Star Trek: All The Actors Who Almost Played Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Patrick Stewart's depiction of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generationis iconic — but the role almost went to another actor. Debuting in 1987, TNG was the second major series in the Star Trekfranchise and the last show created by Gene Roddenberry before his death in 1991. TNG was immensely popular at the time and ran for seven season, concluding in 1994. The cast would go on to reprise their roles in 4 feature-length films — and likely would have been in more if 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis had been better received.
Despite TNG having ended over 25 years ago, the show continues to have a strong following, thanks in no small part to the cast's performances. A Shakespearean-trained thespian, Stewart in particular brought a unique depth to his character, offering a strong contrast to the ham-fisted and over-the-top energy of William Shatner's Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series. Captain Picard's enduring popularity lead to CBS Television (formerly Paramount Television) reviving the character for the sequel series Star Trek: Picard, a nostalgia-laden series that focuses on the former Captain's life after retiring from Starfleet.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
Although it is difficult to imagine now, given how popular and respected Stewart's portrayal is, he wasn't the only actor being considered to play Captain Picard. According to a Paramount memo posted to Letters of Note, Stewart wasn't the only front-runner for arguably the lead role in TNG; what's more, Gene Roddenberry hated Stewart as Picard, believing that the middle-aged Englishman was a poor casting choice for his French character. Thankfully, casting was a collaborative effort, and eventually, the executive decision was made to award Stewart the role.
According to the memo, Belgian actor Patrick Bauchau was actually Roddenberry's first choice to play Jean-Luc Picard. The document reads, "Patrick Bauchau did come in to read for Gene today for the role of 'Picard.' His reading was well received; he and Patrick Stewart seem to be the favorites." The document also lists several other names under the part: Mitch Ryan, Roy Thinnes, and Yaphet Kotto. It makes sense that Roddenberry would prefer Bauchau for the part: not only was he more believably French, but with his full head of hair and rugged good looks, he was a clear successor to The Original Series' handsome rogue captain, James T. Kirk. Patrick Stewart is an excellent actor, but he is incredibly English ("tea, Earl Grey, hot") — and while he does possess a unique charisma, he's not conventionally handsome in the same way that Shatner was when he first played Kirk.
While the majority of the actors being considered to play Picard share commonalities, there is one interesting standout: Yaphet Kotto. Kotto is of African and Jewish ancestry, and casting him as the ship's captain would have been a major progressive step for the series. Star Trek had made similar moves before, with TOS elevating female and minority characters to roles unheard of at the time, such as Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) being a communications officer on TOS. Kotto claims in an interview with The Big Issuethat it was his choice to turn down the role — a decision he came to regret. Kotto was a known film actor at the time, and had memorable supporting parts in the hits Alien, Live and LetDie, and The Running Man. At that point in his career, he saw moving to TV and a step backwards, not forwards — after all, no one knew how big TNG would become. The honor of being the first BIPOC captain to lead a Star Trek series would go to Avery Brooks, who played Commanding Officer (and later Captain) Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine. Although it would have been admirable for TNG to break down that barrier first, it's hard to imagine any actor other than Patrick Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard.About The Author