Audiobook review: Patrick Stewart’s “Making It So” blasts into warp

Audiobook review: Patrick Stewart’s “Making It So” blasts into warp

How did Patrick Stewart possibly manage to make it into his 80s before publishing a memoir? His longevity is a gift to him, and the fact that he held off this long is a gift to us.

The book itself, of course, makes clear why the actor hasn’t previously sat down to recount his life in writing. He’s been busy on stage and screen, to the point where he’s struggled to maintain his marriages — and failed twice, amid incidents of cheating that he comes clean about in Making It So.

The book’s title, as you’re probably well aware if you bothered to click on this review, is a riff on a trademark command delivered by Stewart’s Star Trek: The Next Generation character Jean-Luc Picard. Making It So is no more about Star Trek, though, than has the actor’s life been about Star Trek. That is to say, Stewart’s tenure as captain of the Enterprise makes up a substantial amount but by no means the majority of the story.

The book takes its time exploring and explaining the actor’s youth in the small, working-class northern English town of Mirfield. Although there may be more of that material than readers thought they were getting into, it captivates — in part because of the gusto with which Stewart tells his story, and in part because it forms such an incredibly striking contrast with the later life of the man who would become one of the globe’s top science fiction stars.

Stewart’s family lived in a tiny house with running water but no toilet, sharing a bed with his brother and grappling with a frustrated military vet father whose abusive behavior toward the actor’s beloved mother sometimes veered into the physical. Fraught though this family life was, Stewart makes clear that his relationships with the other three people living under that roof (an older brother got out early) were the three most formative and enduring relationships of his life. A final scene with his late brother is incredibly moving.

The fact that Stewart leaped from that background to the world’s most prestigious Shakespearean stage by his mid-20s is testament to his skill and dedication, but also to a stunningly supportive theater scene that forms a poignant contrast to the one we now have in America. While Stewart makes clear that his ascent, relying on publicly funded training opportunities, was unusual to the point of being essentially unprecedented for theater artists from his community, it’s still striking to hear about the repertory theaters that were so copious and prolific, they earn a comparison the author draws to the United States’ multi-tiered system of professional baseball leagues.

One of many remarkable aspects about this book is the way that Stewart manages to communicate the magic of live theater without falling back on cliche. The fact that experiences like his youthful world tour with a company led by Vivian Leigh are now so distant in the actor’s personal history somehow brings them into greater relief. Listening to the audiobook, you can hear in Stewart’s voice just how closely he holds memories like waiting in an enclosed set element with Leigh — whose glowing portrait here might help redeem her with readers who only know her from Gone With the Wind.

Leigh is just one of the icons who appear in Stewart’s recollections: the book also includes anecdotes about Brian Blessed, Malcolm McDowell, Ian Holm, and stage stars who are no longer household names but left the young actor starry-eyed. Ian McKellen comes along eventually, but somewhat later, Stewart acknowledges, than some readers might expect. “Only after mutating into Magneto and Professor X did we become the dearest of friends,” the author explains.

Ironically, according to Stewart, McKellen was a rare dissenting voice discouraging him from giving himself over to an American TV series. The Gandalf actor duly ate crow when he and Stewart ended up co-starring in the blockbuster X-Men movies, with the latter actor already having achieved genre immortality as Picard. An endearing quality of this story is just how seriously Stewart has always taken his Star Trek role: he shares his version of a well-worn story about how he called his castmates to a meeting where he thundered, “We are not here to have fun!”

Although Stewart ultimately goes into some detail about his Star Trek years, including his somewhat uncomfortable relationship with series creator Gene Roddenberry, the most moving anecdote from The Next Generation actually comes early in the book. In a flash forward after describing his father’s emotional distantness, Stewart describes how it came as a welcome surprise to both he and costar Michael Dorn when, just recently, Stewart spontaneously told the Worf actor, “I love you, Michael.”

If the power of that moment doesn’t quite come across in print, consider that all the more reason to experience this book in audio form. While Stewart isn’t quite as evolved as Bruce Springsteen — who’s channeled so much therapy that even Michelle Obama told her husband he could learn a thing or two from the Boss — he is affectingly open about his relationships.

The book is full of references to “my wife, Sunny” — Ozell, a musician four decades Stewart’s junior. Identifying Sunny by name is done out of necessity, as the author has had three wives and needs to help the reader keep them straight, but also evokes his tender feelings toward the person who he feels, with apparent justification, is the closest thing he’s ever had to a true soulmate. Do yourself a favor and when Stewart mentions the various social media posts Sunny’s inspired, open a browser and check them out.

In a video filmed by Sunny that subsequently, as the actor proudly notes, went viral, Stewart (on MDMA at the time, he explains) demonstrates the fine art of the quadruple take. Watching Stewart’s ease and joy, and hearing Ozell’s contagious giggles, concisely illustrates just what a happy place the actor has arrived at. His sense of humor, which even Saturday Night Live failed to bring out, finally shines.

Making It So is just about everything readers could, or at least should, expect from this memoir. It’s carefully judged, richly detailed, often very funny, and — as one would hope — captivatingly performed. I found myself in tears at the conclusion, which references the ending Stewart says he hoped to have for his Star Trek return trip, the TV series Picard. The scene finds Jean-Luc content, in love, and finally sitting still after a lifetime spent wandering the stars.

Jay Gabler