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Patrick Stewart takes a turn as Scrooge

Sunday, December 05, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. - Patrick Stewart is used to being called Scrooge. He doesn't have a bad reputation from his stint captaining the Enterprise on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," but he has performed in a one-man version of "A Christmas Carol."

That's right, Capt. Picard pulled a Sybil, playing every character in the timeless holiday story in New York stage productions for several holiday seasons. In TNT's "A Christmas Carol" (tonight at 8), Stewart relinquishes the secondary roles, but once again he's playing Scrooge.

"I learned that it was a much more restful time playing Scrooge than playing everybody," Stewart said in a press conference with TV critics this summer. "The interaction with the other actors, instead of having them exist inside my head as they have for almost 10 years, was bound to change everything. I was everyday being forced to reassess everything that I had done before, which is exactly what I had hoped for."

Stewart said the opportunity to play opposite actors who may interpret their characters different than Stewart did when he played every role offered its own surprises.

 
  TV PREVIEW: "A Christmas Carol"

When: 8 tonight on TNT.

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Joel Grey, Richard E. Grant

   
 

"There were times when tones of voice, pacing, even inflection seemed to match what had been in my head for all those years," he said. "And there were other times when that was entirely blown up and something unexpected and fresh and original occurred in a way that I could never have conceived of."

British actor Richard E. Grant plays Bob Crachit and Joel Grey plays the first spirit who visits Scrooge in this adaptation, which Stewart said was most influenced by the 1951 British film starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Sim's "Christmas Carol" had long been Stewart's blueprint for the story.

"It must have been the first screen version I ever saw, and I don't think anybody has ever captured the extraordinary moment of the transformation of Scrooge in that giddy, hysterical, out-of-control way that Sim did," Stewart said. "In those moments he became everything that Dickens wrote about."

Though well-known as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the days before his "Trek" began, Stewart came upon the classic Dickens story on a bookshelf, not in the theater.

"Like the rest of the world, I always imagined that I had read 'A Christmas Carol' without ever having read it," Stewart said. "I knew who Tiny Tim was, I knew the Ghost of Christmas Present, I knew bah-humbug."

He never read the story until he was on location in the North of England staying in a hotel. He had exhausted the newspapers and magazines available and went scanning the hotel lounge bookshelves for the slimmest book he could find. He plucked "A Christmas Carol" off the shelf and began to read.

"Three and a half hours later I closed the volume having read it from cover to cover uninterruptedly, and I found that my cheeks were like the windows outside the hotel," Stewart said. "They were awash and I couldn't understand why I was so disturbed and moved by a story which, in some sense, is emotionally very simplistic."

What Stewart hadn't picked up from screen versions of the tale - whether it was the movie with Sim, Bill Murray's "Scrooged" or "The Muppet Christmas Carol" - was a true sense of the times.

"I had lodged in my mind a much more sentimental, saccharin-sweet version of Dickens' story," Stewart said. "There really was no hardship or hunger or poverty or misery. But, of course, Dickens is one of the greatest chroniclers of Victorian misery of any writer in the English language, and it's all there in 'A Christmas Carol.'"



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