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?"

9 January 2002

From: Edward Morrissey

Q: I wonder if you noticed a difference in the level of anticipation of these films between Great Britain and the United States.

A: As there are more people in USA, it is understandable that there should be more mail from Americans than from Tolkien's fellow countrymen or other countries where English is read. Beyond this site, the same is true, witness the rough parity between the box office returns domestically (i.e. USA) and the rest of the world.

Q: Now that your face and name are everywhere in "Fellowship of the Ring" ads in the media, do you find more people recognise you even without Gandalf's beard and hair?

A: How did you guess? Yes it is fun to see New Yorkers' double-takes as they recognise my face. As well as those who realise I'm Gandalf in disguise I also get "Hey, aren't you that actor?" - "Hey, Mr Holm!" - or as often as not "Hey Magneto!"


Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood
Photo by Keith Stern

Q: I read recently that you had taken part in a signing session at a bookstore in America to promote Lord of the Rings and I was wondering if there are any plans to do this in the UK. I am sure this would be very much appreciated by many fans.

A: It was fun answering questions from Tolkien readers at Barnes and Noble's largest bookshop in New York, although alarming to find I was sharing the occasion with a life-size Gandalf cut-out, who didn't challenge anything I said thank goodness. I can't be home until after Dance of Death closes on 13 January. So I certainly couldn't do an equivalent in UK - not that anyone has invited me yet. And to think that my neighbour at St Catharine's College when we were undergraduates 1958-61, should have been Tim Waterstone!

From: Chris Seaver swanky_c@yahoo.com

Q: I recently read that you would rather have the folks stay home and read the books than go out and see the movie...Was this true and do you not feel Peter Jackson did a good job at translating the books to film?

A: You have been misled. Misquotation or misunderstanding are not unknown among the press. Knowing or not knowing the novel will not stop you enjoying Fellowship of the Ring.

n.b. my Grey Book entry from 27 November.

Q: Last week I started to re-read LOTR. It has always been one of my favourite books, and like all good books, much of the joy has always been in the mental images it evokes, as the characters live inside my head.  The other day I saw for the first time the preview for the first movie. It looked spectacular, but more importantly, it looked right. I find now that as I continue to read, the pictures in my mind are becoming those of the movie. In some cases this is not a big stretch - in makeup and costume you look so exactly like I pictured Gandalf to be. Others vary more from my own imagination, but this is not always a bad thing. Frodo, certainly, has now become more beautiful than ever I gave him credit! I look forward now to seeing the movie. I plan to take my mother (another LOTR fan). I only hope the mines of Moria don't prove too scary for her!

A: Since I saw the movie of Treasure Island as a kid, Long John Silver has always looked and sounded to me exactly like Robert Newton in the part. Mind you I haven't re-read the novel to check whether RN was as reliant on it as I was on Lord of the Rings.

Book illustrations begin the danger of fixing an image perhaps at odds with the written characters. I find the "Phiz" sketches accompanying early editions of Dickens inappropriate, so I can ignore them and retain my own sense of the characters. Yet when I saw his people onstage in the Royal Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Nicholas Nickelby, Edward Petherbridge will always be Newman Noggs. I am sure Peter Jackson's images will accord with yours if you have enjoyed the preview. And for everyone I suspect they will confirm the preeminence of Alan Lee and John Howe as Tolkien illustrators, as theirs was the inspiration for the entire look of The Fellowship of the Ring's Middle earth and its inhabitants.

Elijah looks angelic but his beauty of spirit is what makes his Frodo leap out of the screen. Unalloyed goodness is one of the most difficult attributes to act.

Q: I look forward to your work in LOTR but how could one go about gaining a role such as Gandalf without large amounts of stage experience? Is it even possible?

A: There is a divide between film and theatre acting which it has been my ambition to bridge of late. I'm sure Peter Jackson would not have trusted any major part in Lord of the Rings to an actor who hadn't already caught his eye in another film whether in the cinema or on television. He has a mighty library of DVD's and videos and he keeps up to date with current releases. Until he came to see Dance of Death when he was in New York for the the American premiere, he had never seen me onstage.

