Ian McKellen E-Posts

17 October 2001

"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?"

From: Conal Donovan conal@hotmail.com

Q: At the end of a graduate seminar in Medieval Literature, my professor directed our attention to LOTR. All of the works we studied (Eddic poems, the Volsung Saga, Njal's Saga, Beowulf, the Tain, Malory etc...) contain motifs and thematic elements that Tolkien has extensively drawn from. Can we expect that scenes in the movies will be recreated to reflect Tolkien's tendency to remind us of medieval romantic and heroic epic traditions? Or will any allusions to these motifs in the movies be reflective of earlier works simply because Tolkien has assimilated them into Middle-earth, with no intent or focus of Peter Jackson, yourself, or other actors?

A: The latter. Academic views of Tolkien's sources may also apply to the films but there are no Eng Lit side notes on the soundtrack: perhaps on the DVD . . . 

From: Jen Lee Packing-Ebuen

Q: I've just re-read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings for the first time since grade school. I started to see, this time, that Gandalf's designs were perhaps not as grand and pre-planned as I had thought. Did you see Gandalf as the great instigator of the quest, or as simply a wizard trying to do his best to position the free people of Middle-earth to stand up to an other-worldly evil power like Sauron?

A: There's a feeling at the outset, when Gandalf the Grey discovers the identity of Bilbo's Ring, that he is caught a little unawares. Like all good leaders he improvises but the Fellowship is not his idea. Gandalf the White is another wizard altogether.

 Q: Did Peter Jackson give you some space to improvise on the set?

A: He always gave scope for the actors' suggestions but the script was sacrosanct. In a sense each take is an improvisation of feeling and expression and I try not to repeat myself, rather re-create, just as in the theatre, I hope to keep each performance fresh for the audience.

From: Beth mcbeth@telus.net 

Q: Forgive my ignorance, but I have not yet read the Lord of the Rings and I'm wondering how the film will play to those who, like myself, did not grow up on the books. Would you recommend that I rush right out and read the book before seeing the movie, or sit tight and let the movie initiate me to LOTR's wonders?

A: I am quite sure that Peter Jackson intends his films to be appreciated by everyone regardless of whether they know the books on which they are based. Do as you please but I think you might see The Fellowship of the Ring then read Tolkien, as time is short (unless you are a very quick reader). Either way, enjoy.

From: Jim

Q: I have heard that the Lord of the Rings movies are going to be close to (if not over) two hours each. I was just wondering if you think that the length of these films will make make people (non-Tolkien fanatics) a little less willing to see them? After all, it would be a little difficult for someone to watch a movie for 6 straight hours.

A: It won't be possible to see all three films (closer to 8 than 6 hours long) until the end of 2003. As the story continues through the three films, I am sure there will be eventually an audience that wants to watch them one after the other.

From: Marcy Gomez

Q: Are actors contractually obligated to promote completed film projects even if it conflicts with a current project? For instance, this time next year you will most likely be promoting the new X-Men film and perhaps LOTR's "The Two Towers" (both scheduled for release around Christmas 2002), not to mention possibly working on another new project. 

A: Although a film contract obliges an actor to contribute to pre-publicity, this is always on the understanding that other professional engagements, like making another film, can take precedence. Many of the interviews are done by phone or email these days, so even a heavy filming schedule needn't prevent helping with promotion for a previous job.

From: Tom Ewing ttewing@mediaone.net

Q: As a longtime fan of sci-fi/fantasy novels and LOTR, I find that typical films in this genre are dumbed down to cater to families, and particularly tots. The splendor and adventure of all of Lucas' and many of Spielberg's films are compromised beyond repair by such drivel; such as the Ewoks, the sprites, and all things cute and fuzzy. Is the LOTR going to fall prey to this catering to kiddies?

A: The Tolkien film trilogy is based on existing material, much of which appeals to young minds and imaginations. There has been no need to add extra characters or action.

From: ranger@ripen.dk

Q: I am curious about whether or not you have heard some of the musical score to the movie. Lots of the devoted fans will already have heard the score for the on-line trailer(s) - but do you know if the final score is anywhere close to this?

A: As has been noted on the fan sites, the music accompaniment for the three trailers has been culled from other movies. Howard Shore's score has been heard only on the Moria sequence shown at Cannes. The completed music has now been recorded in London for The Fellowship of the Ring and is currently being added to that film in Wellington, New Zealand. There is a lot of it.

Q: I am a journalist for "Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine," published in the US. My editor recently gave me the assignment of writing about the upcoming "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy, since a number of the lead characters in smoke pipes, as evidenced by various photographs released by the studio's publicity department. It may interest you to know that we published a recent cover story on J.R.R. Tolkien. Do you have any pipe-smoking recollections, from the LOTR filming project. Are you personally a pipe-smoker? Should the subject of adult pipe-smoking be personally distasteful to you, please accept my apologies in advance.

A: I haven't smoked a tobacco pipe since I was an undergraduate 40 years back. Gandalf enjoys the pipe-weed as much as his friends the Hobbits and keeps his pipe tucked handily in the top of his staff. This detail is seen in The Fellowship of the Ring although not in any of the dolls about to hit the toyshops.

Q: Fan from Australia here. I wanted to let you know that the images I have seen of Gandalf look sublime, and I am very happy you are playing him. I can't wait to actually hear your Gandalf's voice and watch him move around. Incidentally, I found it really interesting that both you and Christopher Lee play the two wizards in LOTR, because you are both born under the sign of Gemini, whose ruling planet Mercury is known as the Magician, amongst other things (such as the God of Thieves and the Trickster). So definitely well cast on behalf of Peter Jackson!

A: I know a film/television director who consults his actors' horoscopes before final casting, in case of innate personality clashes. But I bet Peter Jackson was ignorant of the wizards' conjunction. I certainly was.

8: From: Robyn Parkin rmn_nz@yahoo.co.nz

Q: I have just read your August 28 "Grey Book" with the comments about Cannes. I had no idea the advertising schedule was so punishing! Your description of Christopher Lee's fluency in various tongues left me in awe (I, like you, speak only English of various eras!), and made me wonder if his Saruman has something of a mixed accent? This idea seems good to me - Saruman always struck me as a mysterious European gentleman, perhaps with links to some aristocracy somewhere!

A: Saruman's accent is close to Christopher Lee's own. It's amusing that there has been some visual confusion between the White and the Grey Wizard. I won't anticipate, for those who are unfamiliar with The Two Towers, how this bears on the plot of the second film.

Q: You're one of the most respected Shakespearean actors of your era, yet you also have action figures based on your likeness as a result of your work on X-Men and Lord of the Rings. How does it feel to be at such opposite ends of the cultural spectrum at the same time?

A: In my time I have acted in pantomimes and other holiday shows - most recently in the Royal National Theatre's Peter Pan as Captain Hook, in repertory with a classic by Henrik Ibsen. I have acted in Agatha Christie thrillers and in one long run of a comedy by Alan Ayckbourn, the most-performed living playwright. These are not aberrations alongside Shakespeare, rather an expression of my catholic tastes.

From: iain2infinity@yahoo.co.uk

Q: Firstly, are you aware that having played not only Magneto but now also Gandalf, many young [and not so young!] men consider you to be the luckiest actor alive?! More seriously, why do you think there are currently so many fantasy/comic book adaptations? Is it simply because digital effects are constantly improving, or do people have a greater need to "escape" their day to day existence.

A: Your guess is as good as mine but Peter Jackson is on record as saying his adaptation of Lord of the Rings had to wait until film technology had caught up with Tolkien's imagination.

From: Tim Steiner

Q: I understand you only came to read "The Lord of the Rings" when you were cast in the role of Gandalf, is this true?. If so, did you have anything of an "anti-Tolkien" bias before actually reading it? Also, I'm intrigued by the name "The Grey Book". It makes me wonder if you've heard of Tolkien's work on the First Age of Middle-earth called "The Grey Annals".

A: I knew only The Hobbit before I was asked to play Gandalf. Webmaster Keith Stern chose The Grey Book title which may soon need to be changed to The White Book of course...

From: manager@dof.se

Q: My name is Peter and I am from Sweden. When I was younger I starred in a couple of movies over here, one based on a short story by a famous Swedish author called Astrid Lindgren. After that role I was given the opportunity to star in other, but turned down almost everything mainly due to poor scripts, poor stories, poor co-stars and the fear of damaging my name by attaching it to a movie. My question is, what was your greatest fear when deciding on LOTR. Did the script feel "right" for you, and did you fear the same things I fear, that later made me lose interest in acting and rather prefer directing. 
Ps. A curious question why do you call it E-post, in swedish post is the actual word for mail but I don´t understand why it is used here.
Pps. Even though I am not homosexual myself, I really admire you for openly talking about your homosexuality, I wish the rest of the hollywood "closet lovers" would come out and also feel sure enough about themselves to talk about it.

A: My only "fear" about playing Gandalf, the script being splendid, was the length of time I should be living away from home. As I immediately loved New Zealand, fear turned to joy and gratitude.
p.s Ask the omniscient Webmaster.
[Webmaster's reply: "Post" is the British term for what Americans call "mail" and the "E" stands for "electronic" as in e-mail . . . thus "E-Post". Made sense to me anyway!]
p.p.s. Thank you and I agree.

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