McKellen, Lee, Rhys-Davies Interview – Amazing actors sit down with Joram to talk LOTR

by May 14, 2001Lord of the Rings (Movies)

Joram from reports from Cannes!

The Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, and John Rhys-Davies Interview

This was probably my favourite group of people to come to our interview table. Ian McKellen is so charming. Christopher Lee is such a powerful force to me. John Rhys-Davies is funny and great story-telling. All three of these British actors really were cool to talk to. Mr. Davies opened up with a story about Sean Bean.

John Rhys-Davies: I go from New Zealand to LA and by coincidence Sean [Bean] is on that very flight. He has got more bags I have ever seen and he is with two elderly people. After a few minutes I’m thinking “Sean, Sean; aren’t you going to introduce me to these people? Is this your Mom and Dad?” And they weren’t. They were two very elderly passengers that he befriended on this plane and he was trying to steer them in the right direction. He was carrying all their baggage. I had to shoot off to London, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him unloading their baggage on to the ticket counter. They never realized it was Sean Bean. It just this man being his perfect sweet self….

Christopher Lee: Like all of us (lauhgter from table)

John Rhys-Davies: …Which I think is the nicest story.

Question: There hasn’t been many parts for renowned British stage actors in these past twenty years with the exceptions of Sir Alec Guiness and a few others. Tell us about your experiences with this production

Christopher Lee: I think it is a natural progression for an actor to proceed to this stage. Being in this production is an enormous privlidge It really is. I’ve never had an experience like this.

Ian McKellen: We’re lucky that the books the film is based on was written by an Englishman. But man English stage actors have done these sort of movies before. It’s not that unsual. I only do good scripts. Be it television plays, stage plays, or radio plays. The question always is: “what is the script like?”

Christopher Lee: What is important is the contribution you make. The old story goes: “there are no small parts, only small actors”. There long parts or there are short parts. It can be a day or it can be a year. What is the contribution you can make in that role? That is what matters.

Ian McKellen: There are many successful English actors having careers in Hollywood. But if they decide that is what they want to do it has nothing to do with money. They want to become film actors; they become ersatz American. They pretend to be American. They first thing they have to do is come up with a kibitzing American accent.

Question: It is very nice to work on a whopping big budget for a Peter Jackson film in this stage of your career isn’t it?

Christopher Lee: Certainly mine because I’m much, much older than these two [points to JRD and Ian]

John Rhys-Davies: Yeah, yeah, yeah… [smiling at CL]

Christopher Lee: Yeah a lot. A hell of a lot! [older]

Ian McKellen: I think every dollar that has been spent on this film is being seen onscreen. It’s not in the pockets of anyone involved. Be it the actors or the crew. I think everyone has worked well above what is expected from them as far as a salary is concerned. It’s one of the remarkable things about it. The hidden degree in this is love.

Christopher Lee: Love. Absolutely. You’ve got to give New Line every credit for commiting 270 million dollars to this film; because they’re not the biggest studio.

John Rhys-Davies: And to make three films in a funny place “New Zealand” which is 11000 miles away or something like that. It’s an enormous of courage. Retrospectively in six months time,you’re going to look back and ask : “Where is the risk involved?” Because this is going to be the biggest picture of all time. This series of three films is going to be huge.

Christopher Lee: I agree with that

John Rhys-Davies: And more than that, in 10 or 12 years from now when you look back and you think “what are my 10 or 12 favourite films?” You’ll find a space for Lord of the Rings. I tell you right now.

Question: So it’s going to outdo Star Wars?

John Rhys-Davies: Oh you can’t make a comparison.

Christopher Lee: I have just been in Star Wars.

Question: Oh can you talk about that?

Christopher Lee: No I can’t (laughter) Not all all. At any rate it’s irrevelent from what we’re talking about. And I have to say this again. There is no similarity AT ALL.None.

Ian McKellen: Star Wars began as one movie which was a success. There were then sequels. This began as in intention to make 3 films.

John Rhys-Davies: The interesting parallel between LOTR and Star Wars is that George Lucas stopped making Star Wars because the technology wasn’t ready to do what he wanted to do. And he has spent 20 or 30 years trying to develop that technology. The reason LOTR hasn’t been made is for the same reason. Now is the time that the technology is there to do the other things that you do to create a great fantasy film. It’s an extraordinary achievement; it’s a combination of the unique geography and flora of New Zealand. The landscape is familiar, but since the vegatation is slightly different. It’s slightly alien. It’s like that Middle-earth alien-ness. The extra-ordinary vision of Tolken and the illustrations by Alan Lee are carried into the visual compenent that is carried over into the production. Than you have this extraordinary little man, Peter Jackson who has everything a director needs to be a great director. Everything. I have worked with some extraordinary magnificent direrctors… but this guy has everything.

Christopher Lee: Totally different from all of them. He is quite extraordinary. Something I said went on to a website. I said he is one of the most remarkable directors I’ve ever worked with.

Ian McKellen: Saul Zaentz had the rights to make this movie for how long?

Christopher Lee: Well I saw the one he did with Ralph Bakshi…

Ian McKellen. And Miramax had it for some time. But it was New Line who;when Peter went and pictched the story; it was Bob Shaye who said this is worth 3 films. First person to say that. And immediately Peter knew he had found the producer that would back him all the way.

