25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

21 June 2005 (Revised 21 November 2006)

EUROPRIDE 2005

Q: I see from the Norwegian magazine Blikk that London will have it's own part in the Europride parade in Oslo june 25th and that you will be participating! The best news I have ever had! Can you confirm that you will indeed be there ?

A: Yes I will be in Oslo for the close of the Europride celebrations which next year will be held in London.  Representing UK in the transfer of Europride, my job is to receive "the kilt" although I hope not to wear it.

PRIEST OF LOVE

From: Naz

Q: I've recently watched "Priest of Love" (nearly cried at the end when you died,hehe) and realised that you had a different accent..Is that your real northern accent or just another you used??

A: My native accent is, like me, from South Lancashire.  D.H. Lawrence was born in the Midlands of England near Nottingham.  When I acted at the Playhouse there in my youth, I learnt a local accent for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, written by another Nottinghamshire writer Alan Sillitoe.  My own Lancashire accent (which I have disguised mostly since I became an actor) was mixed with a few genuine and a few faulty Midlands sounds for Lawrence's voice in the film.  Nevertheless, I'm glad you enjoyed the movie — I shall always regret that a hurried schedule didn't allow more work which might have improved the acting all round.

Although I long ago abandoned my native accent (with some regret by this time) I often use it professionally when appropriate.  Of late, it's come in useful for Widow Twankey Aladdin), Mel Hutchwright (Coronation Street) and for William Wordsworth (The Prelude) all of whom hailed from Lancashire.

APARTHEID

Q: During the '70s through to after Mandela's release we, the normal viewing public in South Africa were deprived of seeing and hearing the fine work that came out of Britain because of the ban that Actors' Equity had in place all those years. What a waste! I am sorry I missed you while I was growing up in amateur theatre in this country. Now that the ban has been lifted, we are coming to terms with the culture shock of English spoken properly!

A: I supported the Equity ban even though others like Janet Suzman didn't approve of it, and I'm sorry you feel it disadvantaged you.  It was not, of course, aimed at you!  I have seen a number of terrific productions in South Africa, most recently John Kani in Antigone at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town.  I shall always be grateful that, during the years that you were denied our drama, Athol Fugard's plays (particularly The Island which he co-wrote with its stars Kani and Winston Ntshona) were permitted to travel to UK.

HOUSEWORK

From: Kristina

Q: This is a mundane question, but do you do your own house work?

A: So mundane that although for years I considered myself a dab-hand with the Hoover and enjoyed making my place neat and tidy, these days I pay two fast and friendly cleaners to do it for me once a week.  They also iron.  That still leaves plenty for me to do during the rest of the time.  A friend once told me it was infantile and virtually immoral to expect someone else to clear up one's own mess -- even so there's a regular supply of offers through the letterbox from those who don't seem to mind.

CHANGE OF HEART

From: Erik

Q: I must admit that I find great comfort in your openness about your sexual and emotional preferences. I also think that people like you make a great difference in how gay people are percieved today and in the future. I must admit that I used to be quite homophobic when younger, but constant exposure to positive gay role-models has changed this greatly (and you get wiser when older, I suppose). My grandmother's favourite television programme is the american "Queer eye for the straight guy", and she has changed her own views after seeing it for a while. I am from Norway, and used to be irritated about the liberal laws concerning gay people that we have here. Now, I'm rather proud of them.

A: What an uplifting letter. Changing laws is essential but I agree that the people worldwide will only be reconciled to the presence of gays in their midst, if those gays are recognised and at ease with themselves.  Many thanks.  I'm looking forward to my EuroPride in Oslo 24-26 June 2005.

CORONATION STREET BLUES

From: Kiri

Q: I think you were great in The Lord Of The Rings, but i have heard that you are going 2 star in Coronation Street. But i hope this is not true bcuz u r such a legend, and i dnt want u 2 lower ur standerds. Plez reply

A: Please consult previous E-posts on this.  The current standards of writing and acting for Coronation Street are very high and the 15 million viewers who watch the 5 episodes each week appear to agree.

JOHN WATERS

From: Ron Rufenstein

Q: Have you ever met or considered working with John Waters? I think it would be wonderous to see you both team up together.

A: I have met John Waters socially in Los Angeles and wish I knew him better.  His films are witty, riotous and good-natured, my favourite being Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby.  I haven't seen the Broadway adaptation of Hairspray but have the CD with Harvey Fierstein in Divine's original role, singing his heart out, deep and unsteady.  When I was asked to take over the part in a London transfer, I said "no" as I'd just been in drag for the pantomime Aladdin, and having heard Harvey wasn't sure I could sing well enough.  I'm sure there's no connection between me and the subsequent abandoning of the West End production.

APT PUPIL NIGHTMARES

Q: Other I've enjoyed your work a great deal over the past several years. What made me think of your acting as superb was watching Apt Pupil; it was the only movie that ever gave me nightmares and I could never possibly watch it again. I actually felt chilled and frightened by Denker, and after years of a diet of American slasher, vampire, and zombie films, that says a lot. What I am curious about is how you conjured up such a fountain of evil when playing this character?

A: I don't mean to be ungrateful for your compliments but I don't subscribe to "evil" as a concept, least of all when I'm acting.  I've played some men who behaved appallingly, from Richard 111, Macbeth, Iago to Hitler and Denker/Dussander in Apt Pupil but it would not have been helpful to think of any of them as possessed by motiveless evil.  Shakespeare is at pains to explain the behaviour of his deepest villains, revealing that ambition, jealousy and rejection by society can lead to behaviour that others might mistake for simply the work of the Devil.  As for those who administered the cruelty of the Third Reich, some claimed they were just obeying orders and my character was more concerned for his professional efficiency rather than revelling in torture and murder.  So that's the side of him I tried to embody.  Perhaps people are prepared to do dreadful things not out of hatred for their victims but because they lack the imagination to empathise with their suffering of others.  Denker/Dussander lives in the past out of nostalgia for his youth when he was happily married.  (His wife's photograph specified in the script never made it onto the screen).  Once his past villainy is re-awakened by the boy who uncovers his history, he is somewhat victimised himself.  In other words, there was enough in the character to connect with without my having to think I was playing a bad man nor as I've tried to explain an evil one.  Nor did I take him home with me.  One salient point of connection: he and I both like dressing-up for work.

CHARLES LAUGHTON

From: Pierre Marc Bellemare

Q: Sir Ian, I understand that, as a young actor, you saw Charles Laughton as Lear at Stratford in 1959. Did you see him as Bottom as well? If so, I would greatly appreciate it if you could share with us your personal memories of those unique, and highly controversial, performances, as well as your views on this extraordinary Anglo-American artist, now chiefly remembered as a film actor - and director (for only one film, but what a film!). 

A:  Obviously your friend has discovered Simon Callow's illuminating analysis of Laughton's acting in the book "Charles Laughton: a difficult actor".  Has she also found Callow's 1987 TV documentary about his hero, which I have not seen?  Laughton was a disappointment as Lear.  I write that tentatively as I prepare for my own but as a schoolboy visiting Stratford-upon-Avon I witnessed near-divinity in the work of Peggy Ashcroft, Edith Evans and Laurence Olivier.  Laughton's voice was thin and didn't dominate the theatre.  He was also over-weight and under-energised, so that the 80-year-old Lear's physical incapacity was more evident than his passion.  He blinked a lot, a tic which connected Lear with his Bottom.  But in the comedy he looked more at home and was more credibly human.  He acted kingship but inhabited the weaver.  It's 50 years back and I can't recall details alas.  There is a very good report on Laughton in Michael Blakemore's memoirs "Arguments with England" from the vantage of supporting him in both plays.

JONATHAN MOORE IN WILD HONEY and AMADEUS

From: Pattie

Q: I was browsing your beautiful website and noticed you did 'Wild Honey' on broadway with an actor named Jonathan Moore. I'm wondering if this is the same actor who portrayed Baron Van Switeen in the film adaptation of Amadeus.

A: Yes you are right. Jonathan also played Johann von Strack in the Broadway version of Amadeus, taking over from Paul Harding who opened in the part in December 1980.   In both he gave immaculately timed performances, always with an eye to humour and precision.

TERRE HAUTE

From: Russ

Q: Just a note to say how very much I enjoyed Terre Haute, and your pitch perfect performance as the great man of letters. Ah, the magic of radio. It truly was a delight -- thoughtful, tender, and, in such troubled times, reassuringly human. To understand all is to forgive all. No easy prospect given the magnitude of the offence in question, but this quietly courageous piece could not have done more to help us some way down that long and difficult road.

A: I have met Gore Vidal a few times, most recently when he came to my solo show A Knight Out at the Freud at UCLA, Los Angeles. Edmund White's fictional play is based on Vidal's correspondence with Timothy McVeigh, the American terrorist bomber but I resisted an impersonation. His immaculate wit was in the lines though and, of course, his homosexuality, although he dislikes the word.  I enjoy my occasional radio broadcasts — it's demanding to reduce a character to his voice alone.       

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