25 May 2006

Ian McKellen E-Posts

14 June 2005


From: Wendy

Q: There is a hint in The Grey Book of a veggie soup recipe you like. Are you willing to share the recipe?

A: Saut├â© lots of fresh vegetables in oil and butter — onions, leeks, celery, carrots and anything else you fancy. Add a couple of pints of stock and simmer till the vegetables are biteable. Season and serve with buttered toast.


From: Steve Joy

Q: I noted with interest on your website that you once played Martin Luther on stage. As an undergraduate I wrote my dissertation on Luther and would be fascinated to know what you made of him as a dramatic character. I find it hard to imagine him as a figure of empathy...

A: Well now let me think back over 40 years to Ipswich repertory company. Two weeks rehearsal we had to prepare John Osborne's play, which originally starred Albert Finney at the Royal Court Theatre in London. I used my native regional accent, whose flat vowels (akin to young Mr. Finney's) suited the texture of Luther's knotty language and sinewy thought. I was well-pleased with myself, it being the first time as a professional actor that I relished the responsibility of "carrying"┬ the play almost single-handed. Osborne gives Luther some fine long speeches/sermons. I liked the character's toughness and radical strengths interwoven with physical and mental pain. If the audience liked the resulting performance it was perhaps the appeal of a young actor battling against the odds of inexperience and under-rehearsal!


Q: On the topic of homosexuality, I cannot get past (and don't really try to) that it is not natural and is a perversion of sorts. I do not believe that people are born gay; I believe somewhere along the way they get perverted. I would certainly not tolerate such a lifestyle to be accepted by my children as being normal. Having said that, I do not think it is my place to tell anyone what they should do or believe (besides my children who I am responsible for) and do not think it is my business if anyone is gay or not. Frankly, I would rather I didn't know. Your sexual persuasion is between you and your maker (or lack of) as are my belief(s). But, I don't go parading my sexuality in public and really don't understand why gay's feel the need to do it. Can you explain that?

A: So you don't parade your heterosexuality in public? Yet you mention your children twice in a short letter. On the whole I don't mention my sexuality much except when folks write and ask me questions about it. But for too long gay people have been expected to shut up about an attribute that most of them would think was inborn and therefore, to them, perfectly normal. It's a big subject so all I would add is a plea: should any of your offspring tell you one day that they are gay one day, please listen, try and understand and go on loving them just as before.


Q: Are you interested in genealogy? I used to do research in St Catherine's House about 20 years ago and believe I saw you looking through the Birth, Marriage and Deaths indexes once. If it was you how far back did you get with your family tree?

A: Yes it may well have been me. I didn't get further back than the first UK census to record names in 1841. James McKellen (I was tracing that name rather than my mother's ancestry) arrived in UK from Ireland about that time so I established the longevity of our family in Lancashire. I was a little alarmed to read my own birth registered as "Jan McKellen".


From: Robert Tode

Q: I am currently midway through rehearsals of a University production of "Amadeus" (playing Salieri), and I noticed in the re-write that Mr. Shaffer included the tearing off and chewing of the Kyrie. I heard this was something that you had originally done. Is this true? And if so, could you enlighten me as to what sparked this action?

A: You remind me that I did indeed bite Mozart's manuscript. I suppose this nasty bit of destruction was improvised in rehearsal or maybe an early performance and I'm glad Peter Shaffer seems to have approved of it.


Q: I am currently directing thornton wilder's short "love & how to cure it"; at the first rehearsal (tonight!) i discovered that 2 lead actors have a complicated history which somewhat mirrors the play's events, and are barely on speaking terms right now. Have you ever been in a similar situation? Do you think this could be helpful to the rehearsal process? And as director, should i try to help them sort this out right now, or keep my nose out of it, or what?

A: God help you because I don't think I can, not having experienced anything like it!

It would however be perfectly in order to explain to the warring couple that their private relationship might be unhelpful to the rest of the cast and that they should concentrate on each other as the play's characters.


From: Steph K.

Q: I just bought your "Richard 111" on DVD. Is the music to "Come With Me And Be My Love)" the Kit Marlowe poem, published anywhere? It's cool, it sounds very 1930s-ish, and it's a perfect counterpoint to Richard skulking around at the beginning of the movie. Was a soundtrack ever released?  In one of your e-post columns, I just saw a photo of you and Richard Loncraine on one of the sets; it's the office and has the "royal" portrait of Richard on the wall behind his desk. I've always wondered about props like that; are they photos that have been dry-mounted and then over-painted, or did someone do a sketch and fill in with acrylics, or what?

A: Trevor Jones's score has not I think been released separately from the film.

The portrait, copied from a photograph, seemed close-up to be an original oil painting. It hung in the cinema lobby for the London premiere and I haven't seen it since.


From: Joe Hendren

Q: Awhile back I was preparing to direct a stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (the version made famous by William Gillette a century ago). As we approached opening night I had an anxiety dream, most likely because I had initially a great deal of trouble finding an actor to fill Holmes' shoes. In my dream, I was apparently good friends with both you and Patrick Stewart and managed to wrangle you both to take roles in the play. But then the anxiety turned from finding an actor to choosing which character you both would play... I couldn't decide which of you should play Holmes and which of you should play Moriarty. Which would you choose and why?

A: May I play Dr Watson please?


Q: It was recently time to have the "talk" with my son regarding sex and sexuality. On the playground at his school, some kids are using the term "gay" in a derogatory way, which I strenuously object to and have reported to the principal. When I explained to my son what "gay" meant, he asked if he knew anyone who was gay. I thought of you — you are one of my son's heroes and he adores everything Lord of the Rings. When I told him, he said "Well then, it's really a compliment isn't it since Sir Ian and Gandalf are so cool!"

A: I'm glad that you and your son managed to have a sensible chat about such important matters. Until schools (teachers, headteachers and governors) are prepared to talk openly to children about sexuality, it's likely that the otherness of gay people will lead to the bullying and name-calling which disfigure playgrounds and society in general.


From: Amanda

Q: Ooohhh, the agony of stage fright! I am going to be appearing in Hamlet as *egads* Ophelia, later this Fall at my college's theater, and though I'm perfectly fine throughout rehearsals, I AM A WRECK with even a small audience. The local high school drama class came to watch a rehearsal and I was petrified! I can't seem to calm down enough. Are there any experienced words of advice? *sigh* I can only say to myself: "I hope all will be well. We must be patient....I thank you for your good counsel." (Act IV, Scene V)

A: It sounds to me as if you should reconsider and leave the acting to more natural exhibitionists! Of course standing up alone in front of a lot of strangers is not a natural human activity, otherwise we would have been given methods of growing bigger and louder so we could easily be seen and heard.


From: Cath Bradshaw

Q: We've just finished our local Am Dram production of Aladdin (I think I was the world's first menopausal Aladdin!) Though we said the same words each night (well, mostly) pantomime seems to have a life of its own (because of the interaction?) and it was a different show each time. Do you find the same?

A: Although our Aladdin at the Old Vic was not a cross-dresser but the nicely masculine Joe McFaddyen, our experience was close to yours in that the audience's responses encourage a liveliness that a script-based play can't achieve. That said, even in play by Chekov or Shakespeare I wouldn't aim to be exactly the same each night, on the grounds that each audience is obviously different and that deadly repetition makes for less than live theatre.


Q: Each time I watch Richard III, it gives me something new to think about (the sign of a good work of art, I suppose). One of the most interesting elements of your performance is the amount of humor you instill in Richard's gloating and plotting. It reminds me of the mustache-twirling villains of 19th century melodramas. Why did you make that particular choice? The character certainly could be played without humor at all.

A: Perhaps the first clue to Richard's sense of humour appears in his opening confession to the audience: "Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York." A pun is a joke after all. Interesting that Macbeth, which I have long argued is a re-working of Richard III, starts off with a verbal dexterity that implies he too has a taste for wit: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." I'm not sure that either character should be played humorlessly. Playing them both on occasion for laughs, I always felt I was following the requirements of the text.


Q: I would like to congratulate Sir Ian McKellen (and indeed the webmaster) on one of the best "official" web sites I have seen. I also admire him for his activism within the gay community. As a disabled person I can empathise with his fight to educate people.

Unfortunately I am unable to visit a cinema or theatre. To watch a performance 'as it should be' must be fantastic, as even on the small screen his talent shines. I long for the day when I can see Sir Ian live on stage.

A: As most cinemas and theatres, at least in the UK & US, are obliged by law to accommodate the disabled, I hope you might soon be able to see a film on the large screen or enjoy live theatre. In the meantime, thank goodness for TV and video and DVD and thank you for your kind words.


Q: I have been in London on holiday for five days. It was wonderful! I watched "Much ado about nothing" in the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It was the first Shakespeare I watched on stage (until this evening I wasn`t a stage-goer) and it was so wonderful! What a pity that You haven`t played there on this evening. As for "The south bank show - a year in the life of Ian McKellen": Do You know if there are plans to bring out a video?

A: I haven't yet been asked to work at the Globe which is a splendid theatre space although I have my doubts about acting in the open air with the noise of weather and air traffic overhead.

I'm afraid the South Bank Show doesn't seem to release their programmes on video or DVD.


From: Brigitte Uhrmann

Q: Dear Twanks, I saw my first panto "Aladdin". What a lively audience! Never since a very spirited Midsummer Night´s Dream in Stratford in the 90s did I experience waves of inspiration and cheerfullness spread and pour from stage to auditorium and back like this. What a great joy to be part of it! Dame Twanky is a women of exquisite taste (that guy Abbanazar really is cute!) as well as a lady of fashion in the true tradition of Garbo and Dietrich. Great legs!!!! Where is that Britannia pin-up photo on the website?? I would eat much less chocolate, if I saw that shining example before me every day. 1000 thanks to you and a marvellous team for the most delicious treat.

A: Yes I must ask Twanks if she would object to her legs being on permanent display here — as if!

Brittania's outfit awaits the return of Widow Twankey


From: xanthe

Q: Do you really patronize Cephas street garage in Stepney as much as they make out? I've never seen the inside but apparently they have a picture of you hung up inside.

A: "They" are Pav and his relatives, who can fix up an old car like nobody's business. Here's a bit of gossip. I mentioned to my neighbour Steven Berkoff some year's back that I was thinking of getting a car and he gave me a spare one that was cluttering up his lock-up - a silver-grey Jaguar (circa 1980) with blue leather upholstery and two petrol tanks. These took £75 to fill and lasted for about 200 miles of motoring, so Steven's generosity was not entirely selfless perhaps. On top of the price of getting the old machine roadworthy, I was soon in danger of needing a second mortgage on my house, as things went wrong, over and over. These apart from my own inadequacies as a driver. I should have forecast the outcome when on our very first journey together into central London, I backed into another parked vehicle and permanently damaged the Jag's radio aerial. Not even Pav could put that right. It became a mobile disaster and spent far too much time in Cephas Street where it was always lovingly attended to.

I miss motoring round the manor like an east-end villain and often wonder how its latest owner is managing. Pav knows, I bet.


From: Kirsten Faisal

Q: I've loved Shakespeare all my life. As a teen I videotaped Acting Shakespeare off of public television and watched it over and over. It was one of the precious few tapes I took with me to live in Saudi Arabia. (My father is Saudi and my mother American.) Customs there has always been an adventure. Some bags they let through without a look, others even have the linings cut out of them and items destroyed searching for contraband. When my bag was searched, I had taken the precaution of sprinkling tampons across the top layer: a provision likely to scare off the all-male agents. It worked mostly, but they did nevertheless take all my tapes. The procedure back then was that confiscated tapes would be reviewed, and if they passed muster would be returned in a week or two. Two of my tapes were never returned: a tape of women¹s gymnastics at the Olympics meant as a present for a friend, and Acting Shakespeare. To this day I wonder what on earth would have been considered offensive. Sometimes things were confiscated for personal use by the security agents and I harbored the fantasy that somewhere in Riyadh someone else was cuddled down with your lovely voice and Shakespeare¹s exquisite words. I dearly hope so. The memory made me smile, and I hope, should you read this, it might make you smile too.

A: Yes I'm smiling. When I eventually get to visit Saudi Arabia, I will saunter through customs, a tampon peeping out of my jacket pocket and await results.


From: Dan

Q: As I am currently enjoying having your Macbeth and Iago available on dvd whenever I want to experience them, I am eager to know, is there any chance of some sort of release of your televised Hamlet and Richard II?

A: As I have recently viewed them on old video tapes I can promise you, no! Neither is anywhere near as good as Macbeth, Iago and Richard III, which still work well onscreen.


Q: Your reading of Fagles's translation of Homer's Odyssey is only available on cassette. I am wondering if you and Penguin have discussed releasing it on CD or to make it available on Apple's iTunes for those of us who would love to access it from the iPod or in a more portable version! Tape is so perishable and cumbersome. Thank you.

A: Oh dear I am out of my depth here. To prove it, when at last year's Oscars I was given two iPods which said they could carry 1000 songs on each , I gave them away, not realising that they could equally carry my preferred classical music.



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