Ian McKellen is happy to be working on The Lord of the Rings.
Sir Ian McKellen on Backch@t
Sir Ian McKellen is playing Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. He’s one of the great stage and screen actors of our age. He was Oscar nominated last year for his performance as gay Hollywood director James Whale in the film gods and monsters. He’s an out gay man and a gay activist. Last Thursday night he launched the outtakes gay and lesbian film festival in Wellington with a funny and powerful speech. He also gave an interview, his first NZ TV interview. He gave that interview to Backchat. Here’s Mark Crysell with Sir Ian McKellen.
Opening the outtakes gay and lesbian film festival in Wellington was, if you’ll pardon the pun, sir Ian McKellen’s first public outing in the five months since arriving in NZ to play Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
IM (interview): What’s impressive, and I think locals perhaps underestimate it, is that although the film is financed from Hollywood, and there are a few foreigners like me who come in and help out, most people working on LOTR are kiwis, and the crucial position of director and scriptwriters, and the amazing Weta workshops who have made all the fantastic properties that you’ll see in the films, as well as the landscapes, which are local as well, that all is New Zealand, and I’m sure the nation is going to be very very proud of itself when the film comes out.
[Extracts from internet preview]
The LOTR project is shrouded in secrecy, a promo on the internet the only real public glimpse. But Sir Ian says it’s been hard work and not particularly glamorous.
IM (speech): You probably think that most film actors are overpaid and underworld, but let me just tell you, I don’t know where you were at four o’clock this morning,(laughter) but I was on my way to Stone Street studios where I had three hour makeup putting on the wig and the moustache and the beard and the nose and making me look as much like Gandalf’s stereotype as possible. And then what happened? Oh then I had ten hours on a mountain ledge in a studio (laughter) . . . and as I was leading the party with my staff, and my large pointy hat I had to clear the snow out of the way, with two huge wind machines blowing polystyrene balls at me. (laughter). Of course you get out of breath and your mouth opens and in the balls go (laughter) . . . into every single orifice, I assure you (laughter). . . SO there’s Gandalf leading a charming pony called Bill, whose great delight in life is to lick the salt that they put on top of the snow to make it glisten . . . and anything else within reach. Behind him came an elf, a dwarf, four hobbits and two very attractive young men, Viggo Mortenson and Sean Bean, and I know you want to know, and it’s unfortunately the truth, that none of those people is gay . . . (laughter) . . . although I’ve got my doubts about Bill the Pony . . . (laughter).
But after five months, Sir Ian says LOTR has become a way of life. Outside of the film’s long hours he’s kept to himself. But he admits it’s been difficult to find Wellington’s gay community.
IM (speech): Well, I had a number of sorties to try and discover you. I mean, very early on when I arrived in January the makeup artist (of course) and I . . . (laughter) went on the prowl, and I’ve been told that at Bojangles [nightclub] you can meet some very attractive men (laughter). Well I dare say that’s true, most weeks of the year, but unfortunately we went on Drag King night. (laughter).
Since coming out 12 years ago, Sir Ian McKellen has maintained a high public profile as a gay rights campaigner. It hasn’t lead to a rash of gay roles, although he was acclaimed for his portrayal of director James Whale in Gods and Monsters.
[extract from Gods and Monsters]
IM (speech): I am often asked what I think about my colleagues in the film industry and indeed in the theatre who for reasons of their own have decided not to be honest about their sexuality, the sorts of people who pick up major awards and then thank non-existent girlfriends. Well of course I get angry, but then I don’t think anyone in public life necessarily has a responsibility to the nation, but then it would be a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it, if every single gay and lesbian star came out and stopped giving the impression that there was something wrong with being gay.
[extract from Richard III]
Sir Ian McKellen has long been recognised as the leading Shakespearean actor of his age on stage and screen. An example was his stunning performance in the 1996 film of Richard III.
A strong advocate of funding for the arts, he has been impressed with [Prime Minister] Helen Clark’s support for the sector.
IM (interview): Like everybody else in the arts, I was very impressed with the recent declaration of Helen Clark, and her promise of considerable sums — probably not enough, but enough to be going on with, perhaps — and the fact that she is the Minister for the Arts as well is an impressive commitment. It’s then, of course, up to the artists themselves to take advantage of what’s on offer. The Arts cannot, in any nation, really thrive, really reach the right people, really encourage people to discover what’s really artistic about life, unless there is some public money spent on it. We can look at it as an investment if you like, but it’s money well spent.
Interviewer: You’re working in the film industry, you’re impressed with what we’re doing there, you’ve been to a few plays, what do you think of our TV?
IM: It’s even worse than British television, you know. Once you start dismantling institutions like the BBC, and probably your equivalent here, and changing them, and insisting that they take commercials in between the programs, television just becomes one long sort of magazine, instead of a series of important events that might touch your life. It seems to me watching television — not that I do it very often — that New Zealand television is all about corrugated iron roofing, and how you can paint your timber house, etc, but Backch@t is the exception and I’m delighted to be on it tonight.
Presenter: Sir Ian finishes filming for a while next week, but he’s back in July. And, by the way, the very dramatic look of that interview was because, well, we were in a bit of a rush.