X-MEN | Blog | 21 January 2000

Magneto's Lair

Click to enlargeIan McKellen from the set of X-MEN

Fans have questions.
Ian McKellen has answers.

F: Will Magneto be in any way similar to Dussander in Apt Pupil, as I know the movie will revolve around Magneto's earlier childhood clash with the Nazis?

IM: There have been many questions about Magneto and the Nazis — this one explains the others. I can understand the anger of those who have been misinformed about the movie's Magneto. Neither in dress nor action is he sympathetic to Fascism. Magneto's political ambitions may be tainted by his relish for power - but then whose aren't?

This confusion, entirely unsupported by the shooting script, arises from my having acted a Nazi in Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil, and from the opening of the movie where Erik is a prisoner at Auschwitz.

F: What's it like working with Hugh Jackman? Does he look like (comic book) Wolverine in the suit?

IM: All the actors on X-Men were excited to be cast in the film and keen to bring their characters to the screen. We were just settling in when Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine. He immediately fitted into the team.

in his X-Men uniform, he transforms his own gangling gait into a ferociously energetic swagger. When Singer viewed Hugh's screen test that he had hurriedly directed between principal photography in Toronto, he is said to have remarked: "Jackman is a star".

I agree and know that he will be one of the biggest assets to the film's impact. On and off set, Hugh is a gent and a friend I hope to work more with.

F: Do you know if the end of the movie will be a cliffhanger? will Magneto live to see another day as I would find it hard if Xavier sat by and watched his friend die?

IM: Do you really want to know what happens at the end of the movie? It will cost you the price of admission. 

F: What I really need to know is if there will be any reference to Apocalypse at all..or will he make an appearance in the next movie? Why is it that Gambit nor Beast were part of the new X-Men movie?

IM: Please address all such interesting enquiries to the screenplay writers - but for now Apocalypse is not in the current X-Men movie, any more than Gambit or Beast. The filmmakers have informed me, however, that some or all of these X-Men are being considered for the hoped-for sequel.

F: I am curious as to what the costume that you wear looks like. Do you still wear the helmet and the cape as the true Magneto does?

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IM: Well, by now any alert scavenger will have picked up a picture or two of Magneto's cloak, tunic, belt and boots - at least one of them on this site. There will be more, and sooner rather than later. Magneto has multiple outfits in the movie.  Ultra-elegant black cashmere overcoat at the Senate hearings. The action costume plus helmet, protecting him from Xavier's telepathy. And in the final scene, something entirely different...

F: The burning question on my mind, then, is: Do you KNOW who Magneto is? Do you know about his past? Are you aware of his son and late daughter, and his horrific experiences in the Jewish concentration camps?

IM: Magneto is too complicated a man to be portrayed as the typical "bad guy." I have had a great deal of help in familiarising myself with the Magneto backstory, including a lengthy précis of the oft-conflicting facts of his youth.

F: I've heard that in the script, Magneto's name is listed as "Max Lensherr" Is this correct? His true name, of course, is Erik Magnus Lensherr, and such an abomination would be.. well.. an abomination. "Max" just doesn't fit him.

IM: Apparently someone agreed with you because the early scripts which called him Max were changed months ago to Erik.

F: I'm interested in obtaining a prop/piece that was in the X-Men movie.


IM: I can understand this: I always like a keepsake of each job - I have one of the witches' moppets from Macbeth, Hamlet's notebook, James Whale's death note from Gods and Monsters etc. From X-Men I should have liked to ship home the massive custom-built steel table from his lair but it was too big for my house. Then I hoped for Magneto's steel throne chair but the director got there first. I am left with gloves and shoes: maybe I'll wear them for the premiere this summer.

By late spring there will be action figures of the X-Men and the Brotherhood for sale.  Each of us was photographed in 3D and modelled in Japan by figure-makers.  Prototypes were presented for the actors' approval, as agreed in our contracts.  I asked for my retroussee nose to be reshaped. Actual props from the set will be nigh impossible to buy, I'm afraid.

F: What do you see within the character, and the film, that makes this a worthwhile project?



