Notes from Ian McKellen, Part One of Five

Ian McKellen at a book-signing for Walter with its author David Cook.

In the fall of 1981, when I was coming to the end of my year in Amadeus on Broadway, David Cook (who understudied me in A Lily in Little India) sent me his film adaptation of his award-winning novel Walter. Its hero was a mentally-handicapped boy, based on David's experience as a hospital nurse. After a long slog of eight performances per week onstage as the slyly villainous Salieri, filming back home in London as the innocent Walter would be just the sort of contrast that I relish in my work. The added attraction of being directed by Stephen Frears (whom I had known as an undergraduate at Cambridge) encouraged me to send an immediate affirmative reply.

Walter (Ian McKellen) with his father (Arthur Whybrow), waiting in the backyard for their tame pigeons to fly home.

Walter's story was to be told in two films, shot together - Walter and Walter and June, later combined and screened as Loving Walter. Walter and his parents live in a working-class terraced-house in the north of England, so I could use my native accent. Not that I had much dialogue - Walter lives mainly through his imagination which he finds difficulty in sharing - his mental disability leaves him hesitant and often confused by the outside world, his thoughts swimming like goldfish inside his innocent head. He is in his late teens at the outset. By the end he is in his early 40's.


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