Patrick Stewart Talks High Culture, Pop Culture, And 'A Good Time To Die' : Monkey See Patrick Stewart, a giant in both high culture and pop culture, talks about hierarchies and why he's a little worried about reality shows.
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Patrick Stewart Talks High Culture, Pop Culture, And 'A Good Time To Die'

Patrick Stewart spoke this morning at the Television Critics Association press tour. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images hide caption

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

We've moved into the PBS presentations at the TCA press tour, and this morning, we heard from Patrick Stewart, who's appearing in productions of both Macbeth and Hamlet in upcoming installments of Great Performances.

Since I'm always interested in thoughts about high culture and popular entertainment and why there's persistent tension between them, I figured: Who better to ask than Claudius-slash-Captain-Picard?

Stewart replied that when he came to Hollywood, he assumed it would be a very "democratic" environment. So he was surprised to find that there were such rigid hierarchies — within which being an actor on a syndicated sci-fi series (Star Trek: The Next Generation) made him very, very low in rank.

He said that in the UK, those lines aren't quite so firmly in place. People doing TV, people doing movies, people doing theater, people doing radio plays — it's just a lot of working actors, and there's far less of an established system in which people who do one thing outrank people who do another.

(Note that in the production of Hamlet that's upcoming, the title role will be played by David Tennant, most famous for Doctor Who. Tennant's career, as Stewart noted, has some parallels with his own, in that they were both established actors before they came to popular television.)

With that said, Stewart went on to confess that there are nevertheless elements of popular entertainment that he struggles with, including the volume and quality of reality shows — which we tend to think of as an American phenomenon, but which is also very much a part of the culture in the UK.

He said that he watched about 25 minutes of one particular reality show — which he didn't name — and was so dismayed that he concluded that "This would be a good time to die."

The conversation with Stewart was generally very lively; I'll update with some additional highlights once we get the transcript. But one bit worth paraphrasing now: How pleased he was that there had always been people who came to see him do Shakespeare because they knew him from TV. He made it clear that it's perfectly okay with him if Star Trek fans choose to attend a play because they expect to see Picard: "Get their bums in the seats, and leave the rest to us."