Subject: A fan's lament

Q: Heartfelt thanks for your interpretation of Gandalf. I can't wait to see how you progress as the story continues to be told.  The rest of the movie... I don't know. I've been reading the books since I was 10 (17 years ago), and have read nearly everything Tolkien or his son have ever published. I'm fairly knowledgable regarding all the myths and was shocked and dismayed when I saw how much the movies alternated from the books. What do YOU think of the wholesale changes made to a literary classic in order to "adapt" it to the film genre?

A: It was always obvious that Peter Jackson's trilogy would be just that - his own cinematic version of the novel. Perhaps those Tolkien enthusiasts who have so enjoyed the first film aren't as steeped in the attendant mythology as you are. Ah well, I am glad that at least Gandalf didn't contribute to your disappointment.

Q: Is there any chance that LOTR cast and crew will go for a premier tour in Asia so that we pathetic Asian fans can actually get a chance of meeting you? (and oh yes, my best friend and I have stayed on to watch the entire roll of credits despite being giving warning glares by the cinema crew)

A: I have been invited to Tokyo for the Japanese premiere. I was last there with the world tour of the Royal National Theatre's Richard III at the Tokyo Globe Theatre. This time, I'm afraid, I have to attend to domestic matters in London, but I expect other members of the cast will be able to attend.

Good for you - the volume of credits is impressive and I'm told that in New Zealand where the audience recognises the names of so many of their friends and family, the credits are popular too.

From: Lucas Young lyoung@kiwidairies.co.nz

Q: Recently I started an internet campaign to have Peter Jackson awarded the Order of New Zealand for his contribution to our country via Lord of the Rings (www.knightpeterjackson.com). I am delighted to be able to tell you that, independently of my efforts, the New Zealand Government have awarded Peter Jackson the Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, and Fran Walsh becomes a Member of the NZ Order of Merit.

A: Sometimes it is so obvious who should get awards like this, that campaigns are not necessary. So congratulations to Mr and Mrs Jackson and my own "Good Taste Award" to the New Zealand government - and to you!

Q: I have now seen the movie LOTR three times and each time it gets deeper for me. You and Gandalf have the best line in the movie so appropriate for the times we now live in —in the light of Sept 11th: " I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo."So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that we have."

A: The mark of a classic is that its relevance reverberates through the years. I liked the recent ad for the movie in the US press which used Frodo and Gandalf's lines to stylish effect.

Q: No question, but a response to one of your recent posts. And since Bill the Pony was one of your (and my) favorite characters in TLOR, I would like to reassure you that Bill does not succumb to the Watcher in the Water, either in the movie or in the books. In fact, in the books, he finds his way back to Bree (where he was originally bought from the evil Bill Ferny) and is reunited with Samwise as they are returning to the Shire by way of Bree.

A: Good for you (and for Bill, of course).

From: Katie

Q: Peter Jackson has created a glorious masterpiece and I don't want to wait years for the rest, but I will. Hope you are having fun on Broadway - sorry I can't get to NYC, can you and Ms. Mirren come to LA next?

A: When Dance of Death completes its limited run on Sunday 13 January, the cast will separate and there are as yet no plans to revive the production. I hope, now that Richard Greenberg has provided a brilliant, actable translation, that there may be other actors who will want to explore Strindberg's characters in subsequent productions.

From: Paula Haefner reggie210@hotmail.com

Q: I signed up for the drawing for the Gandalf doll. You see I have a Christmas tree and nothing on top of it! I thought the idea of the character overseeing my Christmas decorations and home seemed so appropriate.

A: On top of my Christmas firtree in New York, I placed the Stars and Stripes and New Zealand's silver fern leaf, for the two countries that have welcomed me of late. Over the holidays, a Gandalf doll found his way onto the upper branches but who removed his clothes has yet to be determined...

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Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings