Ian McKellen E-Posts

9 May 2000

Q: I know most of the shots in the teaser-trailer were not post-production and some were just candid filming. The brief facial glimpse of you in make-up brings me to my question: In your complete make-up/outfitting as Gandalf, is the teaser-trailer shot what we can expect to see on the big-screen?

A: Peter Jackson, impressed by the fans' eagerness to see the teaser which was shown last March at ShoWest (the annual film marketing fair in Las Vegas), was, I think, instrumental in the unprecedented decision to share it with a wider audience. It even got me excited when I saw it downloaded on a friend's big-screen computer. I was, though, a bit surprised to see in the teaser a couple of shots of acrobats on stilts, one of the planned devices for shrinking actors to Hobbit-size. This "Big Rig" method has been abandoned as being too clumsy, in favour of others that I have revealed in the Grey Book. Otherwise it all looked very like the film as I observe it day-by-day, Gandalf's appearance included. Everyone is hugely heartened by the near-unanimous approval.

Q: I hope that Peter Jackson will have a convincing explanation for how he can, as you say, "protect the source material from commercial encroachments" and have Liv Tyler do battle with 20 Uruk-Hai (cf. her interview). We non-filmmaking Tolkienists may be entirely ignorant of scriptwriting and cinematic narrative, but we do know the original, which never at any point featured the martial prowess of Arwen Undomiel. Your assurances are less than assuring in this instance.

A: Sorry you aren't happy but I didn't write the screenplay and suggest you address your concerns to those who did! You might be encouraged by the fact that scripts often change during filming.

From: Colin Bordley

Q: Perhaps it's jumping the gun a bit but, assuming the movie is a big hit, does the idea that you may be forever remembered in most people's eyes as "Gandalf the Grey" worry you at all - bearing in mind all of the other work you have done?

A: I have always prided myself on being a protean actor, capable of successful disguise as I deliberately look for variety in my work. What critics or audiences think of me doesn't worry me overmuch, as long as I am still offered new challenges in the theatre as well as cinema. There are worse fates than to be permanently associated with a great literary icon, should that come about. In the meantime I am beginning to wonder what my next job will be next year, when "Lord of the Rings" is completed - certainly something of contrast. My only worry would be if prospective employers began to think of me as a one-part actor. Were that to happen, I could always direct them to the longish curriculum vitae at mckellen.com

Q: What is your opinion on how closely the screenwriters have held to the original "flavor" of the dialogue?

A: Almost all of Gandalf's lines (so far) have been lifted directly from the novels even though they weren't, of course, written to be spoken aloud. Any augmentation has been minimal and in keeping with the original .

From: Cooper Sherry

Q: I suspect that Peter Jackson's film will discuss such things as the Three Rings of the Elf Lords, one of which (Narya) is held by Gandalf himself. Will this ring be visible upon Gandalf's finger in the film?

A: By the end of the third film, Narya will be in evidence. The ring was made in the WETA workshops which supply all the other props. Last week I forgot to take it off at the end of the day's work. which gave the props department a sleepless night.

Q: Has Peter Jackson mentioned doing a commentary for when The Lord of the Rings is released on DVD? Also is there a documentary being made, about the making of the film?

A: I have noticed a video camera operator in constant attendance on set so guess a documentary is likely. Otherwise security rules. For instance all private films taken by actors and crew are developed by a local shop that has signed agreements never to leak copies to the media.

Q: I read an article a while back with Christopher Lee saying how much he wanted to play Gandalf and more recently how happy he was just to be involved in the project. So can you tell me, was he a little bit envious that you got the BIG part. I just have this mental picture of him slipping a little something into your tea then stealing your costume...

A: Guess what neither of us ever mentioned it! [Webmasters note: for more about Christopher Lee see The Grey Book]

Q: I hope Peter Jackson hasn't left out the humor that Tolkien threaded throughout the tale as he wrote it.

A: Worry not. Peter Jackson's sense of humour is evident in all his films including "Lord of the Rings" and there is plenty of laughter on the set, too. As for Gandalf, at least when he visits Hobbiton, there has been scope for showing Tolkien's gentle irony.

Has there ever been a good script for screen or stage that didn't encourage the audience to smile and laugh at some point? This first struck me playing Hamlet (1971). There are many laughs that are integral to the principal characters in Macbeth and Othello and all Shakespeare's so-called tragedies. This is in addition to the "comic relief" of the clowns' parts. 

From: Derek Winchester

Q: The temptation of seizing the One Ring and using it in the best way they see fit is a big internal struggle for a lot of the characters. I was wondering how you might translate that struggle in Gandalf from the book to the screen? You have every right to say "Wait for the movie to come out"!

A: For anyone who knows the books, it is no secret that even Gandalf is tempted by the Ring's power like everyone else in contact with it.

I have already completed the scene in Bag End where Gandalf resists the Ring's potency and refuses Frodo's suggestion that he should take possession of it.

Q: What is your answer to die-hard Tolkien fans who believe that not only will the LOTR films be incapable of capturing the epic grandeur of the books, but that to even attempt such a feat is an insult to the imagination of the late Mr. Tolkien?

A: Such die-hards should probably avoid the films.  [Webmaster's note: for more on this subject, see The Grey Book.]

Q: What part has Christopher Tolkien played in the production of this movie?

A: I understand that he is concerned not to interfere with the filming of his father's novels and that he has made no demands on the screen adaptation.

Q: I wanted to ask you about how much the roles you play affect you. Is it difficult to let go of a role such as Gandalf or is it no problem for you to keep your personal life completely separate from your artistic.

A: During the weeks of rehearsing a play, I tend to become absorbed by the character as I look for him during private study and with the other actors. I try out walks and accents and gestures of face and body. I sometimes learn my lines on public transport muttering them out loud to myself. This must look odd to fellow passengers.

But I am always myself of course, as I search for the character's feelings within my own experience.

Once the play is on, there is a clear distinction between work onstage and life outside the theatre. The same is true of filming. After a long day on the set I am only too happy to revert to normality. Gandalf is always with me, inside me I suppose: but when I am out of make-up and costume I have no problems setting aside "Lord of the Rings" consciously. The subconscious is another matter and perhaps I am more possessed by the experiences of Middle-earth than I realise.

Click to enlarge
From the Slopes of Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand
Ian McKellen, May 2000
Photo by Keith Stern

Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

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Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD