Ian McKellen E-Posts

1 November 2008

It's Been A While

Q: I enjoy reading the E-posts. They've been silent for a while now (last: 30 April 2008). Hope all is well :)

A: I have never been a reliable correspondent, even in the days before e-mails, when letters that deserved a long chatty reply, would sit piling up on my desk until I sat down to the task or had left it too late and could throw them away unanswered. As for e-mails to this site, they first reach the webmaster, Keith Stern, who reads them all and weeds out those which ask questions I have already dealt with over the years or which don't ask any questions at all. Then, as many people in the same batch have the same query, the number is further reduced and then he sends me the rest. And here I am with with yours.

I am well and without explanation or excuse as to why I haven't posted replies for six months. It's not that I've been distracted by work. Since filming the DVD of King Lear in February and starting in earnest on The Prisoner in August, I did all sorts of other enjoyable things. I've been visiting schools in UK talking about acting and being gay. I have seen lots of theatre, mostly in London. I have had trips to Washington DC to see Suzanne Bertish triumph as Shakespeare's Cleopatra, after which she joined some friends on a road-trip south to Charleston. I organised another party of pals to clamber about the Lake District in July where I made it to the top of Helvellyn, one of England's highest peaks. I have attended events concerning the Little Theatre Guild, Actors' Equity, Stepforward and others. I have read books, newspapers, pamphlets, reports and plays: but I have written hardly at all. Here I am working in Cape Town with a few days free and, it being too hot to walk beneath Table Mountain where I am staying, I thought I'd send you my non-explanation and thank you for mailing.


Q: Hi, I just wondered if there were any plans for you to be involved with more stage acting in the near future? To my great regret I missed out on seeing you with the Royal Shakespeare Company last year.

A: The DVD of the RSC's King Lear, which you missed, is now available on Amazon and will be broadcast over the next six months, certainly in Japan, UK and USA and probably elsewhere. After a year away from the theatre, I'm looking forward to getting back. In January 2009 I start rehearsing Waiting for Godot for its UK tour preceding a three month run in London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Patrick Stewart is also in the cast and our director is my old friend Sean Mathias. I'm sure our exploits during rehearsals and on stage will be recorded on this site.

The Lord of the Rings

Q: Hello Sir, I have grown to be a huge fan and one burning question has been on mind regarding your fabulous part as Gandalf.  What pipe tobacco did your use while filming and if you know what did others use on set? Do you still relax in the evening with a good smoke or was this just for the film? 

A: I don't smoke tobacco these days.  Gandalf used the loose-leaved rolling variety in his long-stemmed pipe. It's a curiosity that just as the anti-smoking lobby was having its huge impact worldwide by making smoking illegal in many public places, The Fellowship arrived onscreen, smokers to a man, yet critics and commentators didn't dare to challenge Tolkien's own weakness for niccotine by even mentioning it in their reviews.

Fight Scenes

Q: How did you create the scene where you hit Denethor with your staff without Hurting him? It looked awfully painful! 

A: The technique of safely appearing to hit another actor is to "pull your punches". So any blow, with fist or stick, lands just short of the target. With a quick pull back, it looks convincing to the audience though most of the work will be done by the one receiving the hurt, by his reaction. This can't work if the camera observes the trick.

Two or Three?

From: Kai

Q: Guillermo del Toro has mentioned the possibility of a third Tolkien film. I know you are already quite positive you will return for The Hobbit (and so is everyone else). But do you think, sir, that you would return for a sequel, and even a third, after that?  

A: The things I discover on these e-posts!  Guillermo del Toro is busy writing and devising The Hobbit and a further film to link it with the trilogy. I wonder what the third new film would be about? I wonder if you are right?  But wherever Gandalf leads, I shan't be far behind.


From:  Josef

Q: Tolkien was a Catholic and deemed a Papist by some.  I have read your comments at http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08081106.html I do not support your opinion nor personal habits - but that is none of my business.  Although I love your acting and much more Tolkien's work - - and for his respect and Catholic sentiments - I will not be watching the hobbit in 2011 clearly due to your comments against Catholicism - why don't you bash Islam instead - afraid of a fatwa ? I suggest you resign from acting Gandalf and choose something more appropriate for your tastes, maybe Dumbledore ? or better still Saruman !!  Gandalf: "Tell me, 'friend', when did Saruman the wise abandon reason for madness?!"

A: The website you have read has edited the argument between the Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell in Scotland and his critics. It makes no mention of his answer to the woman who asked after the lecture what he would advise a mother to do whose son "was on a mission to be gay". He replied: "This must be a nightmare moment for any parent. I would try to handle it with a degree of compassion. But I would not tolerate that kind of behaviour. I would not condemn but I would not tolerate it."

That sort of attitude leads to great unhappiness. It aims to alienate gay children from their parents at the very time when love and understanding are needed and all in the name of a reading of the Old Testament which many Christian churches find as unpalatable as I do. Rather than accuse people like me of trying to dismantle the Church, the Bishop would do better picking a theological argument with the many Catholics who disagree with him and who find homosexuality quite compatible with Christianity.

I'm sorry that you muddle up Tolkien and Gandalf with the Bishop's paranoia. I am not one of those who thinks Frodo and Sam are lovers but it is a relevant matter of fact that Gandalf recruits no women to the Fellowship of the Ring and that whatever his sexuality or the teachings of his religion, Tolkien certainly relished the all-male society of Oxford where he worked and much of the Middle-earth he invented. Please don't deny yourself the work of Guillermo del Toro on The Hobbit. You could always just shut your eyes whenever Gandalf appeared.

Vote No On Proposition 8

Q: My husband and I adopted our son off the street...we have no children and my cousin was thrown out into the snow by his homophobic stepfather, so he became our child. I recently had the pleasure of serving as minister to my son and his partner as they wed on the beach. We are still actively fighting Proposition 8 out here in California. The wedding was beautiful on the shores of the Pacific; I wish with all my heart that a hero for my children (one of them is a big fan of yours) will one day have his own joy. I shall always keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I wish you nothing but a wonderful, happy life. You are truly a hero and a great man. Thank you for continuing to inspire others by your example.  Gay children are not Kleenex; they are to be loved and embraced for what makes them unique, not thrown away. Our boys have been a blessing to us. Best wishes, (for the safety of my son, please do not post my name. His abusive stepfather still seeks him out. Thank you for understanding).

A: What a timely letter as voting day arrives and Proposition 8 is weighed in the balance. I do hope anyone reading your mail will want to make sure they vote, as I would certainly do. Please send my best to your family.


From:  Edward

Q: You came to my school a while ago and gave a series of fantastic lectures, workshops and private chats! It was a brilliant way to get the ball rolling here. I am probably the first person to be entirely out here and it's been a much better process than I feared it could have been. It has sparked off honest and interesting debate with a lot of pupils and made my life so much easier when other personal problems of mine have been taking their toll. I believe our school is slowly but surely becoming a better place for people to be accepted for who they are. I'm not letting it all stop after your visit though; Stonewall very kindly sent me a lot of posters and postcards which I plan to use, I will endeavor to create a gay/equality group or committee and be as open and honest as I can with my friends and fellow students.

A: When your headmaster asked me to visit as he was a bit nonplussed by your suggestion that his school could help gay boys more than at present, it got me thinking. And after meeting you and other boys and teachers, it became obvious that I should try and visit other schools who were wondering how best to prevent homophobic bullying or indeed any behaviour from students or staff which might make the life of a gay person (student or staff) to function on equal terms with the rest of the school's personnel.

Stonewall UK guides me as their education department is contacting a wide variety of schools throughout the country who want to establish internal guidelines in the wake of the disastrous Section 28 which was a law devised to inhibit any mention of homosexuality in state-maintained schools. Soon Stonewall will be ready to publish it's top ten list of schools who are matching the initiatives of those employers who are determined to treat all their employees equally.

Da Vinci Code

Q: i just wanted to know if you knew what happened to Leigh Teabing from "The Da Vinci Code" after he got arrested.

A: Since his arrest, I haven't been in touch with Sir Leigh, nor his creator Dan Brown. I suppose he stood trial for murder and if convicted, under British law he will still be serving his sentence. But he is an ingenious fellow and maybe he and Mr B have him slipping the cords of justice to star in further literary adventures. He does not, though, appear in Angels and Demons, Ron Howard's forthcoming film from the Dan Brown novel, where Tom Hanks reprises the role of Robert Langdon.

The Prisoner

From:  M. Messer

Q: This post is about your current project, "THE PRISONER" ITV mini-series, and an item that your character, "#2", wore in practically every scene in the original series. It is simply a black scarf with a white and yellow stripe. This article was only worn by the various #2 characters. Not only did it identify #2 consistently for the original series' audience, but it is symbolic as a reminder of #2's position of authority & dominance, albeit in constant deference to whoever has power over him/her (#1). This one minor prop is just so "#2" - I hope you and the writers/producers/director can incorporate this scarf into the series, not only as a link to the past, but as a powerful symbol in its own right.

A: I recall the scarf but, so far, it has not made an appearance in our version of The Prisoner. I think it should and will try and do something about it. If in the event, it does make it into the re-make, you and I will know why.

The Keep

From:  Ian H

Q: I am a massive fan of THE KEEP. I have read the novel and, after a great deal of digging, seen the film. This film, as I'm sure your aware, has a huge cult following around the globe and every single one of us is waiting for it to be released on worldwide DVD in all it's uncut glory. I, and everybody else, would be very grateful if you could help to do so. For 25 years this film has been shunned for, what I can see, no apparent reason.

A: I think there was a recent screening of The Keep in London, which I couldn't attend but it indicates you aren't alone in your enthusiasm for Michael Mann's work. I'm not at all certain that my own contribution deserves a revival though I'm glad there is at least a DVD version, even without the extras that you would probably relish. Much of the film still looks thrillingly magnificent, despite the, to me, disappointing monster effects which inevitably date the film.

Sorry, we're no longer taking questions for Ian McKellen's E-Post Blog.


Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD