In 2018, my agent informed me that two acclaimed screenwriters, Alex Kurtzman, who had co-written the Star Trek movie-franchise reboot starring Chris Pine, and Akiva Goldsman, an Oscar winner for Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, wanted to meet with me about a new TV series they had in mind. Its premise? It revisited Jean-Luc Picard as he was now, in his later years. My instant reaction? “No, definitely not interested. Sorry.”
Fifteen minutes later, perhaps hedging a little, I called my agent back and told him that I would meet with Alex and Akiva, but only to explain why I was not interested in reentering the Star Trek realm. It was the polite thing to do, after all.
I met with Alex at the Hotel Bel-Air for lunch. For some reason, Akiva was not present, but Alex had brought with him Kirsten Beyer, a prolific author of Star Trek novels, and screenwriter James Duff, who co-created the Kyra Sedgwick show The Closer. I sighed inwardly—clearly, I was about to be pitched.
By way of a preamble, I made it clear to my lunch hosts that I was proud of the work we had done on The Next Generation and the four feature films that followed. I had very much enjoyed being Jean-Luc and kept him close in my heart. But. I was done with him. I had said everything I wanted to say about him. His journey, as far as I was concerned, was complete, and for the remainder of my life, I was eager to find work as far away from Star Trek as possible, to keep moving forward as an actor. I thanked Alex, Kirsten, and James for their time and interest, but that was that.
It will not surprise you that they pushed back.
They all said, in different ways, that they did not feel that Picard’s story was over. Seventeen years had passed since Nemesis, the final movie featuring The Next Generation cast. That was a long time ago, but Picard’s life had not ended. In fact, his life might very well have taken a radically different course post-Nemesis.
“How so?” I asked.
My hosts were ready for this and bombarded me with questions. Was Picard still a captain? Was he still in Starfleet? Had he been promoted? Had he retired? Did he still have his château in France? Did he have a wife or partner? What was his relationship with the Borg after all this time?
But mostly, they raised questions about Picard’s emotional state. He was an older man now—was aging changing him, as, perhaps, it was changing me?
Whew. I needed to think about all of this.
When we adjourned, we agreed that they would get me a memo presenting their ideas and that I would give it some consideration.
The memo that arrived was over 10 pages long, and I studied it very carefully. I had a series of talks with my wife Sunny because committing to such a project would have a big impact on us, tethering me to a fixed schedule and a return to L.A. after our wholehearted embrace of Brooklyn.
We decided that revisiting Picard was worth considering, and I asked for another meeting. This time, Akiva Goldsman was in on the discussion. He spoke compellingly of his personal vision for a new series and mentioned that he was keen to involve Michael Chabon, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay I had loved. That really got my attention.
I told Akiva and his team that I would return for Star Trek: Picard, as the series was to be called, if they met the following conditions:
- The series would not be based on a reunion of The Next Generation characters. I wanted it to have little or nothing to do with them. This was not at all a mark of disrespect for my beloved fellow actors. Rather, I simply felt it was essential to place Picard in entirely new settings with entirely new characters. Perhaps Picard might encounter Riker or Dr. Crusher in the second season, but such encounters were not to be the series’ raison d’être.
- Picard would no longer be serving in Starfleet, and he was not to wear any kind of uniform or badges.
- The series would run for no more than three seasons.
It was clear to me that the writing team was not entirely thrilled with these conditions, but basically, they were all agreed to. The no-uniform rule was the toughest one for them to stomach, for some reason, and more than once, I was asked to reconsider my hard line. I stuck to my guns.
But once I committed to being Jean-Luc again, I committed fully. I told the new program’s producers that I wanted to announce Star Trek: Picard with a splash—by making a surprise appearance at the 2018 edition of the annual Star Trek Las Vegas convention.
I wanted it all kept hush-hush, with no mention whatsoever of my being in Las Vegas. Somehow, the secret never leaked. When I strode out to center stage, dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, I was greeted with a thundering round of applause that I took a moment to enjoy. I told the audience a few familiar stories of my early days on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which were received appreciatively. I talked about how I had long thought that our four feature films marked the end of the line for Jean-Luc. That elicited a few groans.
Then I sprang it on ’em: “Jean-Luc Picard is back.” Whoooo! Hoots of joy, more applause, lunatic shouts of glee. That moment alone made returning to the Star Trek universe worthwhile, and we hadn’t yet shot a scene.
Once we started filming, I was relieved and pleased to find myself discovering a new gear in which to play Jean-Luc. Having reviewed my work in Blunt Talk, I’d come to recognize that at times I was being a bit heavy in my delivery, hitting words too firmly and delivering my lines too theatrically. I was determined to remedy that. Also, my voice has grown more ragged with age. So for the Jean-Luc on the precipice of turning 80, I found a tone that was softer and gentler, and it really worked.
My whole career had been, to a degree, defined by my speaking voice and its power. Yet now, in acknowledging the limitations that Picard and I faced as older men, I found my voice more full of expression and spontaneity than before. I could also hear my brain and my feelings connecting to this voice, bringing forward a nuanced, autumnal Picard who was new to me and, I hoped, the show’s viewers.
The writers did a remarkable job of inventing new characters, such as Picard’s former Starfleet first officer Raffi Musiker, who struggles with substance abuse, and Agnes Jurati, a cybernetics expert who ultimately gets assimilated into the Borg. The producers did an equally fantastic job of landing the blue-chip actors Michelle Hurd to play Raffi and Alison Pill as Agnes. I couldn’t wait to share our show with the world.