John Rhys-Davies: If you’ve been to New Zealand and you’ve seen the workshops. Unbelievable. You’d think perhaps less of New Zealand because it seems so far away from the center of the film industry. Incredible staffs. Matchless the worksmanship that went into this. All the details; and some of it you won’t even notice. You saw that little sequence [from the footage] where we were in the Mines of Moria? You heard that chant in the background? That chant was written by one of writers, Phillipa in English. It was than translated Dwarvish to be sung over that chant. Now you don’t actually hear any of those words at all; but it just shows one of the 1000 instances of great attention to detail. They wanted to get this right for the Tolkien fans and at the same time create something wonderful for non-fans.

Christopher Lee: I think they will read the books once they see the films.
Ian McKellen: The Tolkien Estate’s income in the UK doubled last year. Before the films have even come out.

Question: Christopher, you’ve played some pretty good villains in your career…

Christopher Lee: Good or bad? (laughing)

John Rhys-Davies: Same performance, different costume. (laughs at Chrisopher Lee)

Christopher Lee: Same performance, same set sometimes! (laughs)

Question: So do you think this is a sort of crowning achievement for you?

Christopher Lee: Oh yes. I’ve gotten to the stage..I don’t want to sound morbid, but I’ve gotten to the stage of my life where I don’t even know if I’ll do another one [film] I obviously hope I’ll see all 3 of these films. Yes, it’s a dream come true.

Ian McKellen: There’s this man [pointing to Christopher Lee] and there is Orlando Bloom who is his first movie. But both all work with the same group. That’s we are all doughty about it. That’s why we are here. It’s pretty remarkable that the entire fellowship is here.That they put down everything to come here. Peter wanted us here so we are here.

Question: Mr. Lee would you to play a good guy for a change? Would you like to be Gandalf?

Christopher Lee: [thinks… then covers Ian with his jacket to hide him and nods yes] [[Everyone bursts into laughter]] Of course I would.

Ian McKellen: Of course he would. But I’d like to play Saruman. We’d all like to play every part.

Christopher Lee: Exactly!

Ian McKellen: Well maybe except the dwarf [laughs]

Christopher Lee: When I read the book I had been an actor for 8 years. I remember thinking what a wonderful part Gandalf is. But I’m far too old now to play Gandalf. I couldn’t possibly have done that things that Ian had done in the part. But any actor reading those books would love to play Gandalf because he is amazing. He is a conglomeration of different parts of human nature and of course very herioic and has a great sense of humour. And [looking over to Ian] which they say about both of us: “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, because they are subtle and quick to anger” (Joram: Holy cow that gets the Quote of the Day!)

Question: Mr. McKellen, when you were in the makeup you were quite unrecognizable. What did you do to create mystique and look for Gandalf?

Ian McKellen: There’s a little know chapter in one of Stanuslovsky’s (sp?) books on acting where he says: “if you’re having trouble getting the part, sit in front of the mirror and keep applying the make-up. And there may, if you’re lucky come a moment where you see the character and stop seeing yourself” And when I was subjected two days of trial make-ups with expert wigmakers and beard and moustache makers and prostetics and so on. Plus the costume, there was moment, when I looked in the mirror and saw not me, but Gandalf. And that was before I had any discussions with Peter about how I would speak or act it. All of these experts were coming and trying to create the Gandalf that they had imagined from reading the books. So I was the beneficiary of all that knowledge and imagination. So I saw him in the mirror. And once you see him, then you can start walking him and you can start feeling like him and talking like him. And leaving yourself just for a moment while the camera is rolling. It didn’t require me sitting down and pouring over books on my own. Nothing in this movie was down on our own. It was done with the company of people helping.

Christopher Lee: When you look at this film and you look at John and Ian. You can’t see anyone else in these roles. Everyone. The casting is so perfect, it is so rare to have this kind of casting. It is the eseence of Tolkien

Ian McKellen: Wait until you see Gollum!

Question: You’re all in the stage of your careers where you play sages and wizened old men. How does that compare to your ealier years playing leading men?

Christopher Lee: Oh I never was. I was never leading man material. Ever. No never. I couldn’t possibly play romantic leads or anything like that. I didn’t have the ablity or the knowledge or the experience. It took me 10 years before I learned more or less in front of the camera.

Question: But do you like these kind of roles?

Christopher Lee: Yes because I’m a character actor. I’m not a romantic leading man thank GOD. (laughter around the table) You know, because they don’t last very long. They have to worry about what they look like and all that kind of thing.

Ian McKellen: The hero is often the most boring part to play.

Christopher Lee: Oh yes.

Ian McKellen: Never play Romeo. You want to play Mercutio.

John Rhys-Davies: The wonderful thing about playing in The X-Men or Raiders of the Lost Ark is that there are six and seven-year olds out there who are going to grow up with this and in 20 years time they are going to be young directors and they’ll want to work with some of their childhood heroes! (laughter)

Christopher Lee: With one exception I think (more laughter)

Ian McKellen: You’ve come to life so many times (laughter continues!)

John Rhys-Davies: Somebody put a stake in your heart.

Question: You keep mentioning your age. May I ask what it is?

Christopher Lee: In sixteen days I’ll be 79.

Question: Did this film make you feel young again?

Christopher Lee: Yes. Yes mentally. Physically? Well you have to accept that there are some certain things that I just can’t do anymore. My legs won’t move fast. My arms and hands move fast. My legs won’t. There’s no point in trying to kid yourself. I don’t care how fit you are. There’s no great pleasure in growing old. Everyone keeps talking about the joys and pleasures of growing old. I can’t say I’d go along with that. Purely in a physical sense.


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