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?"

15 October 2003


Q: Can anyone read what Ian Mckellen's shirt says in his White Book? I know it says "Women want me (LOL - despite his orientation I think it's partially true! For the over-60 crowd at least!), ___ fear me." is it orcs? It kinda looks like gollum on his shirt because there is some weird creature holding a preciousss fish.

A: My t-shirt is a Lord of the Rings cast/crew memory of the late Brian Bamsgrove. He was gaffer to Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer who accepted his Oscar with the words "This one's for you Brian". He was Australian with a broad accent and a relish for the language. Universally relished for his wit and work. The shirt quotes him.

Approving Publicity Stills
Photo by Keith Stern


Q: Dawn Taylor said in a review of the "Fellowship of the Ring" DVD "One odd note comes when Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan (sic) recount their work together, however. Lee is effusive in his praise for McKellan, describing him as a genuinely nice man who was a joy to work with and who treated him very kindly. When it's McKellan's turn, though, he says that he'd always "underestimated" Lee because of the crappy quality of his movies then notes that he hasn't seen all of them, of course "He's done, what, about 200?" The bitchiness is subtle, but unmistakable."

A: Let's suppose the Taylor report is accurate (although "crappy" is not in my vocabulary) and that my admiration for Christopher Lee's work does indeed seem half-hearted. That is a great pity. It is always the same with extracts from long interviews — unless both the question and the full answer are given, you can never be certain of the intent of the speaker in reported speech. Spoken irony, for example, tends to fall flat on the printed page.

Probably the point I was failing to make was that the experience of filming LOTRings was tumultuous for us all; even for a movie star with 200 movies (good or bad) behind him. I certainly think that the careers and acting achievements of all the cast have been reassessed in the light of the trilogy, including even Christopher's. He is robust and dignified in and out of character.

As I am on record as an enthusiast for his classy and classic performance as Saruman, I hope we can let be this latest imaginary spat between the two wizards.


From: Lisa lwolfson@wellesley.edu

Q: Have you ever heard someone say that the Fellowship of the Ring movie was boring? This was my brother's verdict. "Boring" just seems to me like the one thing it's not. But now, after seeing the movie many more times, I know why he said that. Many people regard watching movies as a passive activity; they sit back and wait to be entertained. But good movies don't work that way. The viewer needs to enter the story, to look behind the actors' faces and see the characters' emotions in their eyes. My family, among others, is not very talented in this respect.

A: Boring?? "Harrumph!!!" as Treebeard might say. What a racy life your bro must lead.


Q: You (and the entire cast and crew) have done an incredible job in adapting for the screen one of our most treasured pieces of literature. A piece of literature that is second in readership only to the Bible. It's actually about the Bible that I wish to speak. I've noticed a few posts in the E-Posts of late by people that fancy themselves Christians, and it is to those posts that I wish to respond. I found the bit about you defacing Leviticus to be rather amusing. I must admit, there have been times I wanted to pull out a few pages myself. At least you¹re reading it. You must read at least a little to find the pages you want to rip out. Apparently these "Christians" aren't reading. Or, at least, they're not understanding what they read.

Here is an interesting exercise: each time you find yourself in the position to "edit" a copy of the Bible, read a bit of it, instead. Leviticus does condemn homosexuality, but with enough reading you will find that the Bible condemns every aspect of human behavior. To paraphrase, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is not one righteous person among us. Not one. We all justly deserve eternal condemnation. Furthermore, you will find that God purposely created us as imperfect creatures. He bound us over to disobedience, so that he might show us mercy. The Mercy that He gave us freely by holding His own Son, Jesus Christ, to account for the sins of the entire world. And so we are all set free from sin. But as Gollum to the One Ring, we are ever drawn back to our old master.

