January 2002 | Sir Nigel Hawthorne (1929-2001)

From my email: "Is it true that your late friend Sir Nigel Hawthorne was also considered for the role of Gandalf? Perhaps you're the wrong person to ask!"

Nigel Hawthorne played every part well that I ever saw him do on stage or on screen. In the UK he was most treasured, deservedly, for his television performances as the cunning civil servant in Yes Minister with that other incomparable comic actor Paul Eddington. But Sir Nigel's range was wide and beautifully on display worldwide as "King George III", first in the Royal National Theatre production of Alan Bennett's play which was then translated into Nick Hytner's film, with an Oscar nomination for its star.

When Nigel didn't win the Best Actor award I remember his saying "well I didn't expect to" but it must have been sweet for him to be taken seriously as a film actor so late in his career. (I know the feeling!) At the time, the press suddenly noted that Nigel was gay, living quietly with his partner for a couple of decades. They didn't enjoy that sort of attention and he refused, as was of course his absolute right, not to become publically involved in gay issues.

He once explained to me: "You see in our village Trevor and I jointly open the annual village fete and if the vicar knew we were gay, it would be dreadfully embarrassing for everyone". I pointed out that the vicar and his parishioners undoubtedly knew all and wouldn't be fazed by having the truth confirmed. As it is many can take comfort from knowing that a modest-living gay man could reach the top of his profession.

He worked up to the end and like all unique personalities he is irreplaceable. — Ian McKellen, January 2002

Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence in 
Richard III

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