatre is braving the recession better than New York?



There is a theatre going habit here. I talk to producers in London and they are looking for work to put on. You don’t hear anyone say, let’s retrench, people are looking for shows. That says a great deal about the quality of what is happening in London theatres. There is a real and lasting enthusiasm for performance. If the prices can be kept reasonable I see no reason why that can’t continue.



Do you agree with Sir Peter Hall’s recent damning of British arts cuts as “insane”. As a Labour donor do you back the Coalition’s policies?



I don’t think any recent Government can be smug about their relationship to the arts in England. Even the Labour Government underestimated the sheer economic benefits that derive from it. It’s never been fully appreciated or understood. Until it is, there will be tension. And presently of course with the Coalition’s cutbacks it’s going to be challenging if not life-threatening in some areas of live theatre. There is a failure to grasp how significant in terms of tourism and visitors live theatre in London can be.



Could there be a ‘talent gap’ in 10 years due to the current imminent underfunding of young directors and producers?



That applies across the whole range of education. I am chancellor of [Huddersfield] University. I am going to be meeting this month with my vice-chancellor and we could find ourselves with a generation handicapped by not having made available to them the education they wanted and deserve. In terms of arts education that will certainly apply. Music theatre, dance art and so on. Eighteen to 24 year olds are going to feel this acutely. I think this is something the Coalition has not grasped.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'