Is homosexuality a sin? According to the Word of God, yes. Should you be judged for this? No. Not by me, nor by any Christian. To paraphrase another source (and make things abundantly clear for Tolkien fans), we shouldn¹t be too eager to deal out judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

So, Sir Ian, your homosexuality should not concern us Christians. What should truly alarm us is your agnosticism. Should we judge you even for that? By no means! What we should do is extend to you the message of the Gospel, a message of tenderness, love and mercy, not of judgment. And that is why I pray you take me up on this little exercise.

A: What a convincing proselytiser you are. I enjoyed following your elegant argument though it misses the crucial point. There is nothing in the Bible condemning the colour of a person's hair or, I daresay, skin. Certainly there is nothing condemning sex between married couples per se. Morality is concerned with intent and effect not the act itself. But in Leviticus an exception is made for one form of love-making between some men (and indeed some straight couples) regardless of its intent or effect. Leviticus puts it incontrovertibly in 18.22.

You do not address the dreadful respectability that Leviticus gives to homophobia.

I am not agnostic.


From: Shawna

Q: I hate to bother you about this, but it seems half the net is in an uproar about one of the statements you make in the DVD commentary. It's the comment you make about Sam holding Frodo's hand in Rivendell, and how you talked Sean into doing that. I interpreted the statement, and the "resolutely heterosexual" part of it to mean that you were actually praising Sean (and Elijah?) for being true to the books, and the Sam/Frodo relationship, and the physical contact of it, rather than being "uber straight" and worried about how gay people might interpret actions. Other people are interpreting the statement to mean that Sean and Elijah are "two resolutely heterosexual actors" that you had to badger into touching each other.

A: I kept well away from trying to direct any part of Lord of the Rings apart from my own. Obviously I was interested in the expression of the loving interdependence between Frodo and Sam but Elijah and Sean filmed away from the studio. Their friendship as actors and perhaps as Americans must have informed the hobbit couple. I can't wait to see more of them in The Return of The King.

I read internet speculation about Elijah's sexuality. So perhaps I was just trying to put thing straight by saying he was heterosexual, resolutely too. And Sean too.


From: Angie

Q: Working for so long with all the other actors, you must have formed strong friendships. Do you all still keep in touch with each other?

A: It's the nature of the freelance actor that he will make close friendships which may not survive as the next job and new friends take over. But so far there hasn't been a chance to lose touch with the LOTRings cast as we meet up so frequently for re-shoots and publicity junkets.


From: Aaron Rohrke aaronrohrke@hotmail.com

Q: On behalf of all of Canada (and the world of course), I would like to commend you and the entire crew on the success that the Trilogy is getting. You all did a wonderful job. My question is what was your opinion of Gandalf's "Grey" Costume, your opinion of Gandalf's "White" costume, and which one you liked the most?

A: Both costumes splendidly help present the two colours of Gandalf, although the Grey's outfit was more comfortable to wear, because less fitting. The pointy hat and the over-long robe were tricky in wind and over uneven ground. The White costume was more practicable but was multi-layered and a nuisance to put on and too often made me look paunchy.

With both, the lace-up boots were tedious to tie even with help and the heavy sword a bit burdensome. My favourites were the cloaks which any actor with Shakespeare in his CV would envy.

Gandalf the Grey


From: Krissy

Q: I feel like crying! I was just on an LOTR message board, and I read rumor that Shelob will not appear in Return of the King. Is this true? I would hate to see such an important sequence taken out of the movie.

A: Worry not. I have seen Shelob and so will you in the third movie.


From: jeffbarber@ntlworld.com Jeff Barber

Q: Is there going to be a World/UK premiere in London again for Return of the King and do you have the date? Id love to be there to get autographs/see the stars/dress up as gandalf, er... I mean, dress for the occasion!!!

A: I'm not sure but I think the London opening is in the week beginning December 8th and there's a rumour that the Queen will be attending.


From: meledhel2000@yahoo.co.uk Cerys Morey

Q: Hi Ian! Just wanted to say thanks for help making the past year of my life so magical! My question is, what is the most ridiculous piece of LotR merchandise that you have seen?

