sir ian mckellen

IamA Sir Ian McKellen AMA!

I am Sir Ian McKellen. I have been honored with over 50 international acting awards both on stage and screen. I am best known for playing Magneto in the X-Men films and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and starring in the upcoming Mr. Holmes.

I am in New York and a member of the AMA team is assisting me.

EDIT 2:43PM EST: Well thank you to everybody who sent a question, and sorry not to answer them all. However, I suspect you could find answers ready made on my website, where I’ve been blogging and writing and answering previous queriers for 15 years now.

If you could raise any animal to be your sidekick for life, what would it be and why?

A dog, preferably a boxer. Preferably a bitch. Preferably one who would outlive me.

Do you do the quiz at your pub in Limehouse on Tuesdays?

No, because quiz night is on Mondays. I’m usually there. My team did win once, no thanks to me.

Does being knighted have any perks?

Not really. There’s no money involved. You get a medal. And a lot of respect I suppose. The one slight problem is that sometimes the tittle gets in the way. Particularly backstage or on set when I much prefer not to have it used.

Have you ever had bad luck when saying the title of the Scottish Play?

No. Macbeth! [shout it loudly] was a lucky play for me. As I was in a wonderful production with amazing cast. But I am careful not to mention the play, or quote it, in the dressing room as other actors can get nervous.

How has your relationship with Sir Patrick Stewart impacted your career, and your life?

Patrick and I have known each other since we in the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 70s. Im the guy who advised him not to do Star Trek. We’ve recently become friends through X-Men and we did two plays together. and I married him to his lady Sunny. So all and all we’ve become very close to each other.

Sir Ian, what is your go to home cooked meal?

I’ll give you the recipe.

Slice potatoes thinly. Slice onions thinly. Grade some strong cheddar cheese. You slice some small tomatoes. And you layer those ingredients. And put them in a medium oven for one hour. And to make sure it’s delicious as it always is, pour a little single cream over the potatoes, which should be the top layer.

Very comforting, quite nutritious, easy to make. Astound your friends.

Sir Ian, with your expansive filmography, is there any place in the world that you would still like to visit that you haven’t already?

I would like to visit South America. Particularly Easter Island. I would like to explore the Far East. And I would like to go to Yellowstone Park.

Which of the awards you’ve ears means the most to you or the work you’ve done?

I think the first award I ever got which was presented by our Equity, the UK Actors Union, because it was given by my peers. That was in 1964.

Are you a forgetful man?

Well, yes. I forget peoples birthdays. I forget peoples names. I sometimes forget what I did yesterday. And at 76 theres an awful lot of forgetfulness that I can’t do anything about. But overall, forgetfulness is because you’re lazy.

Which role did you have the most difficulty getting into?

There’s usually for me a moment of despair for every part I play, worrying that I will ever convince myself that I inhabit the character. The worst case of that was “Wild Honey”, based on Anton Chekov’s first play. I tried to leave the production at the dress rehearsal. It’s one of the biggest successes I ever had at the National Theatre in London. So, what do I know?

There is a rumor that Christopher Lee always wanted to play Gandalf, but you got it instead. Is there anything that Christopher Lee did that you always wanted?

It’s not a rumor, it’s true. He told me at our first meeting that he always thought he would be good casting as Gandalf. It turns out he was better casting as Saruman. Of all the parts he played, the one I hankered after was Sherlock Holmes. Im sorry he doesn’t get to see Mr. Holmes, the movie, I think he would have enjoyed it.

What is your favorite pizza topping?

I am vegetarian so, lots of cheese and lots of tomato, and lots of basil. And only thin crust.

Is there a character that you’d like to play before you retire from acting?

Perhaps Antonio, in The Merchant of Venice, because he is one of the very few obviously gay characters in Shakespeare.

Have you talked to Michael Fassbender (your younger Magneto self) in regards to him playing MacBeth? I imagine a famous Shakespearean actor like yourself could have offered support and maybe influenced his performance.

No I have not talked to Michael about McBeth, and don’t expect to. He’s giving his own performance and I think it might be confusing.

You don’t want to be bothered with what someone else did. You want to do your own performance.

I was giddier for this AMA than my own birthday today. I was wondering if you have any favourite Sherlock Holmes stories that you perhaps read in preparation of the role. Did you watch the performance of any of the other Sherlock-actors as inspiration?

Happy Birthday! I did read one of the Sherlock Holmes books and I’ve forgotten the title. But it was alarming that for half the novel the action took place, not in Victorian London, but in the United States of America. And that Sherlock Holmes was not to be seen or heard. Things aren’t always as we remember them.

In regards to your role on “Vicious” where your character reminds me of Peter Wyngarde, an actor who — in the early 70s — suffered public ridicule when it was discovered he was homosexual. Are you acquainted with him? Also, how did Freddy fare during those years when being gay in the UK was a criminal offense?

I used to live at the end of a terrace of old houses in London. And Peter lived at the other end, and indeed still does – though we are not in touch. Gay actors of his generation were subject to shameful treatment.

A characteristic I like most about Freddy and his partner Stuart is their longevity. They are survivors who deserve all the happiness they can get in their later years. Perhaps they liked being vicious to each other because the world has been vicious to them.

How do you feel about playing Sherlock Holmes, a character so famous and beloved by many generations? And how do you compare it with more modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, like the ones made by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller?

The simple unique idea of Mr. Holmes is that he is not a fictional character. Was a real person. We meet him first at the end of his life, when he is looking back at the mystery that sent him into retirement.

So my Holmes is different form all the rest in the the is so old. He is a real man. And the Holmes everyone thinks they know through the Dr. Watson Version is incorrect. So it’s a mystery to learn what mr. Homes was rally like. I loved playing the part.

How do you feel about the recent groundswell of acceptance in the United States for the LGBT community, especially as one who has seen it change over the years?

Social change usually happens slowly. The Supreme Court decision comes at the end of the process of argument, and confirms the change that has already happened. I’m just sorry that there are still people in the USA that are not yet ready to accept that the law should treat everybody the same. But they too will change. 🙂

Would you rather fight 100 Hobbit-sized Balrogs, or 1 Balrog-sized Hobbit?

I would never fight a Hobbit, no matter his size. So I would have to go with the first. 100 Hobbit-sized Balrogs is easy. Easy.

I read recently that you said you were tying to get better at your job (June 2015, The Telegraph). How can you strive to do that? You’ve so many awards and I personally find your acting flawless, are you just never happy with what you create? Or do you continually strive to do better?

Well I wish I could act in front of the camera as say, Meryl Streep or Dustin Hoffman. Each part will have its challenges and I like that because if you’re trying to solve a problem you’re fully engaged.

I think in Mr. Holmes I do every so often a sort of acting I admire in others. But I’ve never met an actor who thought he was any good, really. But we are perhaps the last people to judge our own performances.

What advice do you have for LGBT Millenneals?

My advice to you is to keep your jeans dry. And for the rest, be out and be honest and change the world.

You have been known to disapprove of modern cinema’s use of CGI, at least where it interferes with the actors’ abilities to interact with each other and develop chemistry. If you were asked to create a set of rules regarding what actors could request during filming to better their performance — the physical presence of other actors, real sets and makeup instead of green screens and motion capture, etc. — what would you put in?

Good question. I would request that wherever possible, the actors should be in the same space and able to look at each other. The fact is, I was never allowed to look Elijah Wood in the eyes. Nor Martin Freeman. In order to create the illusion of different heights. Not easy.

Do you have any favorite scenes or episodes from either series of Vicious?

My favorite scene was in the first series, when young Ash takes me through my lines as Freddy prepares for his part in Downton Abby. It’s akin to the scene I did on Extras with Ricky Gervais. And I’m smiling as I reply.

I am a huge admirer of the LGBT activism you have done over the years. Now that strides have been taken in many countries for equality, including the recent US Supreme Court decision, what do you think is the “next step” towards increasing rights?

Changing the law is easy, it’s just the mater of making the case. It’s the matter of changing people’s minds and that will take time. If you choose to be generous, you should look to the plight of LGBT people in countries where the laws are stacked against them. so be careful where you go for your vacation. Always check on the local laws if you want to be safe.

After Fellowship, I recall Elijah Wood on the daily Show I think talking about matching tattoos of the runic “9” that you fellows had gotten during filming. That story touched me as it truly demonstrated the bond you guys had created while filming. Do you fellas all keep in touch? Do you ever have reunions of the Fellowship despite your busy schedules?

We planned to meet each year once filming was complete. But so far we never have – unless of course, the other 8 are meeting without letting me know… 🙂

The one I see most of, is Orlando Bloom. When we were both acting on Broadway we had adjacent apartments in New York City.

What was your favorite memory from on set The Lord of The Rings movies?

Many. Many. Many. The scenery that was built in the studio was sensational. And I think my favorite set, that I didn’t act in, was the golden Liar, where the dragon was hiding. Hundreds of thousands of golden coins, specially made.

And if you don’t tell anyone, I can tell you that I have some of those coins. Along with the font door key to Bag End, which i know Peter Jackson is looking for, but will never find.

Which role did you have the most difficulty getting into?

There’s usually for me a moment of despair for every part I play, worrying that I will ever convince myself that I inhabit the character. The worst case of that was “Wild Honey”, based on Anton Chekov’s first play. I tried to leave the production at the dress rehearsal. It’s one of the biggest successes I ever had at the National Theatre in London. So, what do I know?