Sir Thomas More

Ian McKellen as <a href='../../00027.htm'>Sir Thomas More</a>
Ian McKellen as Sir Thomas More

Franco Zeffirelli was there too. He was casting his very Italian MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and surprisingly hadn't yet found, among the young bloods in the company, anyone suitable to play the juvenile lead. Shallow was a daft audition piece - and yet that's how I came to play Claudio for the second time. I wore even more make-up than at Coventry but at least, this time, it was expertly applied - by the director himself, as he faced me sitting on my lap! Throughout rehearsals, he had given me only one note of any substance: 'It's to simple, Jan; you enter in and make all the audience fall right in love with you, caro'. A fat chance of that, I thought, with Albert Finney, Derek Jacobi and Bob Stephens in all my scenes, let alone Michael York as a very glamorous coffee-waiter. Shakespeare's young lovers must first and foremost be hugely attractive - Franco was right - although his doll-like make-up did nothing for my face or my confidence. I went right off Shakespeare and soon left the National to do a string of modern and new plays elsewhere. I even made a few films.

A curiosity. At the end of the Nottingham season, Frank Dunlop (an altogether cosier director than the giant) cast me as Sir Thomas More in the Elizabethan play for which Shakespeare probably wrote just one long speech. This was delightful, as ours was the first recorded professional production. Assuming that no-one unearths LOVE'S LABOUR'S WON or HENRY V part 2, I shall forever be the last actor to create a part by Shakespeare. 

Meanwhile, down south, the National Theatre was well-established and employing every decent young actor in the country. When Maggie Smith saw me in my first West End play (A SCENT OF FLOWERS: 1964), she recommended me to Sir Laurence, who called me for an audition at the Old Vic. For my Shakespeare piece, I gave him my John Barton imitation: 'Nay, you shall see mine orchard...' Olivier had played the part famously himself: but that would have been true, whatever I'd picked. 

As Claudio (Coventry, 1962)
As Claudio (Coventry, 1962)

As Claudio (Old Vic, 1965)<br>
              With Albert Finney (L) as Don Pedro and <br>
              Robert Stephens (C) as Benedick
As Claudio (Old Vic, 1965)
With Albert Finney (L) as Don Pedro and 
Robert Stephens (C) as Benedick


Ian McKellen's Home Page

Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD