25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

28 August 2002


Starting Out

From: Rebecca Barlow

Q: I was wondering if you had any advice to us young actors out there about how to get started. I love acting and was wondering how to get started. I am only 12!! And know I have a long way to go but i thought that being such a great actor you might have some good advice for me !!

A: About ten letters a day ask the same, so although I've replied to a similar one before, it's obviously worth my having another go!

I was like you at 12, very keen on acting. Do you know why you enjoy it? Is it that you like the attention of others? you don't need to be a professional actor for that. Do you like telling stories? there are other ways of doing that too. Do you like escaping out of yourself into another person? mmmmm that sounds like me at 12 (and 62 for that matter!)

Are you any good at acting? Who says so? Your family, your mates, your teachers, yourself? Trust your own judgment rather than the rest. But then tell yourself you are considering a job where most workers are out of work and are underpaid and give up even after years of expensive training. It can't be stressed how unrewarding a job it is for most, so that you can measure your determination against the probability of disappointment.

Act whenever you can at school and with drama groups or start a company of friends to read scripts out loud together. Go to the movies and plays as often as you can, so you can begin to look at how other people act watch the same video over and over and study the acting. You can learn from performances you don't think are good, as well as those you admire.

Don't neglect your general education. Get a life before you decide on a living.

And dear Rebecca all the luck in the world, because that's what actors need more than anything else.

Bob Peck

From: David Jaques-Watson david.d.jaques-watson@centrelink.gov.au

Q: The other day I searched the Internet for information about Bob Peck. I was very sorry to hear that he passed away in 1998, from cancer. I still enjoy watching my copy of "Edge of Darkness", and have fond memories of "An Ungentlemanly Act", as well. One interesting 'Net entry said that you considered him to have been "the one actor you learned the most from". I was wondering if you could confirm this quote, and (if true) tell us some of your thoughts about Bob Peck and his work.

A: Bob and I met at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1976 and worked together over two seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Macbeth (I was the King and Bob was Macduff); The Winter's Tale (Leontes and Camillo); and The Days of the Commune (Langevin and Papa).

Although his mentor was Alan Ayckbourn, who gave him an early job in one of his near-farces, Bob's pre-eminence was in speaking a classic text as if he was improvising it. This could involve a lot of pauses (particularly in rehearsal) while Bob convinced himself that he was ready to speak the lines as if they had never been spoken before. This amused and/or irritated some actors who liked to get a move on. But goodness Bob's delivery was always worth waiting for.

I once saw him in a new solo play in which he entered and said to the audience "I've been a teacher for 15 years now" I thought "I didn't realise Bob was a teacher in his spare time" of course he wasn't but then as so often the seam between Bob and the character he was playing was undetectable.


Q: I'm a young actor, graduated from LAMDA, having done a stint at the Warwick Arts Centre and am now seeking representation in London. Things aren't going well, but we all know that starting out will be a long haul. Agents invite me to interview, and that's where the process ends for me, despite good critical appraisal and a new show I'm in next month. I understand you'd be loathe to respond as an actors' agony aunt, but any advice? How much ambition does one need to show? I just want to act.

A: On the few occasions I have attended auditions and interviews as a prospective employer, I have noted the actors' self-confidence as much as their talent. Of course no-one wants to employ too cocky an actor but equally not one too diffident. Try and give the impression in fact say it if you are given the chance "this is the sort of part I can play well/ would like to play/which is a challenge." And also, without fawning, say that working with the director in question would be a pleasure.

The Moment

From: Clare F spudsound@yahoo.co.uk

Q: As an 'aspiring' (i.e. will probably be spending the rest of my life doing something else!) actress, I would like to know how you personally tell the point at which you feel you have achieved a character. Do you actually have a specific moment when you feel 'yes, that's him', or do you continue to 'work' on a portrayal throughout the performance? P.S. Any decent jobs on offer for a 'quirky' young looking 28 year-old?

A: Yes there is often as not some moment, short or sustained, when the rehearsal room walls seem to fall away and I feel that I am the character in his own space rather than in mine. This occurs usually during a run-through of the play in part or whole, certainly after I have learnt the words so I can be thinking less about the mechanics of acting and more about the character's inner life and feelings. When filming, this sort of moment of discovery needs to happen as the camera is turning, possibly because the takes are short and concentration the more intense.

