25 May 2006


Ian McKellen E-Posts

17 May 2006


Q: Until last night, I was a huge! fan of Sir Ian. But, anyway, last night, you were being your usual charming self—then, your charm turned to a moment of confusion for me. You commented (however jokingly) [on the Jimmy Kimmel show] that it would "teach them" about allowing the public to pick actors—if they chose a 13 year old black girl!!!! I am so very hurt that you would associate my ethnicity as a negative in such a musical. It has always been one of my most favorites. I have shared those songs with my daughters all of their lives. You really lost a fan last night. Not that you care...due to the fact that I was once a 13 year old black girl who would have loved the opportunity to be in a major musical & almost made it—but for the many limitations that was placed on me—just because of my complexion.

A: Steady on! Maria in Sound of Music is a young white woman for which a black 13-year-old might be perfectly appropriate casting except, and this was my clumsily expressed point, within the expectations of a West End production where colour-blind casting is not yet the norm. In reverse I might have said that a white performer would be inappropriate casting in the upcoming movie of Dreamgirls.


From: Mary Dillman

Q: I was very moved by the recent PBS documentary on the Hobart Shakespeareans, and was delighted when you appeared in it, paying a visit to the school children and sharing some of your own outstanding Shakespearean skills with them! The kids seemed genuinely thrilled to see you and I'm guessing they recognize you from your roles of Gandalf and Magneto? How did you get involved with this wonderful project?

A: Rafe Esquith's class at Hobart Boulevard School in Koreatown Los Angeles is much more than a project and more a way of life, at least for the kids of 9-11 years who study long hours out of school-times, most subjects from economics and home management to mathematics, geography, American literature and Shakespeare. The Hobart Shakespeareans wear their "Will Power" t-shirts to perform their annual shortened version of a Shakespeare play, with additional music by the cast. These classroom shows, which I try to get to each year, are the culmination of a very hard year's work. As a further reward for 12-hour days, even at weekends, some will also go on vacation schooltrips (financed by their teacher's fund-raising) across the United States, sometimes combined with a reconnoitre of colleges to which these fortunate pupils aspire. Esquith's classroom is decorated by pennants from those universities to which previous students have won scholarships.

These highfliers, rescued from neglect by Esquith's vision and toil, often attend the Shakespeare performances that years back they too acted in, encouraging today's generation of young academic actors. Shakespeare, performed by very young people for whom English is a second language not spoken at home, can be a revelation. With a dedication to match a sonnet class backstage at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Hobart casts speak the verse and the prose with total comprehension and an evident relish which is infectious. Each of them diligently knows everyone else's lines.

Esquith first introduced Shakespeare to Koreatown to nurture an appreciation of spoken English and this remains the root of his success. Work and play overlap under the classroom's most prominent banner "There Are No Shortcuts". I first met Rafe Esquith in 1983, years before Disney named him "US Teacher of the Year", when my solo show "Acting Shakespeare" was first at the Playhouse in Westwood CA, now named for David Geffen. I used to ask the audience to call out the titles of Shakespeare's 37 plays. At the December matinee the Hobart Shakespeareans attended, they clearly knew more than many of their elders who were trying to recall "Two Gentlemen of Verona " or "Henry 6th part 3". At the end of the show, I met the young people and their inspired teacher. They showed me some watercolours of Shakespeare characters accompanied by sonnets which the kids had written. It was to be the start of a life-long friendship between me, them and their successors.


From: Ylva Waerenskjold

Q: I am a seventeen year old girl from Norway. I would like to thank you for supporting Europride this year and wish to tell you that it makes all the difference in the world to support people who are discriminated against. You inspire me to never give up acting and never give up on my ideals.

A: I had a smashing weekend in Oslo driving in the parade with Sean Mathias, dining under the midnight sun and dancing till dawn. Activism of that sort is non-stop fun! Now I'm looking forward to this year's EuroPride which takes place in London.


From: Andrew Sillett

Q: As a member of the section 28 generation, I would like to voice my thanks that you took such a large role in protesting against it. This may not have been a very long or eloquent email, but I think it does sum up what I, and a good deal many more people of my age, feel.

A: As one who, on coming out, didn't always acknowledge sufficiently the work of other gay Britons who had to fight for their rights and risk public disapproval long before I did, I am glad that you are aware of our collective history. I hope it will be a constant reassurance that social change is achieved by a movement and not by one or two outstanding individuals who may have pointed the way for the rest of us.


From: Tessa French

Q: You Rock, Sir Ian! Just read about your getting solar energy at home. Alternative energy is the way to go.

A: I have just received planning permission (and a partial grant from my local authority in London) to cover my flat roof with solar panels. These will provide me with at least as much electricity as I use and may even allow me to sell some energy to the Nation Grid. Remember, once the equipment is installed, solar energy is free. Think of the wars which might be avoided...


From: Peter Petraitis

Q: I just saw again after many years, the wonderful movie with Dirk Bogarde called "The Victim". I was impressed by how courageous it was for the time. Unfortunately, then it began to seep into my mind how still pertinent such a story is and how sad that is. I'm a gay man who has been 'out' for 30+ years, but realize it was probably mostly because I just had little to lose. I worked in publishing, so who I was was easily accepted in the New York world 30 years ago. However, this was not the case for this man nor others like him. Those who 'passed' and were very successful with career, etc. must have lived this story and still do, particularly in our present repressed Republican run America. All this to say, would you consider doing an updated version of this film or plot? It's time someone did. I noticed how few people knew of it even of my own generation.

A: Victim is one of a series of British films on current social problems which Basil Dearden and Michael Relph directed and produced in the 1960s and, like you, it had a profound effect on me. Many gays (including my previous mailer) start their journey of self-discovery with the illusion that there is only one homosexual around! I agree that today there are still far too many places, even in our western democracies, where gay people are put at a disadvantage by laws and public attitudes. Is it any wonder that the closet initially seems an attractive refuge from the world — although you and I realise cupboards are only for dust, skeletons and other useless things. Your reaction suggests Victim stands up well so, perhaps, doesn't merit a re-make. A measure of how repressed homophobia makes its victims is Dirk Bogarde's refusal, even in his autobiographies, to define his homosexuality up to his death in 1999.


From: Harold Finley

Q: I recently saw a preview of Trevor Nunn's production of Richard 2 @ the Old Vic. A modern dress production set in Britain, yet there is not a single actor of colour in the entire production. This makes me wonder if any non white actors have been in any of the productions since Kevin Spacey has been artistic director, I can't think of any... I know in the past you have raised this issue in regards to the National Theatre's casting which helped to bring this issue into the consciousness of the theatre going public.

A: In the two productions of Aladdin I have been in at the Old Vic, the director Sean Mathias cast a number of non-white actors in principal and supporting roles.


Q: This the last thing that I would imagine myself asking you, as you've been a role model of mine mainly for your work in film and theatre. But I've fallen on desperate times and I don't know who to talk to. Here are the basics: I'm seventeen, living in a tiny village in UK, and am pretty certain that I'm gay. I've known this now for approximately two years and having to keep it a secret any longer is a burden I dont think I could bear. I want to tell my parents, but can't bring myself to — not because they would disown me — on the contrary, I believe they would feign happiness and understanding but deep down it would be too much of an emotional blow for them to take. This is a very tight-knit community and there isnt ANYBODY to talk to about it without it becoming general gossip and lynch mobs forming with pitch-forks at the ready. I'm sure that I'm in the same situation as a few million other people in this country and the way people continue to discriminate against us repulses me. The fact that I feel ashamed of myself even writing "I am gay" here repulses me, and yet I have no idea why. I apologise for ranting on, but I really am at my wits end. I really want to know your thoughts on the matter as, coming from someone such as yourself, would help console me tremendously.

A: There is nothing to be ashamed off in wondering whether you are gay nor indeed in deciding that you are. Wouldn't it feel good to confide these thoughts face-to-face with a friend? Can you identify someone who would not feel threatened by the news -­ maybe a sibling or a girl friend. If neither is available, call Lesbian and Gay Switchboard who will listen on the phone as long as you need them to and will recommend what might happen next. One day, as your thoughts become clearer, you will be able to tell the truth to everyone you love and with any luck, they will respond well to your honesty and trust. Like most people involved with coming out, you are worrying about the next person, just as in their turn they will worry on someone else's behalf. Your first duty is to yourself. It's only when you sort yourself out that you will be able to fully be a good son and good friend and good citizen. Congratulations on starting the process with your e-mail.


From: Denise Gardner

Q: I would love to see Sir Ian in Panto, but I am in Preston in Lancashire, and it is difficult to get to London for me, would there ever be a chance of doing panto a little bit nearer to Lancashire?

A: I am sorry you couldn't get down to London for Aladdin, but I did recently come north with Mark Ravenhill's play The Cut at the Lowry Centre, Salford, and the Playhouse in Liverpool.



Ian McKellen's Home Page