Hey folks, Harry here... I can't believe Beaks asked Ian McKellen about his cute co-leading men... He's never really been that obvious about it before... well, except for those lovely photos of the Rock he sent me. Well, here we go...
My introduction to Sir Ian McKellen, the film actor, was at the age of ten via Michael Mann’s THE KEEP. He’s gotten a *little* better since then, as have the movies.
For some reason, I started recording after the first question had been asked, so all I have is McKellen’s response. Rather than bore you with my thoughts on the man I consider our greatest living actor, let’s jump right in.
What I liked about hobbits and wizards was that it was the perfect community because it didn’t have a church. There’s no god in LORD OF THE RINGS. There’s no pope, no bishop, no credo, nobody telling you what to do. (Tolkien’s) a Catholic writer, so they look for those analogies, but Gandalf just says we all have to do what we can do in the time that we’ve got. That’s the closest you get to a belief system.
Do you miss Gandalf’s character?
Miss him? “Gandy”, I call him. (Thanks to some unintelligible, yet tawdry, comment from one of the other journalists, a tangent ensues regarding sex in LOTR. Sir Ian brushes it off, saying “there’s no sex in LORD OF THE RINGS.” Finally, he gets back to the question.) Do I miss him? Well, I haven’t had time to miss him yet. The last bit of Gandalf that I did was shouting down the line from London to Wellington, adding the last final grunts for the battle. That was three weeks ago. So, I had to keep thinking about him because his image is everywhere. But since we finished principal photography, I’ve done a play on Broadway, and in the West End, and I’ve made two movies, so it’s not as if it’s been an ongoing obsession in the way it has been for the director.
What did you take away from the experience of working on this trilogy?
Well, a confirmation that I like working with other people. I think people’s images of actors is that they’re selfish and egotistical and self-obsessed and surround themselves with support systems to boost their egos, but, in fact, while those things may go on… most of the time, what’s going on is that you’re accommodating other people, and working as a team – a fellowship, if you like. That was certainly true of this over a long people, so relationships became more intense and meaningful because you were away from home for a lot of it. Alongside that was the other experience, which was living in a country I had never been to before, New Zealand, and falling in love with every aspect of it.
Would you move there permanently?
I don’t think I will, because I enjoy living in London, and I enjoy city life. And the city life in New Zealand is not as good as it is in London.
Where is your tattoo, and did you need any extra encouragement to get it?
No, I was thrilled with the idea. We were coming to the end of the main part of the work; they all had this idea, and they wanted the old man to join in. It was lovely.
You’ve said in interviews that Gandalf the Grey is a more dynamic character than Gandalf the White. In RETURN OF THE KING, how did you find your character’s motivations?
Well, he’s pretty dynamic, isn’t he?
Actually, I read this on your website.
I wonder… was “dynamic” the word I used?
I believe so.
Well, I think why I like Gandalf the Grey more is that he’s the guy I’d like to spend an evening with. He’s more sociable, isn’t he? He likes a drink, and a smoke, and a chat, and he’s a rather lazy man; he’s not quite focused on the job at hand. He’s taking time off. He likes holidays. Who’d want to spend an evening with the commander? The driven man sent back to finish the job, knowing that the end is nigh, and that when the job is over, that’s the end of Gandalf forever more. That’s the sense in which he’s driven. So, a much less comfortable person to be with. And as for the third film as opposed to the other two, I wasn’t aware of the third film. I just knew that the break came for me between the Grey and the White. What part of the White was in which bit of the film perhaps wasn’t even settled in Peter Jackson’s mind, because obviously things have been changed and moved and cut and rearranged. And the sense of the emotional tug between Gandalf choosing Frodo and Frodo’s acceptance of the responsibility was added really the last time we went back to New Zealand to film, which was in June and July. They wanted to beef up and strengthen that relationship.
And now you’re going to go off to Australia to do DANCE OF DEATH?
I am. Briefly. For the Arts Festival.
You’re reprising this role—
I know! It’s the third time I’ve done it!
It’s becoming a habit.
Well, in the nineteenth century, actors had a repertoire of parts which they played often way past the sell-by date, you know? You shouldn’t be playing Hamlet when you’re sixty, I don’t think. But I’ve revived Macbeth over and over again, and RICHARD III went around the world, and then we filmed it. DANCE OF DEATH I did on Broadway, we did it in London with another cast. It got better, I thought. Deeper. It’s one of the great parts. I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet, so maybe I’ll be cracking it in Sydney.
I was wondering if maybe you’ve thought about filming it?
Um… yes. But no more than that. We made a little video with two cameras; although, I haven’t seen it yet. We’ll have a look at what it’s like.
When are you doing it?
You’ve played so many Shakespearian characters; do you relate Gandalf to anyone in particular?
You know, Shakespeare is so unique and all embracing that you rather reduce him by comparing anybody else to his achievements. But I would say Frodo is a Shakespeare character in a sense, because he goes on a journey of discovery. There are so many characters in Shakespeare that go on a journey, like Edgar in KING LEAR – young men that discover their self worth during the course of the action. But having done Shakespeare, which is often very intimate, often very naturalistic, cheek by jowl with some rhetoric which requires it to be shouted from the rooftops… well, that range is covered by Gandalf, who could be twinkling away in the corner having a pint, and the next minute can be shouting a Balrog down. It didn’t alarm me that I had to do some big acting. In fact, I’ve long been intrigued by how big you can be on film. Some of the performances that we enjoy most are really big performances.
Did those two characters (Gandalf and Magneto) inform each other in any way?
No. They’re both, to my mine, serious works. Very entertaining, but they have a serious intent.
I just meant in terms of their being magical beings in a leadership position—
Well, there was an obvious connection, but no. The problem that relates to them both is that both are superhuman, and one is immortal. You cannot play that. If you play Jesus Christ, he’s the son of God. Play the man. Gandalf… forget the immortality, forget the 7,000 years. Play the man. Get the relationships right.
But they both are telling the people around them, “If you don’t do what I say, our species is going to die.”
Well, in different ways they’re saying that. But don’t ask me to draw parallels between the two, because what I’m constantly trying to do in acting is not repeat myself. I don’t want to think of how similar they are; I just think of them as totally different.
Are you talking about an X3 at all?
I will be doing that tonight with Bryan Singer, who’s coming to see the premiere. I should perhaps try to corner him because he said in an email that, if there’s a third one, he’d like to direct it, and if he directs it, he’d like Magneto to be in it. But he didn’t say he was going to ask me to play Magneto. It could be about a younger Magneto. Those X-MEN stories go forwards and backwards in time.
The theater is obviously very, very important for you to return to. Does it remind you of why you are an actor as opposed to film work?
No, no, no. I’ve learned how to do it, so why throw away an expertise that I’ve learnt over forty years? I’ve a lot to learn about film acting, but I enjoy doing that, too.
And now you get to play Antonio in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE?
Alas, I don’t!
No! It’s not going to happen?
It’s happening, but not with me because they delayed and delayed, and, now, that conflicts with me going to do DANCE OF DEATH.
It would’ve given you the opportunity to do Antonio opposite Al Pacino as Shylock.
Well, I’ve got very few ambitions, and one is to play Antonio, Shakespeare’s major openly gay character. “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad,” the play opens. Well, everybody knows why he’s sad; his boyfriend’s just told him he’s going to get married. That’s what that’s all about, but you don’t see it played like that. And, *at last*, I was going to get to play it on film. And my loss is Jeremy Irons’s gain. (Beaks would like to note that while Irons will no doubt make a fine Antonio, someone *must* give McKellen his chance to play Shakespeare’s melancholy sugar daddy.)
When was the production of EDWARD II done?
Well, we did it on stage in 1969 in London, and then we televised it… probably 1970. I think it was on PBS.
It was on PBS here in ’75.
You probably don’t remember it.
Oh, I certainly did. “Kiss not my hand, Gaveston…”
Oh, that’s good stuff!
It left a huge impression.
(An unintelligible question is asked next about horse riding and, I think, holding a cain at the same time.)
That is very, very difficult, but I didn’t actually do it. (Laughs.) I did, but I was on a barrel most of the time covered in cowhide, pretending to be on a horse. I had a friend who died making a film when he was riding, when the horse slipped and crushed him to death. I ain’t that brave and foolhardy. So, particularly, riding Shadowfax, who doesn’t have any stirrups, any bridle, and saddle, you’ve got to be expert to accomplish that. So, I let Basil (Clapham, Sir Ian’s riding double) get on with that.
After forty years, is there a character that you have a burning desire to play?
Well, Antonio! I am so upset! By the way, there’s another (MERCHANT OF VENICE production). Patrick Stewart wants to make a film set in the Venetian Hotel in Los Vegas. He said to me, “You don’t want to go wear doublets and hose for Mike Radford; you can come and wear Armani for me in Los Vegas!”
Patrick’s going to direct it?
No, he’s not going to direct it. I also want to play a Dame in Pantomime. Pantomime is the first thing British kids see in the theater when they’re very, very young. And it’s full of dance, song, poetry, simple story, audience participation *and* cross dressing: the principal boy is played by a girl, and the mother, the comic Dame, is always played by a man. I think that’s why the British love the theater so much. They get it all… like a Christmas pudding. All at one go. And they want more of it. Mind you, sometimes I think pantomime confuses them as well. Anyway, next Christmas, I’m finally going to play a Dame.
So far, I haven’t asked any of the actors any personal questions, but this is for you. You’ve worked with a range of amazingly cute male actors.
I know! Aren’t I lucky?
Hugh Jackman, Brendan Fraser, Brad Renfro, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom…
Who’s the cutest?
Oh, I don’t really label people that way. I got closest, I suppose, to Brendan Fraser. Brad Renfro, I was very touched by him. I thought he had a wonderful spirit and a hard life. Really, I wish him so much good luck. And Robert Downey, I worked with him in RESTORATION, and he then came to do RICHARD III with me. Well, he’s one of the most beautiful men I know, physically and spiritually. And I’ve always wished him the best. And now this gaggle of beauties in LORD OF THE RINGS. They’re all delightful. I woke up on the New Zealand flight. I took a sleep for a moment, but I woke up in the same room on this flight as Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen, and I thought, “Well, aren’t I the luckiest man in the world?” A little sleepover in mid-air.
I just wanted to say that there was some talk at the time that you did GODS AND MONSTERS, it might’ve just been joking, about you and Brendan Fraser doing a buddy cop movie together.
Well, I didn’t hear about that.
There was an interview where the two of you were joking about that.
Oh, that must’ve been his idea. That’s not a phrase I know, “Buddy Cop Movie”. But, no, I wouldn’t be against that. He’s a terrific actor.
Are you going to be involved on the narration for KINSEY?
No, I’ve been cut out of that, as well.
Why are you being cut out of everything these days?
It’s isn’t that I’m too expensive. Bill Condon, who’s directing KINSEY… I love the idea of the Kinsey Report, which has been a big thing in my life. Very important.
It could be a very important film for this time.
It could. And the way that Kinsey has been reviled of late is sinister, I think. They’re trying to deny the basic conclusions of the book. You know… this has nothing to do with anything, but I was talking to the chief fundraiser for the Democratic Party – I don’t know his name – at a gay event – I don’t think he’s gay, but he was there – and he said that the next election is the next most important in American history, because he fears that if the President gets in again you will move further to a theocracy. I wouldn’t want that for you, and I certainly wouldn’t want that for the world. I think the attempt to debunk Kinsey is part of reestablishing old notions of human behavior, which have nothing to do with what I know about life. But I don’t know why I was cut out of (KINSEY), but I was.
Do you think a Presidential candidate—
Oh, no! I mustn’t go any further down that road!
Coming tomorrow will likely be a sampling of comments from the other folks we talked to, followed by our epic chat with Derek on Wednesday.