September 21, 1999
Sir Ian McKellen
There is a general assumption that
the main professional concern of actors is the parts they play. That is not true of this
To begin with I have never had a hit-list of
characters whom I wanted to play. A friend has always wanted to play Abraham Lincoln - but
"Where?" I ask him, and "Who will write your words?" I have
played some celebrated men like Lawrence of Arabia ( in "Ross" 1970), King
Edward II (1969-70), and Adolf Hitler ("Countdown to War" 1980), but my authors
were Terrence Rattigan, Christopher Marlowe, and Hitler himself (I used only the Fuehrer's
own words translated into English naturich.)
I have landed on some of the most fulfilling parts by accident. It was a chance meeting
with an old friend, as I puzzled what to cast myself in at the Royal National Theatre in
1990 that introduced me to the idea of playing Richard III. Before we talked it had never
crossed my mind to challenge the great Richards of recent years.
It's rather that I invariably look at the job as a whole - who will direct, who will be
cast, how long will it take,do I want to work in Leeds (or Toronto or now Wellington). So
with "The Lord of the Rings," the whole venture across three movies and across
the magical landscape of New Zealand, is as invigorating as the opportunity to embody a
If it weren't the director of "Heavenly Creatures" in control, with a strong
vision of all those precise, quirky, majestic locations, I should not much look forward to
a full year away from my home in London. But Peter Jackson's designs, script and his
unshowy dedication to the task are irresistible. Had I been unable to play Gandalf
(because of an encroaching "X-Men" schedule), I should have hoped for another
less time-consuming part later in the trilogy.
I am aware of the high expectations of Tolkien's fans - like myself. But, never having
imagined that I would ever play any sort of wizard, I am ill-prepared. I just worked with
a witch, however, a white one, whose spells are formidable. Her energy is impressive. I
shall have to come to understand the nature of Gandalf's energy - what keeps him going.
What keeps any of us going?
A big project. I wish them luck when "The Lord of the Rings" starts shooting
(without me) in October 1999."