Ian McKellen E-Posts

"Mercy!" cried Gandalf: "if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you.  What do you want to know?"

28 June 2005
Revised
21 November 2006

LOTR THE MUSICAL

Q: The Lord Of The Rings, The Musical, is premiering in our fair city of Toronto in 2006. Would you ever consider doing the role of Gandalf again in this particular venue if it was offered to you?

A: No-one wants to hear this Gandalf sing I promise you! Not many people thought Tolkien's novel would ever make a good film or two or three.  So we should be careful about pre-judging the musical version, particularly when it is in the hands of the esteemed British director Matthew Warchus.

OLD FRIENDS

From: Angelo van de Wiel

Q: Now recently i saw the first X-men film which i really enjoyed, but even more because i noticed some similarities in the 'friendship' between Magneto and Xavier and the one between Gandalf and Saruman. I could really see that in both cases they were once allies and now foes, but still there remains this almost sarcastic look on how it used to be between them. In LOTR and X-men it really came to me through the words 'Old friend', which are obviously spoken a few times by Gandalf and Saruman, but in X-men i almost relived those scenes from LOTR in the last scene where the tension between Magneto and Xavier is really noticeable, and to my 'joy' they both said 'Old friend'.  Now my question is if you ever noticed this similarities yourself?  (I must also say that my mother really adores your acting too, she always tells me 'the only reason for me to see LOTR is Ian')

A: Until you pointed it out I hadn't made the connection of friendship in the two stories. (My regards to your mother, please.)

GANDALF AND PIPPIN

From: Carol Ortega

Q: I just wanted to let you know how much the scene you and Billy Boyd performed in The Return of the King meant to me. I lost my grandmother recently She had been struggling with lung cancer for a little less than six weeks until her body just quit. The scene you performed so beautifully is one of the only things that keeps me from breaking down. It gives me hope, and it makes me feel somewhat relieved that my grandmother is now in the beautiful place you described in the film. My grandmother has always been proud of everything I do, and your scene has made me want to continue making her proud.

A: That scene on the steps at Minas Tirith was one of the last we shot in the trilogy and once I'd learned the lines they flowed out of me.  I didn't so much think of deaths which have affected me but more to Gandalf's sense of his own imminent departure from the Hobbits he loved.  I am so pleased it's been helpful.     

LITERARY CRITICISM

From: Britnee Ramirez

Q: As an aspiring literary scholar and avowed Tolkien fan, I am often confronted with articulate critiques of Tolkien's work. In particular, I am thinking of the way Tolkien's depictions of the orc races may be seen as propogating racist portrayals of "the other," the way his portrayal of women clings to the medieval stereotypes of warrior women and virgin queens, or his emphasis on homosocial, but potentially homophobic, male bonding. I am wondering how you reconcile your work with Tolkien's narrative in relation to your own socio-political views. (Note: Perhaps I can steal your response to defend Tolkien and the films from some of their critics?)

A: There are two basic ways to critique a classic: to judge it by current standards or by the mores of the period in which it was written.  In post-war UK we were used to thinking of the enemy as inhuman and only just waking up to the idea of women as being equal to men.  Tolkien's fondness for ancient epic stories and (I suspect) "adventure stories for boys" pervades LOTR, so it's not surprising the Fellowship is an all-male outfit.  I don't detect any homophobia there: perhaps, indeed, the contrary.

STAR WARS

From: Patty Ann

Q: Do you think that George Lucas wrote his Star Wars movies with LOTR in mind? It seems that he just took middle-earth to outer space. I really like Star Wars but LOTR is so much more moving. The characters such as Gandalf and how you portrayed him and all the other characters made ones feel that middle-earth really existed and we all want to go there, and be part of this wonderful, loving period in time. Star Wars just leaves you feeling, "ya, good movie" but who wants to go there and spend any time there.

A: It is possible that George Lucas was familiar with Tolkien or with the epic tales which pre-date them both.  As for the believability of Middle-earth, there are the novels with all their detail to fill out the film version. Perhaps also, it's easier to believe in a fictional past than a fantasy future.

RING-BEARER

From: Aier

Q: After veiwing the ROTK severial times I notice that in the secne where Gandalf, Fordo, Bilbo and all the others are leaving for the grey havens, Gandalf was wearing his ring. Was it decided early that it was going to be reveled that he was infact a ring bearer and that was why he wouldn't take the ring from Frodo, or was it just something done for the fans to notice?

A: As I've recorded elsewhere, Gandalf's last scene was one of the first I shot and I wore the ring in case by that point in the story it had been established that he was a ring-bearer.  As it turned out, all that remains of that strand in his story is the ring itself.  Well spotted!

THE HOBBIT

From: Geoffrey Raiser

Q: I really hope the problems are worked out with the rights to the Hobbit so that you can put the Grey robes on again! I have a thought... If Sir Ian Holm becomes too aged to play the younger Bilbo why not have the film play as flashbacks, with Ian Holm telling the stories of his travels to a group of children as he did in the Fellowship. This would allow another actor to play the younger Bilbo while still tying all of the films together nicely. If you think this idea is a good one please feel free to pass it on :)

A: That's a nice idea and as Peter Jackson drops by this site every so often may be it will be adopted. Meanwhile, as he and New Line Cinema plan to meet soon in court, none of us should hold our breath over their collaboration on The Hobbit.

MICHAEL HORDERN

Q: So far Ive enjoyed your performances and appearances whenever Ive come across them, Richard III is a particular favourite and one of the few adaptations of Shakespeare I bothered going to the cinema to see. Your portrayal of Gandalf is, I am happy to say, no exception to the above. You have brought Mithrandir visually to life in the way that the late, great Micheal Hordern brought him aurally to life in the BBC Radio adaptation. Which gave me to wonder whether you had heard Michael Horderns performance or spoken with him about it in the past and been in any way influenced thereby? Or did you both instead come to a similar interpretation of the character? I also wondered whether (and here of course you may choose discretion) you felt in any way cheated by the way in which the screenplay character of Gandalf was so weakened in the Return of the King, by comparison with the written character? Im referring here to things like Gandalfs staff ridiculously being broken by the Witch-King; Gandalfs apparent general need to be bolstered by Aragorn and his 'helplessness' before the Mouth of Sauron.

A:  I knew the late Michael Hordern a little but we never spoke of Gandalf and I still haven't heard his performance in the BBC radio version.

As for the Gandalf alterations you note, I didn't find any of them made the character less satisfying to play.

   

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Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

LOTR SHOP