Ian McKellen E-Posts

"Mercy!" cried Gandalf: "if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What do you want to know?"

19 February 2002

From: Ross Williams, London

Q: Congratulations on being nominated for an Oscar! Well deserved! My question is simple - does this mean a lot to you or are you generally unaffected by awards and accolades? I know there is a lot of (perhaps sometimes deserved) cynicism and criticism of Hollywood, but I imagine it must be nothing but absolutely thrilling to be recognised in this way. I hope you enjoy the evening and of course hope you win!

A: It's very sweet when one's peers say 'well done.' We knew that audiences have been pleased with the film, but to know now that the professionals consider it a job well done makes this all the more delightful.

Q: I pulled up the Variety website and was immediately dazzled by an Academy Awards promo from New Line for LOTR. I noticed you are listed with Elijah Wood, Sir Ian Holm, Sean Bean, and Viggo Mortensen for the same Supporting Actor category, but I've also seen you suggested by others for Best Actor. Is it awkward to be competing against your fellow cast member for the same award? I'd hate to see something spoil the relationships since you all seem to get along so well.

A: Whatever our individual hopes, we are all agreed that any awards benefit the film, particularly those which have called Fellowship of the Ring the best. This happened, for instance at the Empire Magazine Awards, where Sean B's and my nomination as "best supporting actor" didn't prevail but Elijah was named "best actor" and Orlando Bloom "best debut". There are so many of these prizes and it's good that they are being shared out.

From: Sher-May 

Q: Was there any scene in the movie that moved you deeply, perhaps even to tears? Also, I'm doing my honours on correspondence with Oxford, and I would like to do a case study of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy production as my final term thesis. Who might I contact for interviews with the production crew, especially the people in charge of finance and accounting for the project? 

A: Sam's devotion to Frodo gets me weepy at the end of the film. Perhaps the official Lord of the Rings site could help you with your research.

From: beccacollier@yahoo.com Rebekah Collier 

Q: I have a question about the riddle at the mines of Moria. We all know that in the books, Gandalf figured out the riddle on his own. However, in the movie, Gandalf is portrayed with a sense of almost ignorance, and I was wondering about your interpretation of this moment. 

A: I remember questioning the change whereby Frodo, rather than Gandalf, solves the riddle. Peter Jackson wanted to enforce the closeness of the Ringbearer and his guide in preparation for their last exchange within Moria before Gandalf faced the Balrog.

From: vivianevenisse@oricom.ca viviane venisse 

Q: For me, the books of The Lord of the Rings have a deeply spiritual meaning. It's about evil against good, temptation, love in many forms and hope. I don't know how you did it, but I felt a profound humanity, wisdom and love in that character. And I saw it almost just within your eyes. I wonder if you thought about it when you acted or if it just came naturally.

A: I long ago learnt, particularly when acting Shakespeare, that sometimes it is enough to speak the lines without too much interference of interpretation. The innate qualities of the characters in a good script can be conveyed in the words themselves and probably this is what happened with me and Tolkien's Gandalf.

From: Erlend Fuglum 

Q: During the council at Rivendell, when Frodo announces that he will take the ring: I feel that the closeup on Gandalf radiates a very complex emotion: Pity, doubt and an overwhelming fear and sorrow. To me, Gandalf was hoping that the hobbits should be spared. At the same time I suspect that he knew, deep inside, that there could be only one way. Now, almost all of my friends have another interpretation of this scene. They all think that Gandalf looks quite relieved and happy when turning to Frodo. Quite fascinating, and one of the things that I love the most with film and theater: That we all experience things in our own way - that we all fall under individual spells - but at the same time we all get enchanted. So this is my question: What do you think Gandalf really thought and felt about it? 

A: Gandalf has told Elrond that Frodo cannot be expected to do more than bring the ring to Rivendell but when Frodo, without coercion, decides to proceed further, I expect what you see on Gandalf's face is relief and admiration, Hobbits never ceasing to amaze him. It is one of the stylistic features of the film that the camera gets very close for these crucial moments, allowing the story to be told through a glint in the eye or twist of the mouth. For instance, did you notice Gandalf's sly glance to Elrond, when Aragorn pledges to protect Frodo, confounding Elrond's view of men's dependability?

From: Jenny 

Q: What was the song Gandalf was singing when he drove his horse-drawn cart into The hire? I also noticed that Bilbo sang it as he left Bag-end. It seemed familiar to me. By the way, you have a fine singing voice! 

A: Tolkien's poetry and songs feature strongly in the books of Lord of the Rings but not, as you note, in the first film at any rate. Howard Shore tells me he wanted to make up for this by including the voices of choirs and soloists in his score. I asked for a song for Gandalf: the lyrics at his entrance are found in the novel, the tune was composed by Fran Walsh. By the way, I wish you were right!

Q: I am trying to find architectural plans for Bilbo and Frodo's house at Bag End, as portrayed in the film; pics, materials, layout, measurements, the whole works. I own 26 acres with a terrific hillside and I would like to build an actual home based on that design. Any help would be appreciated. 

A: The larger of the two Bag Ends used in the film has been retained by Peter Jackson for re-erection as a guest-house in his garden in Wellington. So I suppose he might be able to supply you with plans. Incidentally the steps and garden of Bilbo/Frodo's house, like the rest of the film's Hobbiton has been landscaped to its original state as agreed with the farmer one whose land the village was temporarily built.

From: kaitlin dennis 

Q: I would like to know where in New Zealand you filmed. I am going on vacation there and where you filmed was gorgeous. 

A: The New Zealand Tourist Board will be pleased that the film has lured you to their astoundingly beautiful country. They have maps to identify specific Lord of the Rings locations, although don't expect to find any of the sets still in place. You will not, I promise, be disappointed by the varying landscapes on both islands, north and south, where we filmed.

From: lennon_gene_bro@yahoo.com.tw YiWei 

Q: I'm from Taiwan and I just saw the movie last weekend. However I couldn't help wondering if Gandalf is spoken by some else rather than you yourself since it didn't sound like your usual voice. 

A: I'm assuming you saw the original language version in which Gandalf's voice is my own, although disguised of course. It's what actors call "acting"!

Q: I noticed that what was in the book referred to as "pipe-weed" became simply "weed," with you and Ian Holm wearing some awfully relaxed expressions, and then Saruman citing it as the source of Gandalf's lack of perception. The reference to Marijuana is clear, but was it meant to be a joking implication, or did you play a far more Rastafarian Gandalf? 

A: Tolkien wrote a brief discourse on the hobbits' love of pipeweed, identified as a form of nicotine. As a pipe smoker of 50 years ago, he would not necessarily know anything about cannabis. Ian Holm and I are happy for you and others to make up your own minds about Bilbo and Gandalf's habits, aware that some smokers mix nicotine and cannabis in their joints and pipes.

From: Eve 

Q: While reading the books, it never came to my mind that Sam wouldn't be in love with Frodo, and when Sam told Frodo that he wanted to marry, I stopped reading, calling out "WHAT? WHY??" :-) I always noticed their strong relationship - and not only as friends, but as lovers, or secret lovers maybe. The touches, the kisses, the scene when Sam finds Frodo in the tower after killing the Orc. It all seemed so beautifully clear to me. I discussed the fact with a good friend of mine, who is gay, and he agreed. (Hetero men said "what? this is simple friendship between men!") 

A: As I've noted before, I suspect Tolkien would have also said "What? etc". He was, after all, capable of making the hobbits' love for each other more defined, had he wanted it to be.


Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings