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To boldly go… again

Alongside the cast and crew of Star Trek: Picard, Sir Patrick Stewart opens up about returning to the lead role after 18 years and explains why this series marks a new direction for the storied franchise.

As far as Sir Patrick Stewart was concerned, the Star Trek chapter of his heralded career was over. From his first appearance as Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the starship USS Enterprise, in Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, he appeared in all seven seasons of the sci-fi series, plus one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and four feature films, culminating in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis.

It took some persuading, but thanks to executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Michael Chabon, Akiva Goldsman and supervising producer Kirsten Beyer, he has now returned to the role after an 18 year hiatus for Star Trek: Picard, the first series in the franchise to be named after a character rather than a starship or station.

“I’m on record as having said, ‘Nope, no more Star Trek. I said goodbye to that, I’m proud of everything we did but I’m done with it.’ Then Alex, Akiva, Michael and Kirsten began talking to me, and they talked and talked about Star Trek in a way I had never imagined before,” Stewart recalls.

“As I reflected and talked to my own team about this, at the end, I realised it was something I had to do – and what a smart decision that was! We wrapped filming our first season at the end of September and I was as happy with what we’d done with that as anything in my career.”

Set at the end of the 24th century, 14 years after Picard’s retirement from Starfleet, Star Trek: Picard opens with the lead character enjoying a quiet life with his dog, Number One, on his French vineyard, Chateau Picard. But when he is sought out by a mysterious young woman, Dahj (Isa Briones), in need of his help, he soon realises she may have personal connections to his own past.

Star Trek: Picard begins with the retired starship captain on his vineyard in France

“I feel I have been preparing to shoot Star Trek: Picard for over 30 years,” Stewart jokes, speaking on stage at the London premiere of the series. “There was a quality about him, a feeling I had about him from the very beginning, which was unlike any acting experience I had had before. When these people came to me and pitched an idea, I was all ready with my speech of refusal. Indeed, I insisted through my representative that I would meet them face to face and tell them why I was going to say no.

“I did my best, and then I do remember Alex saying, ‘Can we just talk to you a little about our idea?’ And he talked and talked. They all got my attention. When the meeting was over, I asked my agent to ask them if they could put on paper the things they said to me because I’d like to study them more closely. The last thing I felt I wanted or needed was to return to Star Trek.

“Two days later, 35 pages showed up. I read them and I was hooked, because what they were writing about was an image of the future of Jean-Luc and the world of Star Trek, which I have never envisioned before and thought could not be possible under the overriding rule of what Star Trek is and what it isn’t. These guys were breaking those rules again and again. That’s the kind of stuff that interests me and, with increasing excitement, I signed on.”

The fact that Star Trek: Picard would provide the next chapter of Jean-Luc’s life was what appealed so much to the actor.

“The world has changed since we finished The Next Generation,” he continues. “I was intrigued by that and the challenge it presents Jean-Luc when he was no longer an authority figure. Doing this again became irresistible because there were so many transformations in the character, his behaviour and what he believed in.”

Sir Patrick Stewart was initially reluctant to return to the character he last played in 2002

From the first episode, it’s easy to see why Stewart was drawn to his character’s new adventure, opening with Jean-Luc taking long strolls through the vineyards and haunted in his dreams by the mistakes of his past. A television interview forces him to face the reasons for his retirement head-on, while the arrival of Dahj causes him to shake off the dusty shackles of life after Spacefleet and throw himself into a new mission.

Kurtzman, who has been involved in rebooting the Star Trek franchise with two movies and another series, Star Trek: Discovery, says Stewart threw down the gauntlet to the producers and challenged them to do something that hadn’t been done before.

“I didn’t want to do just season eight of The Next Generation,” the exec producer says. “This is the next chapter of this man’s life. He’s living with regret and loss in a way that is profound. The idea he has this opportunity, in a very unexpected way, to right wrongs he feels he was a part of, it’s a second chance to make amends.

“It’s a beautiful story. You almost never get to tell that story. Jean-Luc is 92 years old in Starfleet years. How many shows allow you to tell the story from the point of view of someone who’s looking back on their life and giving them one last chance at hope? That’s really what we wanted to say.”