The first season premiered in 2020. We shot the second and third seasons of Star Trek: Picard back-to-back, making up for lost time after COVID-19 shutdowns. Little by little, as the producers wore me down, I softened on my hard-line conditions regarding how I would participate in the series. Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes had reprised their characters in the first season, and Marina Sirtis, whose character Deanna Troi is now married to Riker, made a one-off appearance. By our second season, Q had reared his head, meaning a return for John de Lancie, and Whoopi Goldberg put in a couple of very valuable appearances as Guinan. For good measure, throughout the series we were also joined by the brilliant, beautiful Jeri Ryan, reprising her role as the ex-Borg drone Seven of Nine from the late-1990s TV series Star Trek: Voyager.
For season 3, our last, Terry Matalas, by then Picard’s showrunner, told me that the studio wanted a full Next Generation reunion. Ugh, just what I had firmly said I didn’t want. But that had been three years ago. Now I was less resistant, having enjoyed working with Jonathan, Brent, Marina, John, and Whoopi. As an executive producer, I had a say in how we might go about achieving such a reunion. I told Terry, “I like the idea, provided that we don’t bring them all back at once. Let’s trickle them back in.”
It was essential to me that each TNG character came into the picture because he or she had a specific contribution to make and it wasn’t just sentimental window dressing. If Jean-Luc had changed so much over the years, so, too, surely, had the other members of the Enterprise crew. The writers, bless them, took this to heart.
Read More: How Star Trek First Made It to the Screen
The final season’s premiere episode, written by Terry, found Picard in a relaxed state of post-Starfleet life, proclaiming to his Romulan minder, Laris, played by the fine Irish actress Orla Brady, “I’m going to sip Saurian brandy and think about writing my memoir.” (Hey, I could relate to that!)
Then, out of nowhere, Jean-Luc receives a distress call from none other than his former chief medical officer and occasional lover, Dr. Beverly Crusher. Hello and welcome back, Gates McFadden!
And as he plots to rescue Dr. Crusher and ward off an unknown enemy who is keen to abduct her son, Jack—who is also, we learn, Picard’s child—Jean-Luc gradually rounds up the only people he can trust: his old Enterprise gang. Hello and welcome back, Gates, Brent, Jonathan, Marina, LeVar Burton, and Michael Dorn! (I especially liked Worf’s pacifist reappearance with a white goatee.)
And also, a grudging hello and welcome back to Starfleet badges and uniforms. Everyone else wore them, but Terry Matalas, knowing of my reservations, worked out a compromise. Picard’s outfits had the same silhouette as the Starfleet uniform but looked more like everyday street clothes, with no two-tone color scheme.
The third season came off magnificently. But its final scene, in which the reunited crew is gathered around a table with drinks, sharing a toast, is not how it was originally supposed to end. I had a different idea, which I brought to the writers a few months before we wrapped the series.
“What I’d like to see at the end of the show,” I told them, “is a content Jean-Luc. I want to see Picard perfectly at ease with his situation. Not anxious, not in a frenzy, not depressed. And I think this means that there is a wife in the picture.”
You see, the line between Jean-Luc and me has grown ever more blurred. If I have found true love, shouldn’t he?
The writers came up with a lovely scene. It is dusk at Jean-Luc’s vineyard. His back is to us as he takes in the view, his dog at his side.
Then, off-screen, a woman’s loving voice is heard: “Jean-Luc? Supper’s ready!”
Is it Beverly Crusher’s voice? Laris’s? Someone we don’t know? It isn’t made clear. But Sunny was set to record the lines.
Heeding his wife’s call, Jean-Luc turns around, says to his dog, “C’mon, boy,” and heads inside. Dusk fades to night, and Picard fades into history.
But this scene was never shot. And I am sort of to blame. Our final day of shooting season 3 was a bear, with a very long to-do list. About eight hours in, I realized we were in for a 14- or even 16-hour day. Brutal. And I was booked to fly to New York the first thing the following morning. So I made a suggestion to the production team.
“Look,” I said, “the scene with the dog will take no time to shoot, but it will take hours to set up the lighting and the green screen and all that. We don’t have those hours. So let’s not shoot that scene today. I can come back at any time you like and take care of it. Just me and the dog.”
The production team was grateful and relieved. And I was assured that we would take care of the final scene upon my return from New York.
But I never got a call. When I made a few inquiries, I kept getting put off. Finally, someone told me, “The studio doesn’t want to do it. It’s too expensive and they think it’s unnecessary.” Unnecessary? I thought it was crucial to the completion of Picard’s arc. But so be it: the TV series ended with the toast, which is a warm, emotional send-off to my favorite Starfleet crew. Either way, you now know of my original intent.
So is that it for Jean-Luc Picard?
Most probably, but never say never. I am gently pushing Paramount to let us do one single Picard movie. Not a Next Generation movie, as we have already done four of those. This would be an expansion and deepening of the universe as we’ve seen it in Star Trek: Picard. I’ve discussed this with Jonathan, Brent, and LeVar, and they are all game. Jonathan is my first choice to direct it.
Copyright (c) 2023 by Camm Lane, Inc. From the book Making It So by Patrick Stewart to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.
Correction, Sept. 28
The original version of this story misstated the writer of the season 3, episode 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It was Terry Matalas, not Matalas, Akiva Goldsman, and Michael Chabon.
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