Interview: Ian McKellen

The almighty wizard talks about his recent pop culture status, speaking out on gay rights and his hope that he will return to the role as master of metal, Magneto. There's even a question posed about X-Men 3 that we've conveniently highlighted in red for
The almighty wizard talks about his recent pop culture status, speaking out on gay rights and his hope that he will return to the role as master of metal, Magneto.

December 15, 2003 - Sir Ian McKellen is not a new name to the film savvy. He has been a highly regarded actor of both stage and screen for over 40 years. To the pop culture stratosphere, however, the name of Sir Ian McKellen has primarily become recognizable in the past four years as that of the actor who portrays both Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings' films as well as Magneto in the X-Men films.

McKellen is not offended by this nor does he mind speaking with fans of the series. He actually has a great amount of respect for fans of both. His hope is that his newfound acclaim may lead fans to explore his other work as well.

On-screen, whether playing Magneto and Gandalf or Richard III and Macbeth, McKellen is one of the most commanding presences that have ever existed on film. When he speaks, we listen. McKellen's voice has also become an important one of late regarding social issues, particularly that of McKellen's homosexuality. In his generation, few have had the guts to come clean about their true sexuality. McKellen was older when he first came to terms with this, but has since become one of the more visible and outspoken members of the gay community.

McKellen walks into the room and immediately demands attention. The journalist chatter quickly quiets down. McKellen smiles and sits, asking what his choice of beverages is from the table. We tell him the choices and he settles on a Red Bull, which he pours into a glass of ice. Stories have circulated in the past of McKellen often partying into the night, outlasting his much younger crewmembers.

Q: I hear you like to party. Do you go out with the hobbits?

IAN MCKELLEN: Sometimes they go out with me. [Laughs] They have no stamina. I owe it all to drugs. It's nothing congenital. Now, you're not to put any of that in your article. [Laughs.]

Q: Someone said they saw you wild, dancing into the night at that party in Toronto.

MCKELLEN: We had fun. Lovely. But they gave a party for me. Wasn't it terrific? Well, the Canadians can party, they really can. Must be their French influence in there somewhere.

Q: Are you allowing yourself a sense of completion with Lord of the Rings?

MCKELLEN: Well, [we were] basically all done when we finished principal photography. And after a year, we left New Zealand and went back home. But, I mean, we were called back each year to do pick-ups and then we had to do the voice. I did the last Gandalf grunt for battle scenes in Return of the King three weeks ago in London down the line with Peter [Jackson]. He kept saying more, more, more. He said, 'Yes, it's all over Gandalf. Stop shooting...' He said, 'Wait. No, no. With the extended DVD, we really want you back.' So, who knows? But it's been a gradual disengagement, and, you know, since then I've had two movies and done a play on Broadway and [on] the west end of London so, I'm not still totally absorbed with Gandalf but, he's with me all the time, because I keep seeing him. ...But, suddenly I'm famous [as] the man who played Gandalf and the one that played Magneto as well. ...There was, I suppose, a sense of completion, if that's the word. I never want it to end. Last Monday, when three percent of the entire population of [New Zealand] lined the street, nearly half the population of the city was just stopped to welcome us back. And it was like being the conquering football team that had come home. Except that it wasn't trailing along behind Peter Jackson, or one actor being more important than another, or even being part of the acting team. It was just having worked on the film.

Q: Have you had any strange encounters with the Lord of the Rings or X-Men fans?

MCKELLEN: What I like about the fans of X-Men and Lord of the Rings is they're not freaks. They're called geeks, they're called whatever then. They're not. They're people of taste, actually, because they're two rattling good stories and classics of their sort, of the last century. And they happen now to hit the big screen. So, it's often a serious conversation I have with people about X-Men or about the politics behind X-Men. Marvel, it's their favorite title, because they like the demographic... You have young blacks, young Jews, and young gays. And they all think of themselves as mutants and are taught by society to think of themselves as mutants. And the message of X-Men is they're something special. And, equally, Lord of the Rings appeals to something in people that I rather like... I can't quite get the idea of reading it ten times, which people often tell you about. Christopher Lee said, '[Imitating Lee's deep voice] I read it every year.' There's a devotion there, which I don't share. ... Quite recently a woman asked me would I sign a bit of paper, which I did. She told me, 'No, sign this as Gandalf.' I said, 'Well, Gandalf doesn't give autographs. You aren't going to ask again because Gandalf isn't here.' She said, 'Please, sir.' I said, 'Look, Gandalf doesn't exist.' And then I had to bite my words of course and tell her, 'I'm Father Christmas in the shop. I'm not the real Gandalf. He's somewhere else.'

Q: From playing the character for so long, did any of the character integrate into your personality and did you change in any way?

MCKELLEN: No. I remember lots of people I've known, like my grandfather, who was wild and eccentric. He often forgot to put his shoes on. ... I know that sort of middle class academic person that's trampling the countryside, and that's not who I am. ... A lot of chaps going out about forget what time it is, I mean that sort of character. Perhaps I'm going to grow into that...

Q: I like what you said about being a caretaker, how you are Gandalf in the shop. Could you explain that a little bit?

MCKELLEN: I don't think I'm famous as Ian McKellen. I'm not famous because I've got a lovely face... And I'm only recently famous, and I'm famous as the actor who played Magneto and Gandalf. So, I do like to draw people's attention to the fact that I'm an actor and I've done other parts as well. You might, like, see them on DVD or see me in the theater next time I'm there. That happens to a certain extent, but basically, in frankness, people want to celebrate because they want to get close to the characters I play and that's bliss. I don't want to be famous as me and have to start giving my time. So it's nice. I like it when people say, 'Ooh.' They want me to be remembered as Gandalf and all the other things I've done, I shoul
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EarthsMightiestAdmin
12/15/2003
IGN Filmforce

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