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Words by Ian McKellen

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" Spoken by Orson Welles, these words introduced the American radio series on which the screenplay was based, but were unfamiliar to me when Russell Mulcahy cast me as Penelope Anne Miller's father Dr. Reinhardt Lane. He was the stereotypically eccentric inventor, innocently experimenting with an all-powerful bomb which is stolen by the movie's villain (John Lone). My scenes were mainly with Tim Curry, the film's comic relief, renewing a partnership we shared first on Broadway in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1980/81).

It was thrilling to work at Universal Studios, which I had previously known only as a tourist. Between scenes I was free to wander round the backlot. I cheekily slipped into the shed that houses King Kong when its doors opened to let in the tourbus. I hid opposite the giant gorilla and was noticed by only one young boy whose alarm was so intense that he fortunately kept quiet about my intrusion, so I could follow the bus out of the building and slip innocently back into The Shadow studio next door.

I was asked to record Orson Welles's words to accompany the movie's trailer. To date I haven't been paid. 

None of my scenes was with Alec Baldwin, The Shadow himself. Our characters only communicated telepathically — I think. I was never too sure of the plot's mechanics. So we met a couple of times amicably enough considering he had just hit the New York headlines by calling a horse-cabby in Central Park "Faggot".

Penelope Anne Miller looked, sounded and behaved like a Hollywood star of my youth. I was a little in awe and we didn't say much to each other. She was very busy fielding the media's interest in a love affair turned sour. Jonathan Winters was a gentleman on set and an unending clown up there with Jackie Gleason. Then the mask would slip and he wanted to talk about London and the English landscapes that he loved.

John Lone lived up to his name. His professional concentration was intense and only his assistant was allowed near him on set. The Chinese tradition of the actor being led to the stage by a helper was charming to behold. Increasingly 2nd assistant directors on movies have taken on the nanny role and won't trust the actors to find their own way to work.

Presiding over this menagerie of talents, Russell Mulcahy was a relaxed ringmaster. We were all caged in by the script and I had a further obstacle, nerves about being in a Hollywood movie. Russell gave us all confidence that this lark would work; and it does. — Ian McKellen, 0ctober 2000

 

Additional Notes on The Shadow

X-Men was not the first superhero-based movie to feature Ian McKellen.  In 1994 he played Dr. Reinhardt Lane, a somewhat absent-minded professor who is turned into a total zombie by the time the film is halfway done.

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Dr. Lane is deeply involved in top-secret government projects.

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An elaborate backdrop of 1930's-era New York was created on a sound stage at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

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"It was fun playing with my old friend Tim Curry, who I knew long before Rocky Horror Picture Show and had partnered in Amadeus on Broadway.”
Photos by Ralph Nelson

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