March 20, 2001

Ian McKellen: It's a Glorious City
Staff Reporter

A year's work abroad isn't unusual or daunting for an actor – but a year in New Zealand? That was how long I would be needed there as Gandalf in the filming of Lord of the Rings. I'm indifferent to rugby and don't eat lamb but at least it seemed a good opportunity to visit Australia. Almost at once, however, New Zealand's allure won over and I managed only one weekend in Sydney for a wet and cold Mardi Gras.

To begin with, much is familiar. Cadbury's and Marmite are available. From my rented house across the estuary was the hamlet of Eastbourne. I was only 10 minutes' drive from the capital city of Wellington and even less from the film studios of Three Foot Six Ltd, which the director Peter Jackson named after the height of Tolkien's Hobbits. This was the first welcome change from filming in London, where Shepperton and Pinewood studios are an hour or more from home. The second was to be working in a beautiful and underpopulated country, where the unique ecology overwhelms the urban areas.

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