THE CAPTAIN'S ROUGH EXIT

For the Enterprise's intrepid captain, the final few pressure-packed days filming the last of the popular "Star Trek" spinoff tested his reputation for accessibility. In virtually every scene of the two-hour finale, popular actor Patrick Stewart was in and out of costumes and makeup that took him across three decades.

Where the finale didn't take him was to polite conversation with the media, for whom he declared himself off-limits. In a flash, the popular leader of the starship became the enfant terrible of the set.

"I was simply overwhelmed," explains Stewart, several weeks later in one of a handful of phone interviews after the finale wrap. "I was getting deeply tired and very overwhelmed by the work, coming as it did at the end of the season. That's why I had to say, 'I cannot talk to people.' Whatever time I had, I needed for the show."

"I was not being grand or a prima donna. I'm somewhat flattered by the idea someone thought me a prima donna. Perhaps now I'll have time to learn to be one."

Once Stewart wraps shooting the feature film, "Star Trek: Generations," in July, he plans to unwind for a couple of months at his home in Yorkshire Dales, England, near where he was raised. While he purchased the house last year, he's not had time to spend more than a couple nights there, until now.

"I will spend my time playing house and walking a great deal and breathing in the best air in the world and doing nothing but listening to skylarks," he says. "Although a number of interesting offers have come up, none of them have really been enough to lure me away from the moor top."

When the noted Shakespearean stage actor was hired seven years ago as the captain of the Enterprise, he was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to mount a production of Edward Albee's play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in London's West End.

When he goes back to England, he will literally pick up where he left off. He has a producer and a director, and he credits his "Next Generation" notoriety for making it possible. Stewart has not found his "Star Trek" identity to be the albatross he feared it might become several years back. He has worked steadily, when he has found time, doing everything from small TV and film parts, to commercial voice-overs to a Broadway production of "A Christmas Carol."

"So far, I haven't found it constricting," he says. "I've only found my career opportunities expanding. It has practically given me, personally, an audience, a following and a support I haven't had before. So now I can pursue and initiate projects I want to do. At the moment, I only see myself as being a very, very lucky man."

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