The Dominion

March 19, 2000

Acting on Impulse
Dominion Reporter

He hints that he may be getting too old for the stage, but Sir Ian McKellen tells Alan Samson that he will never give up his role as a campaigner for gay rights.

Sir Ian McKellen peers over his spectacles with schoolmasterly seriousness and says he doesn't believe in evil. 'I don't accept Stephen King's notion that there are people who are evil, there's no evil lurking in every cellar... evil is what some people do, but I don't believe it exists.'

The point he is making is not lost on the meeting of the Gay Association of Professional People he is addressing in Wellington.

McKellen is in Wellington to play the part of the wizard Gandalf, a character embroiled in battles between good and evil, in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. But McKellen is not talking about wizards and hobbits tonight ... The man who has played Romeo, Macbeth, Leontes, Iago, Richard III, Salieri, as well as a Nazi war criminal, a homosexual film director and a comic-book character, is speaking to Wellington's professional gay men and women. He says there is still plenty of homophobia and prejudice in the world. But, nodding his head toward his 'old friend', gay Christchurch MP Tim Barnett, he also expresses optimism.

'It's heartening to see the advances being made... as a symbol of what's happening here, you can link Tim's achievement with others all over the world.'

Last year, McKellen threatened to use the Oscars ceremony - should he have won for his role as the homosexual movie director in Gods and Monsters - to make an impassioned plea for gay rights. To the almost audible relief of the Hollywood hierarcy, he didn't win.

He was not too disappointed. Hollywood, he says, is a 'fantasy land', too caught up in commercialism to have the courage to confront homosexuality, or any other aching issue, such as racism and the plight of American blacks.

Earlier this year there was criticism on the Internet, calling him a 'gay Gandalf'. Overwhelmingly, however, reactions to the casting were positive, he says.

'My male - M A I L - is a nuisance, it's so nice. I get death threats only about once a year... It's disarming if you get into a debate with someone who doesn't accept that we should all be treated the same, and you find the same person fervently believes in Adam and Eve... there's nowhere to start a discussion.'

Regarding Lord of the Rings, he says: 'This is the craziest film ever made. It's the most ambitious film ever made anywhere in the world, technically. On any one day there are four camera crews with Jackson, dashing around the sets. He's absolutely calm. If you want to know what a hobbit is like, meet Peter Jackson.'