P.S. Not being a producer nor a director, I am afraid I am a lousy source for jobs.

Choosing Scripts

From: Colleen Hannon

Q: When you are reading a script or a play and considering doing it, what do you look for that would make you choose one over the other?

A: Primarily I want it to be well-written and not one of those all-too-frequent scripts that will get fixed on the set or in rehearsal. This comes before all other legitimate considerations such as the importance of the part to the story, type of character, classic or new work.

Amadeus/Acting Shakespeare

Q: I saw you on B'way years ago in "Amadeus" and during the production, a chocolate milk ball fell from Salieri's piled-high tray and rolled down the glassy blue tiled floor into the audience. You paused during the laughter, then picked up the tray and carried it to a woman in the house and offered her a chocolate. It was the most inspired bit of improvisation I had ever seen... Wondering if you remember it.

Also, thanks for ACTING SHAKESPEARE - when I was a young actor living in Hell's Kitchen New York, wondering if I'd ever move beyond my dismal railroad flat, I played a tape I made off the PBS broadcast over and over on my answering machine recorder. I am now a thriving writer/producer and you remain one of my inspirations...Thank you...

A: Many thanks for the memory and for letting me know that "Acting Shakespeare" had such a positive affect. I am currently exploring the possibility of making that solo show more available.

Film v Stage

From: irishbasterd1@aol.com Aidan O'Reilly

Q: I am a working stage actor and have followed your career with joy over the past few years. One major reason for this was even though you still had strong film success you didn't leave the stage. Something I have always admired of actors. So many great stage actors have been lost to the allure of film. And now after the success of LOTR will you work mainly in film? Are there plans to return to the stage?

A: I know: when I was young I used to despair of great theatre actors like Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, who foresook the stage for the movies. But film acting has an allure beyond money and fame even though the best of us can find ourselves in the worst of screenplays every so often. Ever seen I'll Do Anything?

I look out for good new plays and film scripts with equal enthusiasm.

Stage Fright

Q: I was wondering if such a prolific actor as yourself still suffers stage fright. Did you ever? I ask because it stopped my flirtation with drama in its infancy.

A: Call it bravado, foolhardiness or insensitivity I don't care I have felt at home onstage since I first tried it out more than 50 years ago. There have been moments when I have been uncomfortable because the work hasn't been achieved but that is not the same as stage-fright, a debilitating syndrome which may be an instinctive human response to the danger of standing up in public, vulnerable to attack.

My one attack of stage-fright was a temporary reaction to some harsh criticism of my acting which I overheard in a late-night restaurant during the West End run of Too True to be Good. The next performance I suddenly wondered how many of the audience agreed with my critic of the previous evening. Fearing they all did, I stopped acting and speaking (so odd to be struck dumb but that's what happened) and Judi Dench gamely finished the scene by adding some of my lines to her own. Next night it was easier but my bout of stage-fright persisted weaker and weaker during the remainder of the three month season.

Emotion On Stage

From: Joyce Lu

Q: When you are rehearsing for plays or movies, if there are any emotional or crying scenes, do you go all out during rehearsals, or do you save it for opening night and the actual performances?

A: Oh certainly I have a go during rehearsal. If not how could I be certain I could do it in performance when it would be too late to discover that I couldn't. There isn't a finite well of emotion that will dry up. So be brave and drop the bucket. Having felt it once, it will be easy to recall over and over.


From: Paul

Q: Have you ever worked in a musical, either onstage or in a movie i missed? How is the singing voice, anyway? :)

A: I am not confident about my singing, although musical directors have pronounced it "trainable". Apart from Sandy Wilson's "The Boy Friend" in 1962, I haven't sung a song in public. James Whale hummed a bit just before he met Clayton the gardener in Gods and Monsters didn't he? I almost agreed to play Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady" with the Scottish Opera Company way back, until another job intervened.

The End

From: Laurie

Q: My British Literature class recently watched a production of "Macbeth" starring yourself and Judi Dench. Wow! I loved it! Tell me, do you think there will ever come a time when you decide that you do not want to act anymore? I'm hoping the answer will be "no".

A: Then let the answer be "no"!


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