Leg­end of the screen Ian McKellen is happy play­ing his age and the parts keep com­ing – although he may stop to write his mem­oir

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN AP­P­LE­YARD


Ian McKellen is wear­ing com­pli­cated boots, skinny jeans, a tight­ish shirt and a bright her­ring­bone jacket that, as fash­ion de­mands, is about three sizes too small for him. Be­ing McKellen – aka Mag­neto ( XMen) and Gan­dalf ( The Lord of the Rings) – he car­ries this off much bet­ter than your av­er­age 70-some­thing would. Per­haps his se­cret is not pre­tend­ing to be young.

“Some­times I wake up and look in the mir­ror – if I can see – and think, ‘Ooof! I’m 76 next week – 76! That’s old,’ ” he says.

“And I know it’s old be­cause a lot of my friends reg­u­larly die, and they’re my age.”

Sit­ting in the glob­alised noth­ing­ness of Lon­don’s Ca­nary Wharf Four Sea­sons ho­tel (he lives – and owns a pub, the Grapes – nearby), we talk about age a lot. In­evitable, re­ally: in his new movie, Mr Holmes, he plays Sher­lock in both his 90s and his 60s. For him, of course, this is kids’ stuff. Gan­dalf was a 7000-year-old.

The older Holmes is, cog­ni­tively, go­ing down­hill and des­per­ately try­ing to re­assem­ble his mem­o­ries.

McKellen’s mind, in con­trast, seems to be fine, but he has been go­ing through the same process. (His mother died when he was 12, his fa­ther when he was 24.) “With my cousin Mar­garet the other day, I was look­ing at some pho­to­graphs – they’re of my young par­ents – and think­ing, she would never see me grow up, and nei­ther of them knew she’d got breast can­cer, and they’d no idea what the fu­ture was, and they looked so happy and beau­ti­ful. I have an emo­tional re­sponse to it. I’ve got some let­ters from my fa­ther to my step­mother, and I don’t think I will be able to read them.”

Re­mem­brance may now be a pro­fes­sional ne­ces­sity as he ner­vously edges to­wards a mem­oir. There have been talks with pub­lish­ers, and he has his first line: “I know ex­actly where and when I de­cided to try to be a pro­fes­sional ac­tor.”

“It was out­side the Arts The­atre in Cam­bridge,” he ex­plains. “I could take you to the flag­stone where I was stand­ing. The pub­lish­ers have ac­tu­ally per­suaded me it’s worth do­ing. I’m not con­vinced. I don’t have a lot to say. I think, just in a fan­tasy world, I would like to have writ­ten some won­der­ful po­ems, I would like to have writ­ten a novel. I’ve never sat down with a blank sheet of pa­per and thought about it. But, you know, why should I? I’m good at what I do and I can carry on do­ing it. I’ve not run out of steam.”

McKellen de­fends be­com­ing yet an­other Sher­lock Holmes in Shake­spearean terms. “If you do Romeo or Ham­let, you know stacks of ac­tors have done it be­fore, but that doesn’t put you off. The idea of play­ing a part that a lot of other peo­ple have played is not alarm­ing.

“It’s nice to be of­fered a big part in a small film after those small parts in big films.”

Next, with Pa­trick Stewart, he is bring­ing their pro­duc­tion of Harold Pin­ter’s No Man’s Land, a great suc­cess on Broad­way, to Lon­don. He has also just re­turned with Derek Ja­cobi in the ITV sitcom Vi­cious. They play Fred­die and Stu­art, two gays who have been to­gether for 50 years.

There will be no more Gan­dalf: the fran­chise is on hold. Christo­pher Tolkien is re­sist­ing fur­ther use of his fa­ther’s works. And there will be no more Mag­neto: “Michael Fass­ben­der is, I sus­pect, the fu­ture.” But there will be much more McKellen in one form or an­other, even if that mem­oir never gets beyond the first line. (He asked me how to write a book, and I told him to start work at 6am. He looked shocked.)

I leave him, dressed young, but act­ing his age as Mag­neto, Gan­dalf and now Sher­lock, tan­gi­ble traces of a great ac­tor’s life.

Mr Holmes opens to­day



Sir Ian McKellen as Sher­lock Holmes in a scene from film Mr Holmes.

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