Actors. It's shocking the things they get up to. As if some diabolical force emerges from nowhere to sweep them off into a crazy, madcap adventure. Especially actors of the British kind. What larks! Thus it is with distinguished thespian Sir Patrick Stewart. Years on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then the X-Men movies. Then – what ho! – providing voices to an eccentric choice of shows such as Family Guy on Fox. Recently, a spot of theatre, doing Pinter's No Man's Land in London.
And now, by heavens, starring in a demented satiric comedy called Blunt Talk for the Starz channel (it will be on Super Channel this fall in Canada). In it he plays Walter Blunt, a legendary British newsman who lands in Los Angeles to host a brutally honest news and talk show that, he believes, is saving the wide word from disaster.
But, disaster is meat and drink to Walter Blunt. It's his personal thing – chaos, cocaine, hookers and a damn good thrashing administered by his manservant/sidekick, Adrian. That's his bag. Also he likes to paint portraits, mainly of chaps in the nude. If he likes the cut of their jib, so to speak.
Blunt Talk is cartoonish, mad and occasionally tasteless. It was created by writer Jonathan Ames, whose work was the basis for the admired but unloved HBO comedy Bored to Death. Ames freely admits that Blunt Talk was inspired by the movie Network and Walter Blunt is a riff on the Howard Beale news anchor who famously galvanized his TV audience by declaring, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"
An encounter – alongside a group of TV critics – with Stewart and Ames is as bizarre as Blunt Talk itself. Stewart in particular is brimming with mischief.
Why this kind of broad comedy now, at this point in his career, for Stewart?
"You know, they say comedy is a serious business. I have never had successive days of acting deeply seriously as I have on this show. I mean, forget about all the other stuff. We are in an absurdist and comical world, which at times seems difficult to understand and how it holds together. But it does. And it holds together because every single one of the principal characters are passionate and deeply serious about what they do. So there's nothing funny about the show. It's just one serious situation after another."
He's kidding. Ames wisecracks that he can anticipate the ensuing headline, "Patrick Stewart says his show isn't funny."
As for this oddball Walter Blunt, Stewart has a rare serious thought: "Although there is chaos in his life, he sees that as a metaphor for the world in general. And this is the world that he is committed to improving, especially the United States, which is where he wants to begin, you know. Start at the top, and then work your way down from there."
One of the most extraordinary things about this extraordinary show is a lengthy song-and dance sequence in an early episode. It occurs when Walter is dead, briefly. (Don't even ask. Little makes sense.) It's something Stewart relished, apparently. But he's got a beef with Ames on the matter.
"It was longer, until somebody got hold of it and cut bits out of it. I mean, it was originally a piece of iconic American television. And I just don't know what to say now. I can't watch it any more. The moments that are missing, there are Gene Kelly moments in there."
Ames rolls his eyes. So Stewart acts appropriately.
"But it was a happy time. I mean, when does an actor with my kind of background get to do a scene like that, with 12 brilliant and beautiful women? And it was [dramatic pause] … it was an unexpected treat. Thank you, Jonathan."
And Ames deadpans, "It was an ecstatic moment."
Blunt Talk will either knock your socks off or appall you. Sir Patrick Stewart doesn't care. He thinks it's hilarious. An actor's whimsy. What larks. You've been warned.