25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

3 October 2000

Star Wars

Q: If you were offered a chance to be in the Star Wars prequels, would you accept the role?

A: Of course, as with other projects, it would depend on the role and my availability. If you mean do I have any special feelings about Star Wars, making me jump in one direction or another no I don't. I remember greatly enjoying the first film and thinking how lucky my UK colleagues were to be involved.

An Enemy of the People

Q: I would like to know who the enemy of the people is in the story Enemy of the People.

A: Dr. Stockmann, in Henrik Ibsen's play, discovers that the water of the spa town where he is medical officer is poisoned. When he declares this unpalatable truth, his fellow citizens, who stand to lose their income from tourism, hold a town meeting at which they declare him "an enemy of the people". For more, look at the EofTP page on this site or better still read Ibsen's splendid play. You could also root out the 1977 film version starring the late Steve McQueen.

Rupert Everett and Queer as Folk

Q: I hope that it wouldn't be too forward for me to ask for your opinions on my two current obsessions: Rupert Everett and Queer as Folk. Have you ever met Mr. Everett? As to Queer as Folk, it had quickly escalated into one of my all-time favorite TV dramas, least of all because of the plentiful amount of skin. And I wonder how you would view such a series; is it a step backwards because it showed gay men in such 'negative' light, or is it a step forward for its frank and unapologetic portrayal of its characters?

A: I first met Rupert Everett in the summer of 1976, when he was a rather discontented drama student. He sought me out at Stratford-upon-Avon after a matinee performance of Macbeth. Actually he was lying on the grass outside the theatre, lank and lovely. We became friends, although I see little of him these days. His recent coming out has been well received in Hollywood and it's great that his career, as actor and writer, continues to thrive.

Queer as Folk was a landmark series from Granada TV and I loved its evocation of Manchester gay life, which as far as I can judge was accurate as well as believable. After decades of gay misrepresentation in all the media, QAF didn't make the mistake of doing the same thing in reverse by pretending all gay people lead exemplary lives. I am sure young gays whose concerns are reflected in the series take courage from it and the rest of us are educated by its honesty. I haven't yet seen the second series. An American version is in the making: but I regret its decision to age Nathan from 15 to 18, so as to be in accord with those who think that it is inappropriate for gay youths to have sex until they are old enough to vote. That distortion is at odds with what made the original QAF so touching and valuable. But then Manchester has been translated to Pittsburgh, where perhaps the Canal Street culture might not be appropriate. I am glad the original series is still current because of video.

Gods in Moscow

From: Gloria butmaybe101@brittanica.com 

Q: I have seen your picture (on your website) attending last year's Moscow Film Festival. Can you please, share with us what was it like to attend this festival in Russia? Did you meet with Russian audiences as well as Russian colleagues?

A: I have visited Moscow a number of times, during the Soviet years, most enjoyably when Christopher Morahan and I soaked up a little Russian atmosphere in preparation for his production of Wild Honey, adapted from Anton Chekov's first play by Michael Frayn (RNT 1984). Last year, I was supporting the screening of Gods and Monsters at the annual film festival. One evening I was invited to a restaurant party to meet the local film hero Nikita Mikhalkov who directed An Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano the wonderful version of Chekov's play about Platonov, which at the Royal National Theatre and on Broadway re-emerged as Wild Honey.

Moscow had changed since my earlier visits. This time, foreigners seemed much more welcome than before. The National Hotel, just off Red Square, had been refurbished but still trailed the glory of having put up Lenin, John Reed and other Soviet heroes during and after the Revolution. Queues for Lenin's mausoleum were now greatly reduced, it no longer being the citizens' duty to see the mummified remains of their first socialist leader. The lines that used to snake around Red Square had gone and I strolled in to gawk at what looks like a spot-lit waxwork of Lenin's head and hands, emerging from his capacious three-piece suit, lying in an open hearse on a marble plinth.

Participants in the festival were given a private tour of the newly-furbished Kremlin the great gilded throne room as well as the private apartments of the Tsars. Cafe life has burst into the open and in the spring sunshine, it was fun to people-watch in the wide alley beside Moscow's Art Theatre, where Chekov and Gorki worked with Stanislavski. I again visited Dr. Chekov's surgery and living quarters in the tiny house where some original furniture remains and photographs of his papers lie under dusty glass. Soon I hope this evocative site will have been done up, although I would miss the stern babushkas who currently guard the rooms, as visitors slip and slide wearing the felt slippers provided to protect the polished planked floors.

Gay life is opening up these days in modern Moscow and I was introduced to a number of bars and clubs where friendly locals drank, danced and chatted much as they do in other European cities, although with less panache than in London or Paris.