A: I was sent a grey Gandalf with a big nodding head and ill-proportioned body, like those dogs who bob about behind the back windows of cars. I kept the silly fellow on the mantelshelf until he fell down one day and I wrung his neck and chucked him away.

With Bobble Head Tiger Woods
Photo by Keith Stern


From: ceight@shaw.ca

Q: After looking back on your performance in LOTR (the first two) Is their anything you would have changed, even if it was a tiny thing? A second question If you have the time is, How much input in the Return of the King video game did you have with, aside from the voice acting? Thanks.

A: One thing I regret is not having carried a larger pack as the Fellowship set off on their journeys. It bothers me (though hopefully not too many others) where Gandalf keeps his toothbrush, pyjamas etc. My only contribution to the video games has been to record a couple of hundred voice cues to punctuate the action.


From: Jill darthjill13@hotmail.com

Q: This upcoming semester at my university (Eastern CT State University) I am lucky enough to be taking the extremely new and popular Lord of the Rings class with the English department. We will be dissecting the lit as well as the movies, and Sir Ian has a big part of the syllabus dedicated to you. It should be interesting and I can't wait. Thought you'd like to know.

A: To be studied as an official subject must be the ultimate accolade unless it is being the answer in "The Times" cryptic crossword.


From: Libby

Q: I think your website is inspirational. I particularly like reading your e-post, because of your honesty and openness and good sense, which shine 'like a good deed in a naughty world'. I have dreamed of being an actor ever since I appeared in local pantomimes at about 7 years old. I will be retiring in three years time, and I am currently working at GCSE and A level drama, as I hope to retrain as an actor when I retire. I have just one question about LOTR. I have seen the giveaway picture showing Shadowfax's saddle - but what about the bridle? Was it digitally removed, or did you really ride without a bridle?

A: As you quote the play, perhaps you'd like to know that I'm expecting to be involved with a screen version of Merchant of Venice ere long. Good luck with your re-training and your acting.

I really did ride without a bridle but not for more than a couple of paces at a time. For longer journeys there was a white wire round the horses neck which he obeyed. Any galloping was done by stunt riders fully equipped with standard equine controls that can't from a distance be detected by the camera.


Q: I've known of you since I saw X-Men when I was about 7. And to go on to play my favorite character in the best books! I was hoping you could tell me what your favorite scene was to film in any of the three movies. Was it fighting Saruman in Orthanc or something else? Also, do you know when the preview for The Return will be released at Lordoftherings.net? And finally, if you can tell me, in The Return of the King, does Gandalf shoot the white light from his hand towards the Nazgul? It's the best part of the trilogy.

A: Fighting Saruman was fun but the studio was very hot and I think both wizards were relieved when we were done bashing each other around. Sorry I don't have any advance information about the preview release.

Oh just you wait till you see the Nazgul! Gandalf uses his white staff as a weapon and maybe your favourite light emanates from that rather than from his hand.


From: Alexandra

Q: I am eight years old and the hugest (can you say hugest?) fan of LOTR and you. I cannot wait for ROTK to come out. What was the best part of making LOTR? and Do you ever plan to tour the United states and visit Salt Lake City, UT? if you ever come to Salt Lake plan on staying with us, I'm sure my mommy will let you since she is your biggest fan and she has your same birth day and I have the same birth day as Elijah Woods.

A: The best part of filming the trilogy was discovering the beautiful country of New Zealand — its landscapes and its people. Make sure you go there one day, Alexandra. As for Salt Lake City I hope I make it there one day and thanks for the invitation. Did your mother know you invited me? What I have seen of Utah (further south) is spectacular. My regards to my birthday twin.


Q: My question (as silly as it may seem) is whether or not there was more than one hat used for Gandalf the Grey. The reason being that the hat seems to constantly change colour throughout the first movie. This could be down to lighting, but in the scenes added on the extended edition, the material of the hat even seems to differ from in other scenes.

A: Andrew Lesnie, Oscar-winning cinematographer, has graded the colours after the filming was finished. For instance, you will have noticed Hobbiton has greens and yellows where as Moria is grey and blue. Gandalf's hats (there were three in case of accident) were all the same blue but as you guessed the lighting and colour grading can change things.


From: kimbeall@krystalrose.com Kim Beall

Q: Wow! I supposed you've already seen the incredible limited edition bronze statue of Gandalf that WETA came out with for ComicCon. That's probably the most impressive piece of memorabilia they've come out with so far, and that's saying something. Well I was just wondering what you think of it, and if you are going to be able to (or have been able to!) acquire your own copy? I think they should just give you one, actually... :)

A: Actually they did! and I agree it is superb, certainly a valuable collectible.

Gandalf in bronze by Sideshow/Weta


Q: I was just wondering if the beard that you had to wear for Gandalf, gave you any problems in-between scenes. Were you able to take it off or did you have to do everything whilst wearing It

A: In a high wind the beard was a pain but could be tied back for lunch times when sometimes it was removed altogether along with the moustache.


Q: I read that during the filming of Lord of the Rings several of the cast members (namely Orlando Bloom and the hobbits) amused themselves by bungee jumping and other exciting activities. Did you ever take part in that?( I know this is off the subject, but have you seen Pirates of the Caribbean yet? Its great!)

A: Bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand. Even so I couldn't pluck up the crazy courage to give it a go. As I am a big fan of Johnny Depp (as well as Orlando) I will have to go and see them swashing and buckling.


A: Having watched Gods and Monsters for the first time tonight we just had to write and say how movingly you portrayed James Whale, a man we did not even know existed! Ever since you played Gandalf we have become avid fans and have now added Macbeth and Rasputin to our collections. Hazel is my daughter and last year my husband, Hazel and I went to Godzone (N.Z.) for Hazel's 16th birthday. We wish you all success with future projects, especially ROTK which will be an epic! No matter that the Moguls in Hollweird will likely bypass P.J. and cast YET again! A man of principals like Viggo Mortensen is a threat to Tinseltown!

A: New Zealand's tourist industry has been boosted sky-high by the trilogy. After the privilege of working there for a year or more, who cares about prizes?


From: Patrick Flick

Q: You have mentioned that when you returned to New Zealand this final time to film pickups for the last installment of the triology, that you had no memory of the filming of the scenes that were being padded. Is it possible, even with an actor of your experience and working with an amazing individual like Peter Jackson, that it would be possible to tell the difference between the original and pickup scenes, by subtle differences in their emotion or intensity?

A: Well that is for you to judge when The Return of the King opens in December! but I am as sure as I can be that between them Peter Jackson and his cinematographer Andrew Lesnie will match the retakes to the original. Certainly, on set, the wardrobe, make-up/hair, design departments worked together to make the two fit: and the actors too. We all know (but don't rely on the knowledge) that audiences awareness of continuity is dulled by being caught up in the story. Hence the familiar cry: "If they are looking at the wig-join, the state of your boots, the dirt in your fingernails etc, we do have a problem!"



Q: I was able to come down to London to see Dance of Death recently. This was my first visit to see a non-musical play since the obligatory Shakespeare whilst studying 'O' levels!! I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My question is, in light of the announcement that LOTR is being turned into stage show, would you be interested in reprising Gandalf on stage?

A: I think the production you refer to is a musical - I cant sing well so that's me out. There is an honourable history of actors reprising their film success onstage - Yul Brynner as the King of Siam in King and I and Richard Harris as King Arthur in Camelot. They seemed rather unadventurous enterprises though no doubt thrilling for their fans. My experience has been the reverse, putting my theatre productions on screen, as with Macbeth, Othello, Richard III and maybe one day Dance of Death.




Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

DVD Release date 26 August 2003