Talk about foreshadowing. In a pivotal moment in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact, Patrick Stewart's Capt. Jean-Luc Picard is accused of having an Ahab complex because of his obsession with his most hated enemy, the Borg. Then, faster than you could say ''Resistance is futile,'' Stewart slapped on a peg leg to play the whale hunter himself in the USA Network's four-hour adaptation of Moby Dick.
''Pure coincidence,'' assures Stewart, 57, who developed his fixation with Herman Melville's mariner thanks to First Contact costar Brent Spiner (Data). ''Brent and I were sitting in makeup one morning,'' he recalls. ''And Brent said, 'Patrick, there's going to be a new version of Moby Dick. You should do that.' 'You mean Ahab?' 'Absolutely. This is your role.'''
''We weren't even casting the picture yet,'' laughs Moby executive producer Robert Halmi Sr., an old hand at the epic miniseries genre after projects such as NBC's Gulliver's Travels. ''And then Patrick called, and I said, 'Of course you can do it. You can play the whale if you want.'''
After taking a crash course on whaling history, Stewart flew to Australia -- where the reportedly $20 million project was filmed last May through August -- and began bringing the seaman to life.
''What makes Ahab a tragic figure is that he's not just a f -- -ed-up psychotic,'' says Stewart. ''He knows he could turn the ship around -- but he always chooses Moby Dick, and he suffers.''
Aggressively pursuing his own passion, Stewart has formed a production company with his fiancee, former Next Generation and Voyager producer Wendy Neuss. He's lining up projects both to star in and to direct; plus he's wrapped a pair of thrillers: In Dad Savage he plays a criminal seeking to get even with young crooks who've swiped his fortune, and in Safe House he's an Alzheimer's-stricken ex-fed who may or may not be imagining that someone's out to kill him. Stewart will also voice a pharaoh for DreamWorks' first animated feature, The Prince of Egypt.
As for Trek, fear not, there's more to come: Stewart returns to the Enterprise this month to start lensing the next movie installment. Picard, after all, still has his Ahab issues to work out.