5 September 2000
Guinness and Guthrie
Q: Having learned recently that in fact Alec Guinness opened Tyrone Guthrie's Stratford (Ontario) Festival in 1953 with "Richard III", I wondered if you'd been there while you were in the area, and had any comments on the productions or the Festival.
A: Now's your chance to try the new Searcher on the homepage.
Q: Okay, I'll bite. In BITS AND BOBS you said that you didn't play Magneto as a gay man because his heterosexuality was evident in the screenplay. Now, granted that the Magneto in the comics has been definitely established as heterosexual, I'll be damned if I can recall any moment in the movie (a separate entity) where that was implied either way. (Okay, Mystique hangs on him, briefly, once, but that's her action, not his, and if they do have a relationship maybe she has to turn into Brendan Fraser first.) It's a tremendously silly question, I guess, but idle curiosity is a tough mistress. Where DID you see the evidence?
A: If I thought your question tremendously silly, I would reply, "What self-respecting gay man would spoil his outfit with that helmet?" But that little look as Magneto holds Mystique's hand on his shoulder and smiles says it all.
Ghosts of Past Roles
From: David Edler email@example.com
Q: What it is like for you as a screen actor, when parts of your history are replayed somewhere or other all the time and will be referenced by people (who don't know you personally) consciously or unconsciously in their dealings with you. Having played a role and then moved on to other projects and facets of your life, do you feel you are still carrying a bit of James Whale, Richard III etc. in the minds of people who have seen your work?
A: I have wondered the same when first meeting other actors whom I feel I know a little through the characters I've seen them play. How connected are they to their past roles? As with myself, they seem to have shed old parts and are always more concerned with their current project. It would be a great mistake to assume actors' private lives are haunted by ghosts from their work at least no more so than other people are, whatever their job.
From: Steven Pirie-Shepherd
Q: I notice that you were born in Lancashire. However, Ian Murray McKellen is an awfully Scottish name. Is there some Scottish ancestry in your family? I am a curious Aberdonian (living and working in the US now).
A: My ancestor James McKellen emigrated in 1844 from Northern Ireland to south Lancashire, where the family has mainly lived ever since. Murray (also my father's middle name) was my paternal mother's maiden name: she was born in Glasgow. Ian, I suppose, just sounded right, although I was born and bred in England. It's a minor inconvenience that strangers assume I am Scottish.
When I started acting I briefly considered replacing "McKellen" with my mother's maiden name "Sutcliffe". "Ian" I have always liked, partly because, when a child, it was an unusual name and is not easy to abbreviate.
So I am left with a nominal label that is misleading and difficult to spell. Once a batch of stage clothes arrived from the costumiers Berman's and Nathan's in London. Each item carried my name, with seven alternative spellings, all of them incorrect.
From: Mathew Hennessy firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Do you have a DVD player? Any favorite discs? Any opinion on DVD and its features, like director/actor commentary, 'making-of' featurettes, scripts, etc?
A: No, I don't yet have a DVD player but I suppose it won't be long. I am very impressed by the enthusiasm of those cinema-goers who always want more. Some of them obviously send me mail.
From: Larry Flock
Q: One of my favorite science fiction concepts is BBC Television's "Doctor Who". What do you think of the series, films, audio dramas, books, etc. Were you ever asked to be on the show or, forgive my ignorance, were you ever on the show?
A: Although a friend and colleague Waris Hussein (director of A Touch of Love) was the first director of "Dr. Who" I have never been asked to participate. Looking back at the early black-and-white episodes, they look a little corny although they do seem to have inspired the style and intention of the subsequent Star Trek series.
There have been any number of actors who succeeded William Hartnell as the original Doctor. When Tom Baker was playing the part, he was driving in London on a Saturday afternoon when he realised that the week's recorded episode was about to be aired. He stopped his car in a suburban road and found a house where the television could be seen through the front window. He knocked at the door and asked the little boy who opened it if he minded Dr. Who coming in to watch himself on the box. Imagine the thrill for all concerned.
From: Bryan English email@example.com
Q: I am not an actor but I live in LA and have many friends and associates who are. It seems every actor I know has some dream role or project that they would love to get off the ground. I was wondering if you have any unrealized project (play, film script, whatever) that is near and dear to your heart that you haven't yet had the opportunity to realize.
A: I hope even expect one day to be in a musical and to play Dame in a pantomime. As for the itch to initiate a pet project, I was cured by the experience of bringing Richard III to the screen. Such productions take years to accomplish and leave little time to take up other offers which may, in the end, be just as satisfying for the actor. I have enjoyed producing stage plays in the past but with my current run of luck, am happy to let others do the hard work of dreaming and preparation, whilst I join in the eventual fun of actual acting on screen or stage.
Q: What made you decide to become a vegetarian?
A: Nothing of principle. One morning 20 years back, I caught sight of an animal's corpse on the beach of the Thames below my back window. It was hairless and off-white, so bloated that it could have been a sheep, a dog, a goat, a calf or a pig. It was transfixing. When it floated away to sea at high tide, my appetite for dead meat went with it and I have called myself a casual vegetarian ever since. This means I avoid the moral confusion of those who love bacon, weiner schintzel and leg of lamb as much as they hate factory farming or any cruelty to animals.
However my protein comes mainly from fish and before the mail floods in, I accept my inconsistency. I also wear leather clothing. For a spell I was strictly vegetarian (although not vegan cheese being my favourite food). I had bought some "baby carrots" and just as I dropped them into the pan of boiling water, I was repulsed by the thought of destroying the plant's life by torturing and ingesting its root a "baby" one at that! I confess that disguised within a pork pie or burnt sausage, I still occasionally eat meat along with raw carrot.
Q: Dirk Bogarde is my favorite British cinema idol and I was wondering if you were friends with him.
A: When I was a boy I was entranced by Bogarde's face and voice and was particularly impressed by Victim, where gay characters appeared in a serious movie for the first time. After his very early career onstage, he worked exclusively in film and by the time I might have worked with him, he was established in the European film industry rather than the British. He retired to London but we never met. If we had done, I should have gently inquired why he persisted in equivocating about his sexuality in public. He was such an accomplished writer and so highly-regarded up to his death, that a word in favour of those working for gay concerns would have been a potent support. Like most of his generation, including Michael Redgrave and John Gielgud, he kept too quiet.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Q: I am a 23-year-old woman in New York. Your performance as Chauvelin in the Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews is one of my favorite takes on the character. I've been a supporter of the musical version of the story that played here on Broadway for 2 years and is now touring the U.S. I would love to hear your insight on the role!
A: Now is your chance to try the new Searcher on the homepage.
[Webmaster's note: We now have a section devoted to The Scarlet Pimpernel]