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?"

12 March 2002

From: Ross Williams

Q: Congratulations on being nominated for an Oscar! Well deserved! Does this mean a lot to you or are you generally unaffected by awards and accolades? I know there is a lot of (perhaps sometimes deserved) cynicism and criticism of Hollywood, but I imagine it must be nothing but absolutely thrilling to be recognised in this way.

A: Since their inception 73 years ago, the Oscars have grown in significance and, despite a proliferation of 'rival' annual awards, have established the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the pre-eminent accolade from the American film industry. The tag "Oscar-nominated" enhances any actor's cv/résumé.

As a nominee, I share the oft-expressed pleasure at being recognised by my peers, with the added satisfaction that these are American film-makers, who are so welcoming to foreigners on and off the set. Americans love a party, a parade, a celebration and it is enormous fun to be invited to join in the fun. But it is serious fun. The Oscars are much more than acknowledgement of work well done; they have become a tool to market the few films that are nominated. So I am aware that, every time I am interviewed about being nominated for Gandalf the Grey in the run-up to March 24th, I have another chance to encourage people to go and see Fellowship of the Ring.

From: Stephy Lester Indygurl11254@cs.com

Q: I really just wanted to congratulate you for winning "best supporting actor" in the SAG awards. Were you the least bit nervous?

A: I was thrilled to bits! 

From: Ken Umphrey

Q: I've seen the movie 9 times, so far, and I tear up with joy every time in the scene where Gandalf says, "A wizard is never late..." Thank you so much for doing this wonderful film. Congrats on the Oscar nod, though I think Gandalf a lead, not a supporting character.

A: Perhaps Academy voters appreciated that Gandalf is not a film-carrying role. The British Academy who nominated me as Best Actor, clearly disagreed. In both organisations it is up to the individual voters to decide which category they nominate actors in.

Q: Hello, I've been going to the official LoTR website quite frequently. I've found that if you keep refreshing the page, you can hear the various members of the cast saying "Hello I'm so and so. Welcome to the Lord of the Rings dot net." I've been refreshing it hundreds of times now. The most frequent is Elijah Wood or Peter Jackson. After about the 50th try I heard Ian Holm. I've been trying for hours, but still no Ian McKellen!!! Did you record that intro thing for the site?

A: Of course one can never trust these gimcrack websites although in this case the reason you can't hear me is that I haven't recorded for them yet.

From: Mandy Manz5o@hotmail.com

Q: What was it like working with Orlando Bloom? Next to you, he is the best actor I've ever seen!

A: It was a joke between us that Gandalf and Legolas hardly noticed each other on the Fellowship's journey, although we were often enough in the same scene, just not communicating. Actually there was a nice exchange en route for Moria but that didn't make it into the finished movie. Maybe the DVD will restore it.

But I always enjoyed working with Orlando, he was so keen to be good and to get better as an actor. And as he laughs at my jokes, he is one of my fave actors too!

From: i_am_a_knight_of_ni@hotmail.com

Q: Does Saruman's tower actually exist? If it does, where is it? I want to see it!

A: The interiors of Orthanc were created in the Wellington studio although Christopher Lee filmed some of his lines from the top of the tower built in the carpark outside.

From: Brooke

Q: Three questions: Is it Cate Blanchett's voice doing the FotR "prologue"? Who decides which cast members will appear at the awards show, the studio or the actors themselves? Does the studio fly people out or do the actors have to spring for it?

A: 1 - Yes. 2 - The invitation comes from the awards organisation and 3 - the studio takes care of travel and accommodation. In exchange for this munificence, the actor is expected to look neat and tidy and answer questions from the attendant media.

From: Guy Gondron protoguy@yahoo.com

Q: I recently read the review of The Two Towers trailer. In it the reviewer mentions how different Gandalf looks. If the idea is that Gandalf has died in the abyss, showing him in the trailers totally blows that for anyone who has not read the book. I know I hate it when a preview blows a plot twist!

A: Of course any trailer or review is likely to give away secrets and spoil the surprise. But having established Gandalf's popularity in the first film it would be a bit perverse not to herald his return, in whatever form, in the second film.

Q: Unless I completely missed it (possibly!) how does Gandalf get his staff back after jumping off Orthanc onto the Eagle? & dont you think he could have said something along the lines of 'thanks friend' to Gwaihir the eagle.

A: Look again and you will see that Gandalf's second staff carries a light instead of a pipe. And, between ourselves, he never stopped thanking Gwaihir all the way back.

From: Jackie Phelan

Q: I am a operational police officer in Birmingham City Centre and soon to celebrate my 48th birthday and 21st year in the job (crikey as long as Elijah Wood has been on the planet !). Working with a lot younger people most of the time is fun but can be a bit tiring ! I wondered how you got along with the cast both socially and physically keeping up with them. Was it a problem ever ? I am sure they were thrilled to act with someone of your experience, but did you all learn from each other?

A: When I was starting out 40 years ago, it was a thrill to work with older actors who ignored the disparities of age and experience. I try and do the same now. Off the set I made no attempt to keep up with the hobbity surfing, swimming, diving, bungee-jumping or other life-threatening activities.


Kawarau Bridge, near Queenstown, New Zealand
The world's first bungee bridge
Photo by Keith Stern

Q: Many years ago, an University English Lit professor explained "Gandalf" to our class as: "a literary cross between Prospero in the Tempest, Merlin in the Arthurian mythos, and the mythic figure of Odin in various Norse sagas." As I watched your performance as Gandalf, I could not help but feel that your interpretation of the character was remarkably consistent with the good professor's assessment. I would dearly love to know what (if any) literary works inspired your performance in this role. (Aside from the Lord of the Rings that is!)

A: Your professor's view is interesting but not much help to an actor, who is likely to be concentrating on what is uniquely individual about a character, rather than analysing his creator's inspiration. As one who has both studied texts academically and played Prospero, I don't see the connection between the embittered, deposed Duke, bent on personal revenge and Tolkien's wizard who is ever at the service of others.

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Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings