25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

24 March 2000

London Theatre

Q: I am 12 years old I am from Malaysia. I'll be going to London in May this year and I'm wondering what plays will be on then, preferably for children my age and above.

A: When you arrive in London buy "Time Out" magazine which lists all the plays that are on in London. Apart from the blockbusting musicals, you should be able to get cheaper tickets on the day of the performance, either from the box-office of the individual theatres or from the half-price booth in Leicester Square. 

As for what is appropriate for you to see; when I was your age I liked Shakespeare and other "adult" plays. You might start at the Royal National Theatre where there will be a number of good shows on. There are afternoon performances on different days so you should be able to see 8 shows a week with luck. . . . I hope you have a wonderful visit.

On Fame

Q: First off, I think you're quite talented and want you to know that you were an answer on Jeopardy today! ("He was knighted in 1991 and starred in 1995's Richard III")

A: I really don't know what to say! "Ian" is quite a useful word for crossword planners and has had me as a clue twice in the New York Times puzzle.

On Acting School

Q: I am a high school student with aspirations of becoming an actor. What acting courses or classes have you taken? And also, what previous experience did you have before moving to film? I read somewhere that you started on stage, then moved to movies. Do you have any advice for aspiring actors like myself?

A: I didn't go to drama school and the only formal classes (of voice, stage-fighting, dancing) have been as occasional supplementaries to specific acting jobs. The Stage section of this website will confirm that I "started on stage, then moved to movies". See as much acting as you can on stage and screen and analyse (with friends perhaps) why some is good and some isn't. Act yourself as much as possible (paid or not) with people whom you admire.

Cold Comfort Farm

From: Patty Fraser fraserpatty@hotmail.com

Q: I want to say how much I enjoyed Cold Comfort Farm! How you managed not to laugh when you were in the pulpit, I don't know.

A: The simple rule of playing comedy is to play the truth of the situation Amos Starkadder is deadly serious in the pulpit and puts the fear of God into his congregation. Only the audience, outside the situation, sees the fun. There is nothing less amusing than an actor who can be seen trying to get a laugh.

Acting at 35

Q: A question about classical acting. A friend is just starting to take lessons in Shakespearean acting: what do you think a person who is now 35 and has past "method" training should concentrate on?

A: Other correspondents have found useful John Barton's Playing Shakespeare (available as book and video) in which he trains me and many others from the Royal Shakespeare Company to be alert to the ways in which Shakespeare's verse advises the actor. In the introduction to the published screenplay of the Richard III movie (available here), I analyse the verse a little to make the same point.

Learning Lines

Q: What is your favored method for setting all of your lines to memory?

A: I first learn the thoughts and the feelings which underscore the words.

Hollywood Homophobia

From: mortyt@aol.com

Q: I would like to ask Sir Ian how he feels about Hollywood's double standard about gay actors. The Hollywood establishment is supposed to be so liberal but there seems to be a permeating homophobia.

A: It amuses me how vote-grubbing politicians accuse Hollywood of being liberal when its history and its present are stained with reactionary tradition. Ronald Reagan's social attitudes are much more representative of the Hollywood culture than the liberal caricature.

Just as over the years Hollywood movies have misrepresented the lives of black and native American people in favour of honouring only white-skinned immigrants, so gay people (until very recently) have been slandered onscreen as misfits worth only a giggle or a fatal accident to confirm society's prejudice against them.

Thanks in part to the alertness of GLAAD and others who monitor public broadcasting and the media for anti-gay material, Hollywood's films and television have noticeably matured in this regard. Los Angeles, like other great cities in the States, is at ease with gays and lesbians, who particularly in West Hollywood have an open presence that the authorities respect. The local Lesbian and Gay Center is a model of enlightenment, charitably caring for young people who identify as gay and have been abused or abandoned by their families.

Yet, geographically close to such enlightenment, the dull, old Hollywood ethos survives. Young gay actors, for example, are advised by their agents, managers, casting directors et al to hide their homosexuality just as Rock Hudson, Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift and so many others have done in the past. This policy of lying can only work with the connivance of the media who oddly go along with the doubtful belief that an openly gay actor will not be accepted by the public.

There are many fewer gay actors out in Hollywood than on Broadway or in the West End. In the UK, I am proud to be in the company of Simon Callow, Michael Cashman, Rupert Everett, John Gielgud, Nigel Hawthorne, Simon Russell Beale, Antony Sher all of whom are out and all of whom act straight parts onscreen with acclaim. There are no British star lesbian actors but as everyone knows there is a host of queer singers and comics of both genders who shame our closeted colleagues.

That famous actors in Hollywood or anywhere else feel the need to lie about their sexuality is a potent example of the strength of internalised homophobia. There is no need. Meantime I suspect the Hollywood Closet will be the last to fall and I love Anne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres.

Apt Pupil

Q: In Apt Pupil, the one gay guy seemed like a total sick creep. . . and then YOUR character kills him. I'm surprised you didn't hesitate at playing this.

A: The homeless man (played by Elias Koteas) who alarms Dussander is only after a drink and maybe a night's shelter, although he mistakes the old man's friendship with the young Todd as predatory and attempts some feeble blackmail. This hardly adds up to anything gay. I thought it important to see Dussander in action. If the script had been expecting the audience to somehow sympathise with this murder, I would not have played him.

Prejudiced Yobbos

Q: I know it's difficult, but as a woman of color I've always heeded my mother's advice when dealing with prejudiced people: "Consider the source." Most of the yobbos spewing anti-gay remarks about you are nerdy, frightened little boys (and girls, I guess, although I doubt it) whose only method of feeling "manly" is to be as offensive as possible in a public forum.

A: Many thanks particularly for passing on your mother's sound advice.


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