Ian McKellen on CGI, the One Character He Wants to Play and Why He Doesn’t Like Being Called “Sir”

Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes

“Each part will have its challenges and I like that because if you’re trying to solve a problem you’re fully engaged” – Ian McKellen


Sir Ian McKellen is an immense talent, with a wealth of experience. In a professional acting career that has spanned over fifty years, McKellen has turned his hand to an array of different roles, from Macbeth, to Gandalf, to the X-Men’s Magneto.

In a recent Reddit AMA, McKellen took time to answer a variety of questions, drawing on his many years of work and giving readers a great insight into how he works.

In the past, McKellen has spoken candidly about the use of CGI and green-screen technology in film making, stating that it has a tendency to interfere with actor’s ability to create chemistry. Despite having been involved in a lot of films using these methods,  when asked his thoughts in the AMA, McKellen revealed a fascinating fact about filming Lord of the Rings:

“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.”

Not easy at all, and quite an alien concept to those of us who are used to acting on stage, where creating chemistry with your co-stars is of utmost importance. McKellen is always trying to improve in his work, which is evident in his work. Even so, he says he wishes he could turn in performances along the lines of those he admires.

“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.”

McKellen’s stage career has certainly been much admired, and though he might not think he’s any good, there are many out there who would seek to possess even half of his talent.

“There’s usually for me a moment of despair for every part I play,” McKellen reveals. “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?”

At 76, McKellen shows no signs of slowing, and when asked if there was one character he would like to play before retiring, McKellen had his answer ready.

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

He also revealed he doesn’t hold with the usual actor’s superstitions either, when asked if he has a problem saying the name 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.”

As ever, McKellen proved entertaining, witty and informative in his answers, and once again proved how humble he remains, despite his talent and amazing career. When asked if being knighted had any perks, he responded as follows: “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 title gets in the way. Particularly backstage or on set when I much prefer not to have it used.”

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