The Big Issue : Edition 490
THEBIGISSUE7–13AUG2015 15 FOR IAN McKELLEN, as has been the case for many other classically trained British actors, the path to global fame and Hollywood stardom began with playing the bad guy in a big- budget Hollywood blockbuster. In the notorious Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb The Last Action Hero (1993), McKellen – officially, Sir Ian McKellen – played Death. The literal Death, brought to life from a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, The Seventh Seal (1957). Stalking around silently in whiteface and a robe, McKellen was the most menacing character in the film. Pretty impressive when you’re in a film that also stars Charles Dance. Then in his mid-fifties (he is now 76), McKellen already had a long and proud career behind him. He had spent much of his acting life on stage – as part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company in the 1960s, then later performing frequently at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, where he played Iago in Othello and the lead in Macbeth. It might have seemed a big leap from Shakespeare to Schwarzenegger, though one of ...Hero’s few successful gags has Arnie playing Hamlet, spouting “to be or not to be...” while blowing up a castle. Taking small roles in big films was McKellen’s way of dipping his toes into the turbulent waters of movie-making. While many notable actors of his generation, such as Peter O’Toole and Albert Finney, moved into films in the 1960s, McKellen stuck to the stage. This wasn’t entirely his own choice. “Friends tell me, ‘You were always going on about, Why am I not in films?’” he told The Telegraph in 2013. “Well, looking back, I know why now. It’s because my acting was so inappropriate for films.” By then McKellen had accepted that what worked on stage, especially when trying to have an impact on those up the back of a theatre, did not work on camera. Through the 1970s and 1980s he began taking on small film roles, just to get insight into the process. At the same time, performing in smaller theatres also helped him focus his performances in a more intimate manner. He has also said that his public coming-out in 1988 helped him access his emotional side. While his homosexuality had never been a secret from co-workers, it wasn’t until engaged in a radio debate with a conservative journalist about proposed same-sex legislation that he publicly revealed himself as gay. While he continued taking on supporting roles in the first half of the 1990s – including in Fred Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation and on television in And the Band Played On and Tales of the City – his big break came with a big role. In 1995, he played the lead in a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, set in an alternative quasi-fascist 1930s. Based on a stage production McKellen had appeared in, he co-produced and co-wrote the film, earning BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for his acting, as well as a BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Finally, Hollywood was interested in him on his own terms. In 1998 he appeared both as a fugitive Nazi war criminal in Bryan Singer’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil, and as Hollywood director James Whale – director of Frankenstein (1931) – in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He knocked back projects too, famously refusing to accept a part in Mission: Impossible: II when producers wouldn’t let him see the script. That part eventually went to Anthony Hopkins. The film’s production in Australia ended up running so far over- schedule in 1999 that co-star Dougray Scott was forced to pull out of the role of Wolverine in the first X-Men movie and was replaced by Hugh Jackman. Also in the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, was McKellen as Magneto, the role that would finally make him a Hollywood star. If he’d taken the Mission: Impossible role he’d have been in the same position as Scott, who was last seen as the bad guy in Taken 3. While Magneto has been McKellen’s longest-running role to date – he last played the metal manipulating mutant in X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014 – it hasn’t been his biggest. As the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and more recently in the three films based on JRR Tolkien’s earlier book, The Hobbit, he’s been the closest thing to a central character across Peter Jackson’s exploration of Middle Earth. Even for someone like McKellen, well used to dealing with special effects, Gandalf wasn’t the easiest of acting jobs. Playing a human-sized character surrounded by smaller Hobbits, many cinematic tricks had to be employed SIR IAN McKELLEN IS EQUALLY CONVINCING AS SHERLOCK HOLMES AND GANDALF PHOTOGRAPHS BY GETTY IMAGES (MAIN IMAGE) AND GILES KEYTE (ABOVE) Life After DEATH ACTOR IAN McKELLEN TOOK HIS TIME MAKING THE LEAP FROM STAGE TO SCREEN. NOW HE’S EVERYWHERE, FROM THE HOBBIT TO MR HOLMES.