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Patrick Stewart Finds Light in the Darkness

At the height of his powers, the actor has banished his demons by fighting for battered women, veterans

Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek The Next Generation

Stewart played Captain Jean-Luc Picard for seven seasons on "Star Trek The Next Generation." — Alamy

That year, he married Sheila Falconer; they had two children — Daniel, now 45, and Sophie, 39. (Stewart has four grandchildren.) Though he is close to his children today, Stewart says his career took center stage during those formative parenting years. "I was an absentee father a lot of the time," he admits. "I worked continually. I did the best I could, but I missed many bedtime stories and kisses good night."

All the while, Stewart secretly struggled to avoid perpetuating the dangerous cycle set in motion by his father. "I knew that I had an urge to be violent," he says, his voice now quiet. But while he was able to control that urge, he wrestled with a profound burden that undoubtedly affected his relationships — and work.

In 1981, when offered the role of Shakespeare's Leontes, a brutally savage man, Stewart initially turned it down. "For years a part of my acting suffered because I was not prepared to embrace rage," he says. "I said I couldn't do it."

The English director Ronald Eyre sat Stewart down and told him, "I think this role already exists inside you. If you trust me and let that person out, I will make sure you're safe." Stewart agreed. "I realized I could use those feelings and not only would nothing bad happen, but quite good things might happen."

Stewart began taking smaller film and television roles and doing voice-overs in the early '80s.

Sir Patrick Stewart in the movie, X-Men: The Last Stand.

Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier in "X-Men: The Last Stand." — Alamy

Still, though he was ambitious, he nearly rejected a 1987 offer to move to Los Angeles to appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a reboot of the 1966-69 television series. He agreed to take on the role of the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise when his agent convinced him that the show would not likely succeed and Stewart would be able to return to England after the first season.

The series continued for seven seasons, spawned four feature films and gave Stewart a newfound financial freedom. "I had never owned a new car in my life," he laughs. "I always bought used cars. During the second Star Trek season, I bought a new car, excitedly drove it onto the lot and all the other cast members asked, 'What did you get?' I said, 'A Honda!' They all threw up their arms and rolled their eyes."

The actor loved the Southern California lifestyle and indulged in "lots of wonderful analysis," he says. He took to jogging along the beach, practicing meditation, and eating and drinking with more moderation. (He no longer runs, but now stays in shape by speed walking.) It was in California in 1992 that Stewart discovered he had sex appeal, after the readers of TV Guide voted him television's "most bodacious man." "That was unimaginable to me and kind of still is," says Stewart.

Having split with Falconer in 1990, Stewart was briefly married to Wendy Neuss, a Star Trek producer. In 2000, his fan base expanded when he landed the role of Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men. "I felt the patriarchal character of the X-Men universe needed to be anchored in a strong actor," says director Bryan Singer. "Patrick's got a lot of gravitas on-screen, and he fit the physical type of the character in the comic book, who wore his baldness well."

Next page: X-Men, knighthood and Sir Ian McKellen. »

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