Anyone who knows me knows that Star Trek is my first fandom. Before Doctor Who. Before Supergirl, the show that gave me my name. I have watched and rewatched Star Trek to the point where it is now in my DNA. I love all the series (albeit not equally), but Captain Picard is my captain. So, naturally, when I learned Patrick Stewart had written a memoir, I had a mighty need. Thankfully, my dad gave it to me for Christmas! Thanks, Dad!
The structure is a simple chronological one, starting from Stewart’s birth and early childhood in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England, and moving from there into his acting career and adult life. It culminates in discussing his two most well-known roles (Captain Picard and Professor Xavier) along with his more recent stage acting, his marriage to Sunny Ozell, and his feelings on the pandemic as well as reprising Captain Picard for Star Trek: Picard. It’s easy to read—beautifully written, in fact. I’m not sure if he had a ghostwriter, but if he didn’t, I’m impressed. My favourite line was, “If I kill Paul McCartney, it will be the only thing I will be remembered for.” (Spoiler alert: Stewart did not kill Paul McCartney.)
Making It So, despite its allusive title, does not spend as much time on Stewart’s Next Generation days as one might hope. This is not a tell-all behind-the-scenes memoir of all the hijinks on the sets of the Enterprise-D. I suspected, as I read, that some would be disappointed, and reading other reviews has subsequently confirmed this. While that’s a valid opinion to hold, I think it’s an unfortunate one. If you’re willing to open yourself up to a different experience, there is a lot to discover through this memoir.
First and foremost, this is a love letter to the performing arts and to Shakespeare in particular. Stewart is unequivocal: he only got to where he is today because of state funding for the arts, luck, and people with pull who saw potential in a country kid. I really enjoyed learning more about his early childhood, how he grew up post-war first in a one up, one down house before his family moved into a slightly more spacious council house. How acting captured his heart, and the hoops through which he had to jump to get a serious chance at it.
There’s a lot of humour and lightheartedness to Stewart’s stories. Captain Picard is usually a stern figure (with a kind heart), but Patrick Stewart strikes me as a mischievous softie. Capable of summoning great rigour and dedication when needed for his craft, Stewart can also recount his involvement in practical jokes, amorous adventures, and silly moments of good fun. He tells you all of these stories with a smile and a wink, never taking himself too seriously.
At the same time, there are serious and sad parts too. Stewart frankly discusses his father’s abuse of his mother. I had some inkling of this, for I had read how this had influenced the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Nevertheless, it hits different when the actual events are discussed in the context of Stewart’s childhood. I appreciate Stewart discussing this so openly in this book, for it provided me with great insight into the complexities of growing up in a situation of domestic abuse. Even as he recognized, as a child, that his father’s behaviour was unacceptable, he continued to learn from his father and seek his father’s approval as a man.
Stewart is also very open about his romantic relationships, from flings to his three marriages. Perhaps more surprising is how open he is about the role that his cheating played on the dissolution of the first two marriages. I imagine many will judge him for that, and fair enough. Maybe I judged a little too. Yet if perfection is our bar for someone to write a memoir, no celebrity—indeed, no one—would be allowed to write one. Told from Stewart’s perspective, of course he is liable to make himself look like the good guy—so the fact that he cops to being the bad guy on more than one occasion makes me respect him all the more. I try very hard not to have idols, especially not celebrity ones, for they will inevitably let one down. There is something comforting in the fact that Patrick Stewart, who certainly approaches something I would say I idolize, has done his best in this book not to set himself up as someone to idolize, if that makes any sense.
There is also a sense of sadness in the way that Stewart discusses how so many important people in his life have passed away. At eighty-three, of course, this is to be expected. Statistically speaking, he is beating the odds, and the cruel irony of survival is that the longer one sustains it, the more one sees loved ones … not. As he eloquently espouses his deep affection, appreciation, or admiration for someone, only to pivot and remark, “and I was deeply saddened when…,” it becomes a bit of a refrain through the book. I sit here, thirty-four years old, fortunate enough not to have lost that many people close to me just yet, pondering how I might feel if I reach Stewart’s age. Perhaps this introspection hits all the harder for how well Stewart recalls and, more impressively, recapitulates the energetic and brash youthfulness that is such a curious contrast to the statesmanlike composure for which he is most known on stage and screen.
Indeed, this lifetime of performance is, above all else, the central theme of Making It So. Even more so than his marriages or his acting career, however, Shakespeare emerges from this book as the biggest love of Stewart’s life. His experience with Shakespeare seems obvious to me in his portrayal of Picard; not only does it influence every fibre of Picard’s characterization, but the character himself occasionally quoted the Bard, had a book of Shakespeare’s plays on display in the Enterprise-D ready room, and tutored Data in performing Shakespeare. I can understand how reassuring it might feel that, in a time as far removed from us as we are from Shakespeare, his words might yet offer guidance and consolation. For Stewart, as he tells it here, it is clear that these plays and sonnets offer great value. It’s wonderful, listening to him geek out about something that is clearly his passion.
Making It So is a finely tuned memoir that is overall neither saccharine nor bittersweet, though it has moments of both. Stewart shares plenty of juicy details and intimate moments with us in tones variously sly and tender, affected and genuine. Diehard TNG fans will be disappointed that this is not solely, or even principally, about that part of Stewart’s career—but I think it is a mistake to make that the fulcrum around which one balances judgement of this book. I love that Stewart embraces so fully that vital and powerful character, to the point where he agreed to return to it one more time—yet while there might be more Patrick Stewart in Jean-Luc Picard than in any of his other characters, he is not that character. His story, as a living, breathing, real human being of the twentieth century deserves its own remarkable recounting as much as that of a fictional twenty-fourth-century explorer. Picard’s mission was to boldly go; with Making It So, Patrick Stewart shares with us how he has boldly gone.