X-MEN | Blog | Magneto's Lair | 17 August 1999

I Can't Tell You,
It Would Be Bad Luck

(Thoughts prior to the beginning of filming X-MEN)

Gregory Peck (L), Ian McKellen (C), and other young airmen filming The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling (1966, uncompleted, unreleased)

I have been suspicious of the optimism of film-makers ever since The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling, my first film, was abandoned in the middle of shooting. The producers, Mirisch Brothers, had me and Gregory Peck filming a summer movie in Switzerland when the annual snow season arrived early.

My wariness extends beyond the typical e-mail propositions like 'Dear Sir, I have written a brilliant screenplay about Pontius Pilate — it is in blank verse. Can you direct me toward any financiers who would invest a few million in my movie?...' I've learned even the best laid plans can go awry.

The day I was driven to the studio for the first day of pre-production on Richard III (1995), I bought daffodils for the office and felt all the three-year problems of money-raising fading to an improbable nightmare. I was asked to go straight in and see Richard Loncraine, the director who had written the screnplay with me. Richard shut the door and announced 'The movie is off - the finance has fallen through.'And then it was on again and off again (3 or 4 times a week) until we eventually made our start date and made the film.

Loncraine and McKellen: co-screenplay writers of "Richard III"

Now available on DVD and VHS following its successful worldwide theatrical run

But then beware - even with the finance in place and certainty ahead remember that most completed films don't ever reach a movie theatre, going instead straight to video. And it was nearly like that when Gods and Monsters (even after its initial success at Sundance) couldn't find a distributor — until hours before it was due for TV scheduling on Showtime, whence it would never have made it to the big screen — or the Academy Awards.

These experiences have led me to join that majority of actors who don't like to talk about their next job — until at least signing a contract, which guarantees 'pay or play.' Confiding even in friends in advance may bring bad luck. And posting 'I'm playing Magneto' on this website was asking for more than I dared risk.

"But now the contract is signed (witnessed by my London agent Paul Lyon Maris at ICM last week) and sent off to Chris Andrews (ICM Los Angeles), it's official.

The shooting dates for X-Men have fluctuated since the original planned start of late July. Mission Impossible II conflicted, so I couldn't be part of that — and don't believe everything you read on chatlines. It was the same with The Lord of the Rings - even as unofficial websites were announcing my casting as Gandalf I knew they were a bit premature.

Toronto Skyline

I worked in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in the 1980s and visited New Zealand for the first time in August 1999.

Wellington Harbour

The production companies, Fox and New Line, were expediting the potential problems to permit me to jump directly from Magneto in Toronto to Gandalf in Wellington. The contracts for X-MEN and LOTR are so tied together by their proximity (of date not geography) that, despite contracts not yet finalised, it's more than safe to say that I shall be playing the old Wizard by January 2000, having flown from the master of magnetism just before the holidays.

[Webmaster's note: Sir Ian is now filming X-MEN in Toronto, and is scheduled to begin THE LORD OF THE RINGS in January 2000.]

Millenium Dome, London

Those ten days around the millenium Eve (between X-MEN and LOTR) I shall see friends and say good bye to my house by the Thames. While I am absent in the Antipodes, my home - from which I can see the Millenium Dome - is to be modernised for the new century.

Everyone wants to know will I look like this in the movie. I certainly like Magneto's awareness of his body. Maybe I'm doing this movie in praise of sexy 60 year olds.

I have enjoyed playing outsiders who want power - warriors like Coriolanus - though never a man who is so capable of achieving his ends as the master of magnetism.

McKellen as Coriolanus

X-MEN Director Bryan Singer and Ian McKellen on the set of Apt Pupil

Some of Magneto's clothes are to be made by JonValdi who kitted me out for the 1999 Oscars.

Ian McKellen and Monica Lewinsky attend
Gods and Monsters London Premiere

Photo courtesy BBC News

Patrick Stewart (Xavier)

I've admired Patrick Stewart from his years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the '70s. He is much missed by London theatre-goers. He's a dead-ringer for Xavier.

NEXT: 10 November 1999