updated 03/26/2014 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/27/2014 AT 8:00 AM ET
Appearing on the cover of AARP The Magazine’s April/May issue, the actor opens up about everything from his relationship with Ian McKellen to his difficult childhood – some of his first memories include hiding from bill collectors – and his big buy that had his costars rolling their eyes.
From hilarious to heartwarming, here are five things to know about the 73-year-old X-Men: Days of Future Past star.
1. He and Ian McKellen share lots of laughs – but not a bed.
Their buzzed-about bromance is still going strong, as Stewart has unearthed a side to McKellen that not many get to see. “In Yorkshire [Stewart’s hometown], they tend to be blunt … Patrick is indeed straightforward. This helps his acting be crystal clear,” Stewart says. “But underneath, his nature is a very sweet one. And we spend much of our time laughing.”
But, although the two actors once shared a dressing room during the production of Waiting for Godot, that was all they shared. “We were always in separate beds!” the actor jokes.
2. He has learned to turn his painful past into fuel for something positive.
As a child growing up in poverty, Stewart quickly learned what to do when collection agencies came knocking. “Some of my earliest memories are of when a bill collector came to the door,” he says. “My mother and I would hide behind the sofa and pretend we weren’t in. I thought that was a great game.”
As years passed, Stewart managed to put a positive spin on his struggles. “I realized I could use those feelings and not only would nothing bad happen, but quite good things might happen,” he says.
“I have been inclined to be solitary in huge chunks of my life,” he admits. “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.”
Acting allowed him a chance to finally come out of his shell. “I found the stage a very safe place to be. Everything is predictable when you’re in a play,” he says. “Because of the chaos in my life, I loved the certainty and the opportunity to become somebody else and not myself.”
4. He knows how to splurge – but not by Hollywood standards.
When Stewart finally had enough money to go car shopping, his costars were not impressed. “During the second Star Trek season, I bought a new car, excitedly drove it onto the lot, and all the other cast members asked, ‘What did you get?’ I said, ‘A Honda!’ They all threw up their arms and rolled their eyes,” he says.
5. He honors his parents by working with charities close to his heart.
Hey may not be able to change his difficult past, but Stewart is doing his part to help his mother now. “I work with Refuge for my mother … I do it for my mother because I couldn’t help her back then,” says the actor, who also supports Combat Stress in honor of his father.