Sir Ian McKellen has appeared as Gandalf since 2001’ s The Fellowship Of The Ring
What was different about the newer films?
With Lord Of The Rings we went on location more than we did for The Hobbit. I think for
The Hobbit we only went out for eight weeks. More of the scenery was recreated in the studio. And that’s partly because Lord Of The
Rings was filmed in an old paint factory! This time we were in state of the art stuff built for
King Kong and used by Avatar.
Have your feelings towards the character changed after making six films?
No. I love Gandalf. Aren’t I lucky? The best parts are usually the villains! Not in this. Gandalf’s the good guy and it’s a good part. He says the right things, he believes the right things. An actor can have fun with it. Your interpretation of Gandalf was apparently based on Tolkien himself...
A little bit. He’d read some of The Hobbit, just for a test. I heard this voice: smoking a pipe, a teacher at Oxford. That patronising tone comes from Tolkien. What I got from hearing him speak was that he could imagine the characters being theatricalised – he was doing it himself! So I kept thinking, “We’ve got Tolkien’s blessing on our endeavours.”
How do you explain the ongoing popularity?
There’s lots about Tolkien that must be confusing to people. Where are the women? Have you noticed that all the main characters smoke? If you’d written this story from scratch, there’s no way a studio would have allowed it. They are of their time. But they are about the end of the world, when cultures clash and changes occur, and about something as important as the world wars. I think that might be why they endure. Of course, they’re extremely well written. Tolkien is as good as Dickens at sketching a scene.