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Patrick Stewart gets candid on shedding solitude

Patrick Stewart is great to follow on Twitter, even more so lately as he posts daily pictures of himself and friend Ian McKellen while they count down the remaining days of their Two Shows in Rep run on Broadway.

Stewart and McKellen playing Skee-Ball, Stewart and McKellen on a skyscraper with New York City unfolding behind them, Stewart and McKellen on the boardwalk — all with black bowlers firmly in place. (The friends are appearing together in a double-shot of Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land at the Cort Theatre.)

But Stewart wasn’t always such a social — or social media — butterfly, he reveals in the April/May edition of AARP the Magazine.

“I have been inclined to be solitary in huge chunks of my life,” the 73-year-old told the magazine. “I don’t think that’s a good thing anymore. I think the interaction of being with people, especially people you like, is very important for keeping you sharp, alert, active, connected.”

This admission of prior solitude now brought to you by the guy who dressed as a lobster in a bathtub last Halloween and shared that image with the world. Or at least his million-plus followers. Times change.

But back in the day, with his closest brother 17 years his elder, he grew up much like an only child and didn’t meet his father for the first time until Dad returned from World War II when Steward was 5 years old.

Before that reunion, life was tough, but he saw it through the eyes of a child. “Some of my earliest memories are of when a bill collector came to the door,” Stewart said. “My mother and I would hide behind the sofa and pretend we weren’t in. I thought that was a great game.”

Less great was life after Dad came home. Stewart’s mother was the target for an angry, weekend-drunk husband, though the actor says he himself was never struck. Still, he defended his mum when he was still in single digits, finding refuge around age 12 in the theatre. He worked his way up and in 1966 was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

“I found the stage a very safe place to be,” Stewart said. “Everything is predictable when you’re in a play. Because of the chaos in my life, I loved the certainty — and the opportunity to become somebody else and not myself.”

(Now he does charitable work on behalf of battered women and victims of combat stress, he said, the former for his mother and the latter for his dad.)

Twenty one years after joining the RSC, he would almost pass on the role of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, which made him a star in the United States. Assured the series would almost certainly fail and allow him to move back home sooner rather than later, he agreed to do it.

So much for failure, seven seasons and four feature films later.

But back to the goofballs online in the bowler hats. How did McKellen and Stewart become besties?

It wasn’t until the two found themselves in the X-Men franchise. McKellen had also been an RSC member, but the two hadn’t worked together. Stuck in their trailers a lot of the time during the effects-heavy production, they formed a fast friendship. McKellen even performed the ceremony at Stewart’s 2013 marriage to Sunny Ozell. Turns out they were even born less than 50 miles apart, though in regions with residents who have traditionally been “at odds” with each other.

“In Yorkshire [Stewart’s hometown] they tend to be blunt … Patrick is indeed straightforward. This helps his acting be crystal clear. But underneath, his nature is a very sweet one. And we spend much of our time laughing,” McKellen told AARP of their relationship. Then they shared a dressing room for 22 weeks during a London production of Godot. No hanky-panky, though, McKellen said. “We were always in separate beds!”

Remember: McKellen, openly gay; Stewart, openly straight. Britain’s Guardian newspaper messed that up in February, referring to Stewart as homosexual in an article about actress Ellen Page’s coming out. No hard feelings, though.

“Well @guardian it makes for a nice change,” Stewart tweeted to kick off a series of joking messages about the gaffe. “At least I didn’t wake up to the internet telling me I was dead again.”

Stewart reprises his role as Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Watch for McKellen as well, back as Magneto.

Until then, they boys are available on Stewart’s Twitter feed.