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22 February 2000

Q: Do you think all the characters in Tolkien's book have to be White/Caucasian? Although, there is nothing wrong with a mythical tale originating from England to have only white characters.

A: Onstage these days any myth-telling would be colour-blind in its casting. Peter Brook has gone so far as to assemble an international troupe speaking its own devised language for his Mahabharata and Shakespeare. Theatre audiences do not expect naturalism. In the cinema, audiences think they want reality and so films go to the actual location of the story and technology actualises what we know is impossible. The reality they get is a narrow slice of American culture from Hollywood and an equally limited view of Indian life from Bollywood. Casting reflects these centres' taste and when it comes to ethnicity, their image of themselves.

Q: The books emphasize how at times Gandalf grows both in his presence and power and in his physical stature, and I am very curious to see how this is portrayed in the film.

A: So am I! It may be left up to my own physicality or maybe there will be post-production enhancement. I haven't yet discussed either with Peter Jackson.

Q: Have you listened to the different voices for Gandalf used in the cartoon production of The Hobbit, the BBC Audio adaptation of Lord of the Rings, the BBC Audio adaptation of The Hobbit, or the animated adaptation of Lord of the Rings?

A: I have seen none of the adapted Tolkiens you list. The novels are the bible and I reference the relevant chapter as we film. Occasionally I have pointed out omissions to Fran and Philippa and they sigh because they know what they are doing and every cut in the story had to be justified. But they always respond positively to the little changes that help me as an actor. I mean like switching around a couple of words in a line to get the stress right for me, or slipping back in a Tolkien phrase that seems essentially Gandalfian.

Q: I was wondering about how you will deal with the physical demands of the role of Gandalf in the LOTR Trilogy. I don't mean to imply that you are out of shape or anything, just curious on how much you rely on stunt doubles.

A: Oh dear I was enjoying these early days playing Gandalf's first entry into Hobbiton until you reminded me of the rigours ahead. The Balrog beckons! Don't worry, film actors are well protected from too much exertion and I shall be only too happy to let a stunt double do anything that looks dangerous. Christopher Lee and I fight it out in Orthanc one day soon and Bob Anderson [Swordsmaster/Art Action Choreographer] has shown me the rudiments of battling with a quarterstaff. The only sort of fighting I enjoy is rehearsed fighting where no one gets hurt and no one gets angry.

Q: I was wondering if anyone has talked to you about Tolkien's book "The Sillmarillion" about the beginnings of not only Middle-earth, but the Universe itself.

A: Yes I know something of the mythology Tolkien invented, thanks to you and other correspondents. But when playing Gandalf I am at the moment concentrating on his humanity. So far, it's much easier to think of myself as a vigorous old man with special powers than as an immortal in human clothing.

Q: I was surprised to hear that you were criticised "in homophobic terms" for your role as Gandalf. It is an outrage that the site you were referring to did not censor such remarks, as they are unwarranted and having nothing to do with your ability to portray Gandalf.

A: No, let the bigots be heard then they can be answered.  All my correspondents have been positive.

Q: Let's suppose Gandalf WAS gay.  I don't see how it changes the story.

A: Poor Gandalf doesn't seem to show any interest in sex now that's an acting problem.

Q: Have you perfected blowing smoke rings, or will these be added later by the CGI techs?

A: Gandalf blows a galleon rings are easy. Best wishes from Hobbiton and Old Toby.

The Lord of the Rings

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