At the festival, I met up with other visitors (including Michael York and Todd Solenz). At the screening of Gods and Monsters I was introduced to the half-full audience, although there was no question and answer session. There was a live translation of the dialogue, spoken by a male voice above the soundtrack. When it was obvious that the reader had turned over two pages of his script and was out of synch with the actors, I slipped away.

Amongst the local press I met the editor of the local edition of Premiere magazine, Ivan Bogdanov. I was pleased to befriend a Vanya: it's like knowing someone called Hamlet.

Swept From The Sea

From: Jeannine Burkart spiralG9@hotmail.com 

Q: I saw Swept from the Sea on the Sundance Channel not too long ago and it is now in my "top 10" favorite movies of all time. It was a beautiful, sad, sensitive, complex and romantic movie. The performances were inspiring. My question to you is how do you feed your muse? What inspires you the most in life and keeps the "spark" in your career?

A: It was always hoped that women might be particularly receptive to the romance of Swept from the Sea, perhaps because the director (Beeban Kidron) is female. I am glad it worked so well for you.

As for my "muse" I've never met her/him or tried to. Acting is a career like any other, providing a living and satisfying ambition. Actors are given too much credit for the artistry of the writers whom it is our job to serve. Poets, dramatists and screenplay writers may well have muses but not actors. My overriding professional aim throughout the last 40 years has been to improve my acting by taking risks. That and to enjoy myself in the best of company.

Simon Callow

From: Robert Catto

Q: I wondered if you had read Simon Callow's biography of Orson Welles, "The Road To Xanadu"; and more, whether you knew Simon yourself, and had any idea how the second volume was going?

A: Simon is a hero of mine. When he started acting and giving interviews he talked freely about his homosexuality, a fact never mentioned by a media stuck with the old idea that to be gay was a private matter that the public would prefer to ignore. He eventually came out resoundingly on his own terms by writing his autobiographical treatise on acting and theatre "An Actor's Life", which I can recommend enthusiastically.

Simon was a party to the discussions that planned the foundation of Stonewall UK. His career as writer, actor and director has never faltered and he is an example for young people wondering whether coming out is a safe policy in show business. Having so much enjoyed his sympathetic biography of Charles Laughton, it puzzles me as to why I haven't yet bought "The Road to Xanadu", so thanks for the reminder to put it on my reading list.

Pet Shop Boys

From: Lee Richards lee_t_richards@hotmail.com

Q: I first became aware of you as Dracula in the Pet Shop Boys' video Heart. What memories do you have of this, and do you still speak to Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe?

A: I had never heard of The Pet Shop Boys before the director Jack Gold asked me to join them in their video. One of them (Neil no doubt) had heard of me and both had enjoyed working with another actor, Joss Ackland, on their previous release, so I got a weekend with Europe's heartthrobs in Belgrade. A favourite moment was in the nightclub that was playing PSB all evening unaware that the originals were supping cocktails and watching the dancers. I urged them to announce themselves but Chris who dislikes bullshit vetoed that.

For the 1992 Stonewall UK Equality Show, I asked Chris and Neil to appear live for the first time and they rocked the London Palladium with a set of hits closing with a sing-a-long "Go West", the old Village People hit which is now a gay anthem. Lily Savage and Julian Clary were also on the bill. This variety show pattern, saluting the Palladium in its heyday, successfully transferred to the Royal Albert Hall where subsequent fund-raisers for Stonewall are now held.

PSB are always ready to help. When Neil came out he set a trend for Stephen Gateley and other gay, young singers to do the same. I saw them most recently, playing in a warehouse in Toronto for a delighted, relaxed, packed house.

Marcus D'Amico

From: John L. Buckingham

Q: I was wondering if you ever worked again with Marcus D'Amico, who played "Mouse" in the original TALES OF THE CITY series in 1993.

A: He was excellent in the world premiere of Tony Kushner's Angels in America (Part One) at the Royal National Theatre in 1992.

I worked one day with him in a Hancock Park representation of San Francisco. Mouse came to dinner at Archibald Anson Gidde's (my part) and met the A-gays gossiping in their ivory closet. Marcus's replacement in the second series, Paul Hopkins, has now filmed the third in Montreal.


From: Ronak Shah ronaks@umich.edu

Q: I have noticed in your responses a couple of references to Indian culture; particularly your reference to the Mahabharata. I am curious what your exposure has been to the work and how it may have influenced you.

A: I am an ignoramus about the cultures of India, never having been there and read little. I saw Peter Brook's original version of Mahabharata at his Bouffes du Nors theatre in Paris. He had enquired after me to be in it but I wasn't prepared, even for him, to act in French for a year.


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