X-MEN | Blog | 10 November 1999

Magneto's Lair

Ian McKellen
From the Set of X-Men

The cautious approach seems even more relevant now we have been filming for four weeks. Dougray Scott has become a victim of scheduling and is now withdrawn from our movie as he completes "Mission Impossible II" with Tom Cruise in Australia. So, lucky Hugh Jackman, whom I first met at the Royal National Theatre — singing,dancing and acting in "Oklahoma" — is now a tall, handsome Wolverine. (Over in New Zealand, Stuart Townsend has left "The Lord of the Rings" and has been replaced by Viggo Mortenesen.) It's not all over in the opera 'til the fat lady sings or in the theatre 'til the curtain falls; and in movies everything is unpredictable, until the assistant director announces a final "Wrap" ("Wind Reel And Print").

As Cuza in "The Kepp"
Ian McKellen (Cuza) faces the monster in Michael Mann's The Keep

As Captain Hook
Ian McKellen as Captain Hook under the stage, below the waves, at the National Theatre in "Peter Pan"

In Ontario,Canada the weather has joined in the fun, or at least its forecasters have, regularly confounding our plans to film "X-Men," with their warnings of rain that never fell and of dry nights that were washed out by storms. So it has been in Hamilton, 70 minutes north of Toronto, where the open-air part of Magneto's Lair is constructed in a forest clearing.

It has been distracting waiting for the right weather; it sets me on edge so I can't read anything more complicated than a crossword puzzle or the ingredients on the delicious chocolate milk provided by Craft Services (the non-stop fast and free food truck). I lounge in my luxurious Winnebago trailer (nextdoor to Patrick Stewart, who drops in from time to time for a reminiscence about the British theatre of our youth, before he trekked or we both discovered film as a way of life.
As Romeo
Ian McKellen in fight rehearsal as Coriolanus at the National Theatre ("the model's underwear are his own")
As Richard III
Ian McKellen as King Richard III
The location filming in Hamilton has been through the night, for a week, from dusk til freezing dawn. Adjusting the inner timeclock is akin to the worst sort of jetlag but everyone suffers together, which adds to the camaraderie. But pity Rebecca Romijn in her blue Mystique disguise, a makeup that takes four hours to apply and leaves her almost naked with no protection against the night cold. Never a word of complaint, though. In comparison I am molly-coddled, with warming tights under my outfit of grey sweater, black pants and knee-length boots.
Magneto's work-uniform is a tight fit, inspired by the comic strip design but influenced by the latest catwalk fashion. It involves a maroon-lined cloak, a steel-grey tunic and pants and boots and a deep-red fiberglass helmet. I hope it looks as good as it feels to wear. And, yes, Magneto has a wide metallic belt as X-Men fans would expect.
As Death in "Last Action Hero"
Ian McKellen as "Death" in Last Action Hero
(Polaroid makeup-test shot)
As Dussander
Ian McKellen (Dussander) in Bryan Singer's "Apt Pupil"
Magneto's closest brethren are Sabretooth and Toad - hirsute Tyler Mane striding out at 7'4" and Ray Park, his complexion painted bright green. The makeup effects are achieved by a team led by Ann Browdie, my compatriot whom I worked with on "A Touch of Love", my first film. The makeup and hair trailer, specially designed to accommodate up to a dozen actors and technicians, is a nest amongst the jungle of vehicles that convey the film's support system. It is warm with efficient heating and good humour, melting early morning or late-night thespian grumps.
The interest in our movie is intense, witness the gossip and speculation on the various websites. Our producers should consider selling tickets to the comic fans for studio or location visits and begin to pay off the 75million dollar budget! A few guests, friends and family of the crew, have been allowed on set. I watch their initial excitement as they anticipate the thrill of seeing their favorite characters made flesh and hope to somehow join them in the action. But what action? Filming is boring for observers who don't have a job to do. As they wait for a scene to be plotted and lit and prepared, their keenness visibly wanes and I can see them slipping off to Craft Services for a sandwich.
As Chauvelin in "The Scarlet Pimpernel"
Chauvelin (Ian McKellen) faces The Scarlet Pimpernel (Anthony Andrews) in a duel with foils.
Yet surely when the camera crew is ready and the actors makeup has been touched up, surely then, as total silence falls in response to the shouts of "Rolling!" and then a quieter "Action!", then the spell will be cast over the workers and visitors alike. Well I don't think so. As the actors mumble into their hidden throat mikes and the technicians bend forward to check lighting, focus, makeup, where is the true action taking place? Where in that moment of recording for posterity (assuming the shot makes it into the finished movie) is the essential "X-Men" experience? Where to look?
Given the choice, the visitor would want to be as close as possible to it but then, what is it? Would they want to look with Tom Sigel down his camera's lens - is that the centre of it all? Or would they prefer Bryan Singer's view, round the corner from the set, hunched over the flickering video version of the camera's view? The cameraman and director both spy an image but they don't participate in the reality. Perhaps the visitor should be happy with the distant view, taking in the whole but not permitted to enter or fall, like Alice down the hole.
As Will Gates in "Restoration"
Ian McKellen as Will Gates in Restoration
The essence is a secret, one that is kept by the actors. They alone feel and experience it and it is they whom the celluloid and the sound-tape capture. We are the lucky ones and ours is the thrill. If you want to share, you will have to become an actor. Otherwise be content - keep away from the set and wait for the film to reach you onscreen. Then you will know where to look.
NEXT: 10 December 1999

X-MEN (2000)

X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)



Ian McKellen's Home Page

Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD