Ian McKellen E-Posts

26 March 2008


Q: I saw lord of the rings when i was 15, my parents were on the verge of seperating and we had to face a lot of difficulties. Our father left us and there was a huge void in my life. That's when I looked up to Gandalf to fill in that void. It's childish but I just wanted to say thank u to the person who in many little ways helped me through the many big changes in my life.

A: I'll happily accept your thanks and share them with everyone else involved in making the films. You obviously responded to the innate humanity of Tolkien's imagination, which is at the heart of his storytelling and explains his enduring popularity. Thanks for telling me.


Q: I have read lord of the rings and am enamoured by it. what do you think happens to gandalf once he leaves middle earth and goes to the grey havens? does he have someone to return to?

A: I had always supposed that the Grey Havens were an eternal life of some sort. But not even Tolkien would presume to anticipate what a Heaven is really like. As for companionship there, don't forget that he takes Frodo and Bilbo with him and he loves hobbits. If you meant that there might be a Mrs Gandalf or a civil partner at the end of the journey who knows? But I doubt it.


Q: So has it come to pass, good Sir McKellen? Shall the dreaming masses with their musty books and their blackened pipes at long last hear those immortal words issue from under that famous nose? "Yes, yes, my dear sir-and I know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don't remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!" Looking about, I find I share the same hopes as millions of others, so I ask, a single query in a chorus... Will you again be our Gandalf in "The Hobbit" now that the deal is settled?

A: Yes I will, if Peter Jackson and I have anything to do with it, he being the producer and me being, on the whole, a very lucky actor. I've just read your quote out loud - fabulous speech. 


Q: last weekend I watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (the director's cut version!) with a couple of friends and I was especially surprised by the acting. Not only by you and the rest of the main cast, but even by the minor parts (and even the peoply that just had 1 or 2 lines!) were especially well played. Since I am a starting filmmaker (even though you can hardly call yourself a 'filmmaker' here in the Netherlands, since there is not really an industry here, but hey!) myself I was wondering how Peter Jackson worked with you (and the actors) in preperation for the roles, and how he worked with you on the set.

A: The hobbits prepared for filming over a few weeks before the shoot began, learning to ride and to fight, having make-up tests and, in the case of Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, perfecting their English accents with the dialect coaches (including Andrew Jack.) By the time I arrived, shooting had started but I had a couple of days to devise Gandalf's appearance with the make-up, wigs and costume heads as Peter Jackson oversaw our experiments.

For a few weeks until we settled into our characters and the filming routine, Peter would preview that forthcoming week's work with me and the others at his home, so that we could discuss and ask questions in a more leisurely way than would be possible in the busy studio. All this preparation was extremely helpful and showed that the schedules were being very well organised by a director who was in complete control of style and substance.

The same was going on in all departments of the film. I saw that, when I was given my first tour of the WETA workshops and met the technicians and magicians as they prepared the visual effects of scenery and digitalisation.

Each day on set Peter would be there before any of the cast, reading to himself the relevant chapter from the book. He was open to any last minute suggestions from the actors about details they wanted to discuss. Then he would summarise the scenes we would be shooting; a necessity when so many of them were shot out of sequence. (On my first day on the film, I was on location for Gandalf's cart-ride entry into the first film. My next day's work was in the studio filming Gandalf's departure to Grey Havens at the end of the third film!)

The rigour of the Jackson approach continued through each day and individual camera set-ups were shot many times more than is usual in my experience. Not only me. On his first day, Christopher Lee was alarmed to have do more than 20 takes and hoped it didn't mean the director was unhappy about having cast him! It was not that Peter was uncertain of anything rather that he wanted to give himself maximum choice when editing the film many months later. Invariably he would not leave a scene without asking us to do just one more take, in case it revealed something spontaneous and new.

The one disconcerting factor of the entire process was the Wellington studio which was not sufficiently sound-proofed against the nearby international airport. Much of the dialogue was overlaid with engine noises, and scenes shot on outdoor locations usually had soundtracks that were unusable. So most of our dialogue had to be added in a post-production sound studio. These long demanding sessions were conducted not by Peter but by his partner Fran Walsh and/or by her co-writer Philippa Boyens both of whom he (and I) trusted completely.

I'm glad you approved of the actors' contribution to films which have been most praised for their visual and directorial scope. It is a sign of a director's worth when his cast works well and although this was not much recognised by the Oscar academy, we were very pleased that the US Screen Actors' Guild awarded the entire cast a shared acting prize.


Q: Have you been approached yet by Peter Jackson or anyone else about reprising your wonderful role as Gandalf for the two upcoming "Hobbit" movies. I read that principal photography begins in 2009, and I can't imagine those movies without you!

A: Encouragingly, Peter and Fran Walsh have told me they couldn't imagine The Hobbit without their original Gandalf. Their confidence hasn't yet been confirmed by the director Guillermo del Toro but I am keeping my diary free for 2009!


Q: I give you credit concerning the Outcome on PJ being involved in the Hobbit movie. I know it supposed to be business, but Bob Shayes' comments back in January, 2007 had a personal tone to me. In your experience, is it hard to distinguish business and personal when dealing with artist directors, studio executives, etc?

A: To me, business is personal; so it can be depressing when working colleagues have ambitions others than my own e.g. financial rather than artistic, let's say. I suspect that some of the troubles between New Line and Peter Jackson reflected the suspicion, not to say jealousy, of old Hollywood toward a newly flourishing film centre, like the one Peter has built up in New Zealand.

Bob Shaye (Co-Chairman) and Michael Lynne (COO), formerly at New Line, have always been friendly and supportive to me in person, though I did feel the need to tweak the latter's nose once, when he seemed to be trying to diddle the cast of LOTR out of their well-earned share of the profits. It was at a party in Berlin after the opening of The Return of the King. I said "That's for all the trouble you've been causing!" I don't know who was more surprised: Michael, that I had taken his nose in my finger and thumb and twisted it gently, or me for having dared do it! At least one of us enjoyed it.


Q: I was watching the Fellowship of the Rings (again!) when I noticed something funny. In the scene where Gandalf is trying to guess the password that will open the doors to Moria, he throws his staff in anger after a frustrated attempt and mutters the word 'Jesus!' Was it just my wild imagination or have the 'Jesus Army' finally reached Middle-earth?

A: I well remember the drizzly night shoot in a flooded carpark in Wellington where the magic doors had been erected. Expletives were no doubt uttered in the cold damp air but Gandalf would never use a Christian swear word! I think your lip-reading is a little fanciful.


Q: There have been loads of rumors since LOTR first came out about the activities that went on during filming eg that the actors were involved with one another onset (Elijah/Dom, Orlando/Viggo) but once LOTR stopped filming all relationships ended and now they're all in the closet, 'dating' women in the public eye to cover up their past and fool people into thinking they're straight! Basically, I'm just curious to hear if you find it upsetting or bothersome that so many actors (that you know) now are 'in the closet' just to boost their careers because they feel their female fans would not like them anymore if they ever came out (which I personally disagree with).

A: This gossip is all news to me. Elijah, Dominic and Orlando introduced me to their girlfriends during shooting. I didn't ever meet Viggo's partner although his son visited a a few times. It would seem that none of my friends can be accused of hypocrisy. Probably the fevered imagination of slashers is to blame.

Hiding homosexuality is a long-tested shame in Hollywood and no doubt continues even in these days of gay marriage and gay civil partnerships. I agree that audiences are much less perturbed than producers allow, by a performer's sexuality. How else to explain the continuing popularity of George Michael, Elton John, Rupert Everett, Ellen de Generes and, excuse me, also the gay actor who played Gandalf?

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