Ian McKellen E-Posts

22 August 2000

"Mercy!" cried Gandalf: "if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What do you want to know?"


Q: I am certain you will play an excellent wizard, but do you think you, or anybody, can play one of the most complex roles in the greatest novel of the 20th century?

A: I have to believe I can bring Gandalf to life or else I should be wasting a year of my life chasing the impossible.

From: Angus Roland

Q: Will any of LOTR be filmed in the land of Oz, and if so where in Australia?

A: No all in New Zealand although many of the crew are Australians including the cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. Then there are Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.

Q: Since I first read the statements of Peter Jackson about the upcoming movies, I was convinced that something great is underway, something that will be remembered as a milestone in moviemaking. What are your feelings?

A: Three full-length feature films, shot over 15 months, with a major budget is an impressive venture. For those of us whose contribution is spread across the year, living away from home in the Middle-earth landscapes of New Zealand, this is a very special job. Add to this the multitudinous expectations of Tolkien's readers, is it any wonder that each day we feel privileged to participate?

Q: I'm 17 and I live in Arbroath, Scotland. Anywise I have been a fan of Lord of the rings for many years now. Good luck and just one question, how are you coping with the beard?

A: After 5 months I am reconciled to having my face disguised by false hair all day and even find some comforting security in the wig, moustache and flowing beard. After all, without them, I wouldn't look (or feel) much like Gandalf. When the wind, or wind machine, blows and the odd wayward hair tickles my cheek or forehead and Jeremy Woodhead is called on set to comb and tease it back, I can get distracted from the acting. At lunchtime, my wig is pinned back and the beard is bundled into a hair-net which snoods it out of the way of salad and dessert. Gandalf the White's beard is more restrained than the Grey's and we can dispense with the hair-net.

Q: I have seen a sneak picture, taken from a distance and partially obscured by camera equipment and rigging which shows Gandalf the White leading a charge on Shadowfax. The rider is in full white garb; hat back and hair flowing, and all the riders at full gallop. (To me it looked like Gandalf's arrival at Minas Tirith when he rescued Faramir's patrol from the oncoming army.) Was that you? Or your double?

A: Odd that one of the first published images of Gandalf should not be me but my riding double Basil Clapham. There will be more soon about Shadowfax in The Grey Book.

Q: Will you ever put out any photos from the movies?

A: I should like to but only when allowed to by the producers. There are already thousands of images in print from the unit photographer Pierre Vinet from Montreal. His work is guarded closely and will be released only as part of the publicity campaign. On set, all other cameras are strictly forbidden.

Q: Is the scene on the top of Orthanc where the eagle picks Gandalf off the roof to be included in the film? If so does it hurt to be picked up by a (very large I guess!!) eagle?

A: Yes. And no, "Gwaihir the Windlord, swiftest of the Great Eagles" and digitally composed doesn't hurt his rider.

Q: About how many multiple units are filming on any given day?

A: These days, with our end-date approaching, there are usually four units working simultaneously - Units 1A and 1B (for the dramatic scenes with the actors) and 2A and 2B (for epic or detailed shots with extras or doubles). That's not all often there are two further units filming digital effects and miniature models of the more elaborate sets.

Q: How long will the actual physical "filming" be in progress?

A: The end of principal photography is still scheduled for the end of the year.

Q: How many of the other production people (actors and crew) have read the saga? (A general estimated percentage would be a fine answer.)

A: I haven't polled the 200 or so who are filming each day.

Q: Have you seen parts of LOTR with all the computer magic in? If so, how believable would you say it is?

A: I have seen a few preliminary effects, sketches, as it were, for the final painting. Even at this stage they look convincing; particularly a digitalised fight between a cave troll and a scantily dressed muscle-man who was so impressive I asked for his name. Unfortunately he was as artificial as his opponent.

Q: Will this movie be suitable for young people? It is a very dark tale at some points.

A: Yes like many a tale that appeals to kids, the story is long and full of terrors. I am sure that New Line will be aiming for a trilogy that parents can safely take their children to.

Q: I have seen reference to a number of costumes, one of which is Gandalf the White's: "a sensible thigh-length gown and robe in heavy-weave ivory cotton embroidered with gold thread." Thigh length gown? Does this mean we get to see Gandalf's knees?

A: An earlier correspondent sensibly thought that Gandalf should wear boots and that we should catch a glimpse of his legs striding toward Mordor or hanging across Shadowfax's back. I agreed and so did Ngila Dickson, so Gandalf wears trousers under his gown. I've got them on right now and (just checking) YES! I can see his knees.

Q: Are there going to be subtitles in the movies and if so, how much will they be used due to the number of languages created by Tolkien in his writing?

A: Those lines spoken in Elvish will be translated by some form of subtitling.

Q: My friends and I were discussing Shakespeare's influence on modern works and though Lord of the Rings is modern it reads with a classical feel. Which of Shakespeare's roles do you feel are best reflected in Gandalf?

A: Tolkien's tales and mythology seem more influenced by the epics of classical literature from the Odyssey to Beowulf to the Bible, rather than to the dramatic form of Elizabethan theatre. The same goes for his characters. Comparisons lead nowhere - all the Shakespeare men you mention are fathers and their families are crucial to their psychological state. Gandalf has no relatives, however avuncular he likes to be in Hobbiton.

Q: What do you think about the time allowed for the three movies? Do you think, as me, that 2 hours per film is not enough?

A: I doubt if the running time for any of the movies is yet decided on although 120 minutes sounds about right. Anything over two hours risks losing an audience's attention - that is why Peter Jackson is not making one six-hour movie. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Chorus refers to "the two hours' traffic of our stage" suggesting that human concentration has remained constant over the years. Of course it will all depend on the quality of the storytelling. I've seen two-hour movies that seem to go on for twice as long and three-hour movies that seem to glide past in a flash.

Q: From your writings, it seems like you have read Lord of the Rings, but I'm just checking: Have you?

A: Yes.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what is the one question you are tired of being asked?

A: "Have you read Lord of the Rings?"

Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

Sorry, we're no longer taking questions for Ian McKellen's E-Post Blog.


Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD