[Originally posted in March 2000 at SciFiDimensions.com.]
Some guys have all the luck. First, Sir Ian McKellen lands the role of Magneto (one of the greatest villains in all Marvel comic-dom) in this summer’s action flick X-Men, then he gets to play the wizard Gandalf in all three Lord of the Rings movies!
Sir Ian has had a long and successful career on stage and screen. Most Americans know him from his supporting role in the telefilm And the Band Played On, and his leads in the critically-acclaimed features Scandal, Apt Pupil, Richard the Third and Gods and Monsters.
Despite his busy schedule, Sir Ian was kind enough to share these thoughts with SciFiDimensions:
(On why an actor best known for serious stage and film roles would want to tackle genre roles like Magneto and Gandalf…)
I have catholic [i.e., universal] tastes in movies and theatre and shouldn’t like to be categorised as, e.g. ‘a Shakespearian stage actor.’ So I often seek out new departures and try not to repeat myself or get into the rut which would bore me and probably the audience.
(On whether he sought these roles, or was approached to do them.)
I didn’t chase after Magneto or Gandalf. Bryan Singer had used me in Apt Pupil but Peter Jackson’s offer came out of the blue. I shouldn’t have done either film if the screenplays hadn’t been as good as they are.
(What’s it like to play a superhero?)
As for playing superheroes, they are not new to anyone who has played in Shakespeare, who invented the concept in his tragedies. It’s the same for Patrick Stewart (X-Men) and Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings). I am intrigued by the passion of the fansites for both films and contribute to the pre-release debates in Magneto’s Lair and The Grey Book on www.mckellen.com.
Best Wishes from Hobbiton