NewsWire: Wizard of the West End - Time Europe

Thanks to Allen H. for the tip on this one!

Wizard of the West End
By James Inverne

Gandalf returns in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

SIR IAN MCKELLEN is sitting backstage at London's Lyric Theatre, a prestigious venue that overlooks the Windmill strip club in sex-driven Soho. Far from being perturbed by the district, or even the cockroach trap on his dressing-room floor, the star of The Lord of the Rings and The X-Men -- two of Hollywood's biggest franchises -- is gleeful about returning to the West End after 13 years to perform in Strindberg's The Dance of Death, which opens March 4. "I'm so excited about working in this street," he says. "The strip club is next door to a primary school! And there's a bomb site that hasn't been cleared up since the 1940s. It's a fun, vivid world."

MCKELLEN'S most vivid role may be the powerful and sagacious magician Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, but he looks remarkably human as he reclines in an armchair dressed in rubber slippers, leather trousers and blue T shirt. After years as one of Britain's most distinguished stage actors, McKellen's turns as Gandalf and The X-Men's twisted Magneto have helped those films rake in a staggering combined gross of nearly $2 billion. He has twice been nominated for an Oscar, for Gandalf and the James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters. Though the 63-year-old insists he remains just a humble hired hand, he admits to delight at his newfound box-office clout. It's particularly helpful for a Strindberg play about a destructive marriage, hardly a surefire draw. "If I've introduced the Gandalf audience to Strindberg," he says, "that's thrilling."

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