IM: When Bryan Singer first talked to me about X-Men he explained the Xavier/Magneto axis in terms of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It's true that each civil rights movement splits between the integrationists and separationists — the proponents of non-violence versus violent activism. I have noted that amongst activists in the gay rights movement. Some of us move between the various approaches, me included. Any member of a minority facing discrimination can relate to the mutants' dilemma. So before I ever saw the comic, I knew what would be central to the film script - an ever-relevant political argument. That attracted me as a gay man and as an actor.

Another correspondent agrees:

"I was probably drawn to the comic because of its theme of the outcasts of society coming together in a group and helping themselves and the rest of the world. It reflected my own struggle to come to terms with my sexuality. (Superpowers would have helped in high school though.) I guess I am a ‘mutant.' Not to worry Mom and Dad know and I am o.k."

F: What was the difference to playing a comic book villain like Magneto compared to playing a character in King Lear or Henry V?

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IM: I had no problems with being seen in a comic book movie. Dip in and out of my Stage, Video and Film pages and you will find more styles of plays and movies than the classics with which I am most associated. I revere much popular culture: for instance, I have sung with the Pet Shop Boys ("Heart" video); honoured stand-up comedy (my solo show A Knight Out); and a year ago even made it onto Late Night with David Letterman. (Best wishes to him as he recovers at home after heart surgery.)

Magneto is a thinker and a man of action - like the heroes of classical drama.  The obvious difference is in the dialogue. Magneto expresses himself tersely and succinctly, without the rhetoric and complexity of Shakespeare's kings.  

F: Not to say that you won't make a good Magneto, but I have always wanted to see Sean Connery in that role.


IM: Interestingly, Sean Connery was rumored to be a front-runner for Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings but I am told (actors always are!) that I was first choice for Magneto.

In the special civilian honours announced on New Year's Eve in the name of the Queen, Sean Connery was listed as the latest actor to be knighted for his "services to film drama". Congratulations Sir Sean. His honour may be overdue but his support for Scottish independence was not wholly to blame however irksome the British government has found it.

The honours committee have always resisted the claims of famous Brits who live abroad like Charlie Chaplin and Noël Coward; both were retired and close to death before they made it. Like them, Connery has been a victim of some snobbery perhaps. Film stars have often been overlooked. We don't know, of course, but Alan Bates, Michael Caine and Albert Finney may have turned down a title. Richard Burton's ghost at last enters the honours list with Dame Elizabeth Taylor's accolade.

F: Is it true that (according to Bryan Singer in an Entertainment Weekly report) the costume sold you the part?

IM: It can't be true because the costumes were designed months after I agreed to play Magneto. Probably Bryan was recalling some jokey response when we looked at the comic costumes.

F: Is it true that the script of the "X-Men" takes place over an extended period of time (23 years last I heard)?


IM: Some early scenes introduce the history of the main characters. Otherwise the action is continuous.

F: What is it like working with Mr. Stewart?

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IM: It is almost like working with myself, our professional backgrounds being so similar. Patrick was a very impressive Royal Shakespeare Company actor when I first joined that company at Stratford. We only worked together once - in Trevor Nunn's production of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour which Patrick later played in USA with actors from Star Trek: The New Generation.

On set in Toronto we talked and laughed a lot, mainly about friends and plays and work which we have in common.

F: Assuming that this is you!! I was just wondering a couple of small things. I wouldn't want to inconvenience you in anyway. but truth be told I'm a gay American college student, and I've known for a while that I was gay, but I was just wondering how long you had known that? and I'm not really old enough to remember when you came out (not to sound in anyway offensive) but was it hard for you, professionally?

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Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as "Christine Keeler" and Ian McKellen as "John Profumo" (Scandal)

IM: I have always been attracted to both genders from the time I was 5 years old onward. I knew I wanted to have sex with men since I was about 12. I didn't til I was 22. Today, it's easier to identify as gay in many places and situations. I hope it's not a problem for you. I came out when I was 49 and immediately my film career took a boost when I was cast as a randy straight politician in Scandal.

In my first job the leading actor noticed the girls waiting for me at the stage door. He said "very good - but real success is appealing to the boys as well."



IM: Longstanding fans of the comic have their image of what the film should look like — that is the film they would like to make. Bryan Singer, of course, is making his own movie. I hope you enjoy it as much as he wants you to.

NEXT: 15 May 2000

X-MEN (2000)

X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)



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