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For Patrick Stewart, Chicago gig led to ‘game-changing experience’

Sir Patrick Stewart will be honored by the Chicago International Film Festival with a career achievement award. | Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

A visit to Chicago turned into joyful new opportunity for Sir Patrick Stewart.

“The biggest impact on my life that Chicago ever had was when I came up there [in 2013] to co-host with Renee Fleming a fundraiser for both Lyric Opera and the Second City comedy group,” the actor said during a recent phone chat. “As a result of that I met with the guy who runs the group called Improvised Shakespeare Company.

“Because of that I’ve become kind of an irregular member of the group, which is a great honor, because it can take several years before you qualify for that. So whenever I’m in the same town as where they are performing — whether it’s Chicago or New York or Los Angeles — they’ve given me a wonderful deal! I just turn up half-an-hour before the show and just go on. It’s that relaxed.

“It has been a really game-changing experience for me, because it put me right back to having to work on basic principles of what stage performance is. Plus having to do it in an improvised setting with other truly extraordinarily gifted actors is really marvelous.”

Speaking of The Bard, Stewart noted that “while I can’t say exactly what it is, I have an offer on the table for a major Shakespearean role for 2020. If I’m still upright and can still speak full sentences, I will do it,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll be 80 then, but if I’m OK, I’ll give it a shot.”

The noted Shakespearean actor — and “Star Trek” and “X-Men” icon — is being honored with a career achievement award by the Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 25.

Of the roles he’s played in his illustrious career, Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek” in particular is close to his heart — and the hearts of his fans.

“Just the other day, on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, a flight attendant squatted down by my seat and told me how watching ‘Star Trek’ had helped him get through a very difficult childhood that included illness and all sorts of terrible things. … Similarly, I got a charming letter from a sergeant from the Las Vegas Police Department, who wrote that there are nights when he comes home feeling desperate about the future of humanity and society in general. He had seen so many bad things in his job. Yet, he wrote that he could watch a couple of episodes of ‘Star Trek’ and it would make him feel better.

“You know, when you’re in show business, so much of it is our love of performing and acting. Yet, when someone tells you the work you’re involved in creating had that kind of impact — that is extremely meaningful to me as a human being.”