25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

9 May 2000


Q: This may sound crazy but is there any way I could have a movie prop from either X-Men or the The Lord of the Rings? I can send a self addressed stamped envelope. Even if is just a rock I would still want one. PLEASE!!!

A: Yours is not an isolated request but movie props don't belong to me except the solitary souvenir that I keep from each film I am in. As for rocks New Zealand's concern to preserve its delicate and remarkable ecology discourages picking seaweed or clamshells from the seashore and the same might well apply to rocks in the countryside. Sorry.

The Internet

Q: How is the Internet, for good or for bad, influencing your portrayals?

A: It is odd that someone like me who has often been reticent in discussing the acting process should find myself discussing publicly my own method, to coin a phrase. The enthusiasm of e-mailers is often irresistible.

 Journalists often ask actors how they act and it's amusing to see most of us dodging the question; mainly, I suspect, because we either don't know how, or we feel sharing the secret might dilute its working properties. The part of my current mail which concerns acting is divided between those who hector or make demands and those who offer sound and often detailed advice, based on their knowledge of Tolkien or Marvel. The latter are illuminating and can genuinely help with my acting. The least I can try and do is return their favour by opening up a little more than usual. That said, if I ever felt that I was listening more to the advice of strangers, however expert, than to my colleagues at work, I should have to shut down my laptop until I recovered my thespian senses.

Action Figures

From: William Milsten wmilsten@hotmail.com

Q: Are you worried at all about having action figures of yourself?

A: My most treasured plaything as a child was my Pollock's toy theatre (still available from a shop in London's Covent Garden). This had cut-out scenery and characters from old plays and movies, of which my favourites were miniatures from Laurence Olivier's 1948 film of Hamlet. If today's kids wanted to play about with Magneto and Gandalf with the same enthusiasm, I should be flattered.


From: Dwight Egan Sora sora@interaccess.com

Q: Do you have any opinion about the fact that British accents in Hollywood action films always tend to signify either a sage or a villain?

A: Hollywood has always tended to see (and hear) villainy in accordance with the USA's national interest. When I started going to movies just after the Second World War, the preferred accent for villains was German. Once the Cold War set in, Russian or East European voices took over. In the '80s, the Middle East provided a number of villains.

Of late, British actors have played the baddies I hope more because they are usually the most actable parts, rather than any national disaffection with America's longstanding ally!


Q: What warm-ups do you normally do before a stage or screen performance?

A: It all depends on the circumstances. In the theatre (especially if it's a large one) I do 20 minutes of voice exercises, hopefully with the rest of the cast an excellent way of bonding before a show. When filming, where vocalisation is at the minimum, the warm-up will be more to do with feeling a way into the character. This I do alone by avoiding distractions and thinking and making sure I recall exactly where the scene is placed in the character's progression through the film. By the time I am on set in costume and make-up I keep myself to myself or rather keep myself to the character. Hard to explain but it seems to work!

40 years on

Q: You have said that dreams of belonging drove you to become an actor. What did you mean at that time and do you feel the same now?

A: Simply that in the early '60s when so many gay people in the UK were private about their sexuality and when there were so few places where they could be public about themselves (gay sex being illegal until 1967) I was aware that the theatre harboured queers and was not fazed by them.


From: Peter Church blakeny@yahoo.com

Q: I am curious how you feel about committing yourself to what will probably be a treasured trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Do you have any fear of getting stuck in an "icon rut"?

A: I don't yet know what my next acting job will be but I am sure it will turn out to be in contrast to The Lord Of The Rings movies probably a stageplay.


Q: What do you think allowed Bent its world wide success on the commercial stage?

A: Until we first presented Bent in 1979, little was known about the gay "pink triangles" who shared the Nazis' ill-treatment of Jewish "yellow stars". Since then, the world has been educated by Martin Sherman's play and more recently by Sean Mathias's film version. Gay audiences of course have been grateful for these revelations, and straight theatre-goers have responded too to the story's unique emotional potency. 

It is interesting that critics have generally disapproved of the play, which is one of those whose success has depended on audiences word-of-mouth rather than on good reviews.

Q: I was hoping that maybe you could offer me a personal insight into your view of the representation of sexuality in Martin Sherman's Bent.

A: One of the most remarkable aspects of Bent is the cunning way Martin Sherman dissects a variety of gay attitudes and lifestyles through his characters. There is the closeted middle-aged Uncle, the camp dancer, the professional drag queen, the straight guard who has sex with men and a matching variety of those who disapprove of them. Max himself goes on a journey towards finally coming out under the influence of his politically-aware friend Horst. Horst is heroic and a model to all gay people.


Q: What a pleasure to find this site available to us! I, too, am a gay man, just about two years older than you. We were both raised in a time when being gay was not acceptable. Even though I was in a gay relationship for many years (he died recently of diabetes), neither of us felt totally comfortable or safe being out. Since I now have been alone, your being out as a gay actor has given me new fortitude and I am forging ahead in gay activism and politics. I helped form a gay business and professional organization here in my home town in central California, a conservative Bible belt area. Thank you for your work, your talent and your great contributions

A: I am briefly in your state (as of this writing in early April) and so from close by many thanks. Good luck with your important work.

Old Vic Theatre

Q: Have you ever performed at the Old Vic in England?

A: I played Claudio in Franco Zeffirelli's startling Much Ado About Nothing (1965), when the Vic housed Laurence Olivier's National Theatre Company. Since the NT transferred to its new home on the South Bank of the river Thames, the Vic has continued to thrive under various managements.  


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