Goldsman, who has been involved in Star Trek: Discovery and the Short Trek companion series, agrees that the creative team were keen to respect the period of time that had passed since Jean-Luc was last seen on screen.

The series also sees the return of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine

“We didn’t want to pick up right on the heels of The Next Generation, we wanted to acknowledge that for both Sir Patrick and the character, 20 years had passed,” he says. “The plans we make rarely line up with the outcome, so as much as Jean-Luc might have left Star Trek: Nemesis thinking he was going one way, life took a different set of choices. We felt that to restart him at his ancestral home gave us some grounding and a way to celebrate him for folks who knew him but also introduce him to those who didn’t.”

Stewart wasn’t the only one who didn’t think the series would materialise from those early conversations. “It was completely unexpected and nothing that even in my wildest fan boy dreams have I ever had the hutzpah to imagine might come to pass,” admits showrunner Chabon, who says he was “lured in” by Goldsman and joined the team when it was already in the early stages of trying to evolve the next Star Trek series following Discovery.

“There were so many dozens of times in the course of making this show that I said to myself or Akiva, Alex or Kirsten, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this’. I still can’t, but it’s true.

“We’re fans. We are steeped in Star Trek and we put everything we love most about the show, every iteration of the show all the way back to the original series, into our work on Picard. We also want people who don’t know the show at all, people who don’t like Star Trek or never watch Star Trek, so we’ve tried to make the show work for those people as well.”

Beyond Stewart, the cast brings together a blend of familiar faces and new arrivals. Returnees include Jeri Ryan, who reprises her Star Trek: Voyager role as Seven of Nine. Jonathan Del Arco is The Next Generation’s Hugh and Brent Spiner appears as android Data.

Stewart’s Picard finds his quiet life interrupted by Dahj (Isa Briones), who needs his help

Among the newcomers are Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker, who shares a “complicated history” with Jean-Luc and Starfleet, while Harry Treadaway and Evan Evagora play Romulans Narek and Elnor. Alison Pill is synthetics expert Dr Agnes Jurati.

Similarly to Stewart, Ryan says she thought she had said goodbye to her character 20 years ago, and initially didn’t think talk of a return would lead anywhere. “When I was approached about it two years ago, I thought it was a joke. I laughed – I thought it was really funny – and they said, ‘No, we’re serious,’” the actor recalls.

“They pitched the general direction the character was going to go in, which was surprisingly intriguing to me because I thought I was done. Then I thought nothing was going to come of it. People pitch ideas in Hollywood all the time and nothing ever happens.

“Then, cut to a year later, and I’m backstage at the Creative Arts Emmys with Alex getting ready to go on stage and he turns around and says, ‘We’re talking a lot about Seven of Nine in the writers room.’ I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s real? OK.’ It never occurred to me it would actually happen. I’m so thrilled and grateful that it did.”

In contrast, Treadaway was given a speedy introduction to the world of Star Trek. “I remember a phone call early on, lying on my back looking at the stars in Devon while Alex was talking me through what Star Trek was and what the world and this version was,” he remembers.

The Star Trek: Picard cast line up at the show’s premiere

“I was really coming at it from a very unknowing place and I decided to take that and use it to my advantage rather than anything else. I was fresh-eyed and it just blew me away. I was aware of the heritage and what this world has meant to so many people for so long. It’s an incredible thing.”

Airing on CBS All Access in the US, Bell Media and Crave in Canada and in more than 200 countries worldwide on Amazon Prime Video, Star Trek: Picard is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment. Distribution is handled by CBS Studios International.

The weekly roll-out of episodes – the series debuted last week – means fans won’t be able to binge the entire season straightaway. But with a second season of Picard already commissioned, the good news is they won’t have to wait another 18 years to see Jean-Luc back on screen.

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Heroes without capes

Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki tell DQ about starring in Dick Wolf’s CBS procedural FBI and explain why they’re keen to represent the often hidden work of the law enforcement agency.

After six seasons starring in Canadian police drama Rookie Blue, Missy Peregrym was looking for a change of scenery – and uniform. Reading scripts, she found herself turning away from procedurals and even looking to try her hand at comedy.

Cameos in series such as Motive, Hawaii Five-0, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Saving Hope followed, before Peregrym landed recurring roles in mystery drama Ten Days in the Valley and sci-fi fantasy Van Helsing.

But the lure of law enforcement – and working with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf – saw the actor return to the front line in the veteran producer’s latest series, FBI.

“Clearly I’m attracted to crime shows because I said yes,” she tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, “and I care to represent the FBI. I take that as a great responsibility to do that properly, because we never hear about them unless something terrible has happened. They save us from so much stuff, things that I’d rather not know about. But I do know and I have to be positive about that. We’re dealing with really heavy content – sex trafficking, terrorist attacks, bomb threats, shootings – the threats are never just going to go away. So we need these people to protect us from this stuff happening, and I’m proud to represent that as closely as possible because I think it’s a really hard job.”

FBI, which launched on CBS last September and will return for a second season this autumn, is described as a fast-paced drama about the inner workings of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is produced by Universal Television in association with CBS Television Studios and distributed by CBS Studios International.

CBS drama FBI stars Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki as a pair of the bureau’s special agents

Peregrym plays Special Agent Maggie Bell, who is deeply committed to the people she works with and protects. Her partner is Special Agent Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan, a graduate from West Point Military Academy who spent two years undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency before being cherry-picked by the FBI. Working with a crack team of analysts and investigators, they face down all manner of threats, from terrorism and organised crime to counterintelligence.

Peregrym says it was a “big deal” to take on the role, noting the real-world parallels to the show’s stories and situations and the people she would be portraying.

“It’s not a sci-fi show. It’s not weird and made up. These things happen. That’s why I have to be careful even reading the news because I see things and I can’t stop thinking about them,” she explains. “Obviously, a death of a child is such an intense thing to start a show. It’s so heavy.

“As a cop, you don’t really know what you’re walking into. You get a call but you don’t know what you’re really going to meet. As an FBI agent, you’ve been doing so much research, you know exactly who you’re chasing. So to live with that information is a very different thing, to know that these [criminals] are out there.”

With the series filmed in New York, the first episode was particularly poignant as the opening scene sees a child die when a building is blown up in a cloud of dust, echoing the still-startling images of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the city.

Peregrym is known for TV roles in shows such as Reaper and Rookie Blue

“All I could think about was 9/11 or people around the world who are in devastating situations like this,” Peregrym says of filming the scene, “and this [filming a TV show] is this is nothing compared with the trauma other people have gone through. There was a woman who was there, she was really upset. She lost somebody on 9/11 and this brought up some things for her. I was like, ‘You can cry. It’s OK.’ I got her some tissues and I was like, ‘If you need a minute, no problem. That is so much more important than what this is right now.’

“That’s why I think there’s a huge responsibility that, when we do things like that, we do it correctly and we’re not glamorising it, because these experiences are too close to home for a lot of people. It’s good to talk about, but what’s the end narrative? For us, I hope it’s hope, and that we believe in these people looking after us.”

Peregrym says she is particularly proud to be playing a character that can inspire viewers, having previously received letters from women who joined the police after watching her in Rookie Blue.

“I just want young girls to be really proud of who they are because, no matter what, we’re gonna have to deal with the bullshit. Everybody deals with bullshit,” she says. “Everybody deals with insecurity. Everybody deals with rejection. It’s everybody’s own personal work to find their worth, and if I can help anybody do that then I’m so happy. I also hope I can be a teammate and inspire somebody else to be their best self and feel like they’re worth exactly what they are.”

Peregrym’s co-star Zaki landed the role of Zidan at a time when he had less than US$200 in his bank account and was looking at taking real-estate classes to help him get a job that could supplement his acting career. Until that point, he had scored recurring parts in action series 24: Legacy, Six and Valor, but FBI represents the actor’s breakout role.

Zaki landed his part in FBI when he had just $200 in his bank account

The show, he says, takes Wolf’s tried and tested case-of-the-week format but sets it within an organisation that takes a path with which viewers are less familiar.

“It’s just really exciting to see what goes on behind that veil,” he says of opening up the inner workings of the FBI. “We get to bring that to light. It’s nice and important to give these people some representation – and hopefully we get to represent them in a positive light. We get to see why these people are superheroes in the real world and they sacrifice what they sacrifice – family time and relationships and everything. Our job is to bring that to the people.”

The actor admits some of the storylines used in the series are “terrifying” because they are based on or inspired by real-life incidents. But he also takes pride in the fact that people can see an Egyptian American leading a US network primetime drama.

“It’s just been crazy to be able to have a kid see himself in a hero on a TV show, and think, ‘Oh, I can do that. I can be that,’” he adds. “It’s kind of like when Black Panther came out and how African Americans finally had a superhero they could become, because otherwise you had to be the black Superman or the black Batman. With that sort of shift in the representation narrative that’s happening in today’s world, it’s an honour to be at the forefront of it and I’m really excited about being a part of it.”

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Talking Bull

After 13 years investigating crimes in US juggernaut NCIS, Michael Weatherly swapped the navy police for the courtroom with Bull. As the legal drama begins its second season, the actor discusses both CBS series, auditioning for Steven Spielberg and why procedurals still have the ability to satisfy viewers.

For 13 years and more than 300 episodes, US actor Michael Weatherly was best known for playing special investigator Anthony DiNozzo in CBS’s long-running action-crime drama NCIS.

Now, however, he is preparing to return to the screen for the second season of Bull, a legal drama from the same network inspired by the early career of TV personality and psychologist Dr Phil McGraw.

Weatherly plays Dr Jason Bull, a brilliant, brash and charming legal expert who runs a jury consulting firm, using his skills and those of his investigating team to select the right jurors for his clients and then help his clients’ lawyers to win them over.

Bull’s US debut in September 2016 drew more than 15 million viewers, and a full season order quickly followed. The show was then among 18 CBS series to earn an early renewal in March, two months before CBS unveiled its full 2017/18 schedule. Season two debuts in the US tonight.

Counting Steven Spielberg among its executive producers, Bull is produced by CBS Television Studios and distributed by CBS Studios International. Season one aired in more than 200 countries.

Weatherly was a special guest at the New Europe Market television event in Dubrovnik in June this year, where the actor spoke about leaving NCIS, his first meeting with Spielberg and revealed his thoughts on the battle between episodic and serialised television drama.

Michael Weatherly (left) alongside Mark Harmon in NCIS

After 13 years on NCIS, Weatherly still embraced his character but knew when it was time to move on…
I was very happy to be typecast and known as another character’s name – what a privilege. I never got tired of it. It reached a point with DiNozzo when I thought I’d aged out. He’s supposed to be this overgrown, adolescent, fun, ebullient, hyperactive guy, and I have an aspect of myself that is like that. But I did get to the point where [I thought] if I’m too old to play this guy, I better leave before they ask me to leave.
I talked to CBS for two years about how I was leaving and I wanted to give them enough room to make that possible. Then they came to me with Bull. I’d prepared two other projects I was ready to go on. One was a remake of The Persuaders, the other was a book I optioned, Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming. Both of those were international properties and were things I thought would be a lot of fun to make.

Bull was brought to the screen by an eclectic group of producers…
When we were getting ready to make the show, I sat down with Dr Phil at Steven Spielberg’s compound on the Universal lot at [Spielberg’s production company] Amblin Entertainment. Bull is a very strange show because you have the guy who wrote Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show, House and Homicide: Life on the Street [Paul Attanasio] and the guy who directed In Treatment for HBO [Rodrigo Garcia]. Then there’s Dr Phil, Steven Spielberg and the guy from NCIS [Weatherly himself] – that’s a weird soup.

Weatherly had forgotten he auditioned for Spielberg for a role in hit sci-fi movie Minority Report…
The first thing he said was, ‘I liked your audition for Minority Report.’ I thought, ‘I never auditioned for Minority Report.’ Then I thought, ‘He thinks he hired someone else. How to do I play this, because I’ve got the job [on Bull]? I don’t want him to unhire me.’ We tend to remember things that are good that happen to us, or things that are so putrid, horrible and bad that we never want to do that again. But things that are minor disappointments in life we just throw that away because it irritates you if it’s there all the time. So I have discovered I totally screen-tested for Minority Report and I forgot about it because I didn’t get the job.

Weatherly’s character in Bull is loosely based on a young Dr Phil McGraw

Like most TV dramas, Bull simplifies timelines and practices to tell the most compelling story…
On NCIS we were all doing the pilot episode and we had our technical advisor, who is a former federal agent, a former marine NCIS agent for 20 years, and we’re doing a scene where we’ve all got our guns out, bulletproof vests on, and we’re going to go through a door and get terrorists. [NCIS lead] Mark Harman turns and says to the tech advisor, ‘When you’re doing this in the field, and you’re storming a room, what’s the proper procedure? Who goes in first? What do you say?’ The tech advisor took a very long beat and said, ‘I’ve never drawn my weapon.’ So it’s television.
When you think about a TV show like 24, what happened for 24 hours that you had to stay awake and save the world every season? That’s a lot of coffee. That is really what it’s like with Bull. We have compressed timelines and we have a lot of fudged and simplified truths. But we try to stay away from too much simplification, and some of the things I have learned from doing Bull have blown my mind. They’re not tricks. It’s psychology and understanding why we make the choices we do. So understanding where people are, how people think… that’s why it’s a great show for me. I get tired, but I don’t get tired of making the show. It’s fascinating to figure out what’s going to happen next.

Being a producer on Bull has also informed Weatherly how expensive television drama is…
We shoot in New York City because we’re incentivised by a tax rebate. That starts to be a very important thing. NCIS: New Orleans doesn’t take place in New Orleans by accident. New Orleans is actually a very productive town for a lot of movies and television shows because they incentivise productions to come there. Producing television isn’t just smoking a cigar and saying, ‘Show me what you’ve got, kid.’ It’s really about taking off your blinders and seeing the totality of everything.

Bull also features Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Eliza Dushku (right)

In the age of serialised storytelling, he believes procedural dramas are still extremely satisfying for viewers…
One of the terms I heard [describing] the closed-ended single-episode format was ‘evergreen.’ That’s so interesting, not just for purposes of syndication and rebroadcast but for the purposes of storytelling. The one-hour closed-ended story can be extremely satisfying from a viewer experience. When you watch Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, that arc can carry you on and on, and one hour leads to the next hour and the next hour. But sometimes you just want to watch an episode of Magnum PI and at the end of that, you’re like, ‘That just makes me so happy.’ That’s what CBS does really well as a studio and as a force in television, and I think that’s what I’m able to contribute to them. I don’t freak out that it’s not some hugely sophisticated, complicated story arc. I always find them slightly unsatisfying when I get to the end of Lost or something. So I like a series that’s closed and has layers that add on season after season. Mad Men was a show where if you just watched one episode of season four, you don’t know what the hell’s going on. That’s not a satisfying experience to me – and I loved Mad Men.

It’s taken a while for US broadcast networks to warm to the miniseries format…
Eleven years ago, a friend and I were trying to pitch a six-episode thing. We went to talk to some very important people in Hollywood but nobody understood what it was. I was like, ‘It’s like Prime Suspect from the UK. It’s just a shorter version. Bigger than a miniseries but smaller than a regular series.’ Everyone said there’s no way to monetise it, and that was the big thing back then. America has always just said, ‘We make 22 of them, here’s what it is.’ So it’s taken a while for all of this to fracture and get everyone thinking competitively. Look at what’s happened to music – the last 17 years has just been revolutionary. If I want to listen to something, there’s a hundred different ways to find it.

But Weatherly still enjoys the grind of making a 22-episode season…
Because I grew up with it and it’s comfortable for me, I love the thing I do. I wouldn’t make Bull if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a crushing schedule, to be picked up at 04.45 to make television all day until 20.00. I’ve been making one-hour television non-stop; this is my 18th year. That’s a long time. Ask [Bones and SEAL Team star] David Boreanaz! There’s not a lot of us that have just been crunching it out. I have a great deal of understanding now of what it takes. A lot of people burn out and a lot of people have different expectations. But I love making 22.

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