I do find it totally fascinating. So are you... are you a student of acting? Of other people’s acting? AM: Can I ask a question? Is it possible to be terrified of a particular role? Is it possible to be hurt by a role? IM: No. BW: Really, never? A role has never had any sort of impact upon you as a person? You can always completely put it away at the end of the performance? IM: Oh yeah. AM: Because that’s what acting is? IM: This is deep stuff! Well, no. I think when it’s taking place, I’m in it and it will have an effect – it’s a new experience to be treasured. But do I take Macbeth back home with me? No, I don’t do that. BW: Sure, you wouldn’t intentionally take it home. But doesn’t some part of it linger? Or do you not want to talk about it? IM: Well, my friends say they can always tell when I’m rehearsing because I’m so grumpy. More than grumpy. Depressed, suicidal. Because... it’s never going to happen, it’s never going to work. Everything’s wrong, I’m badly miscast, the director doesn’t know what he’s doing, it’s a rotten play, everything’s just wrong. I just can’t get it, I just cannot get it. But the times my friends get really worried is when I say, ‘It’s all going fantastically well.’ Then they know something’s gone badly wrong. And you know that moment, when you discover a character, for me it’s in rehearsal, and one day the sun shines and... ‘Ah! Oh I see! Oh you’ve got a limp, yes of course!’ Or whatever. Well how long does that take, that takes five minutes. Is there anybody in your life whose approval you seek, who you go to? I have someone who will always tell me the truth. I’ve only one person. Most people won’t tell you the truth. BW: Yes, a playwright friend of mine called Phillip Ridley. I just love his whole attitude towards his work; he’s a very uncompromising sort of person. I go to him for guidance, I think. About how to proceed. It’s really, really valuable. AM: I would like to know, are actors nice people? I mean, because they spend a lot of time thinking about their own character in relation to the one they’re portraying, are they more self-aware people and therefore better people morally? IM: No, we’re not nice. Well, I think we’re capable of being a little bit more open than most people. This is why we call each other ‘Darling’ and such. BW: It’s true. IM: Do you reply to fan mail? BW: I really, really mean to, but I haven’t. I know you do, don’t you? IM: No, well I used to. What about advertising? Would you do that? BW: I did a couple of ads when I was 16, 17, but ever since I’ve had a choice about these things, I’ve just said no to advertising. IM: Excellent. Ah, so excellent. Is it, um, is it all sort of going to plan... as you expected it to? BW: It’s really surprising, I find it a bit frightening. IM: It is, but nevertheless, it is happening. It is your life. So you have to... No, I’m not giving you advice. I hope you enjoy it, and do what you can to take advantage of it because it’s wonderful, wonderful. And it’s good that you’ve got a friend who will give you good advice and can contest things. So, now, where do you think the film will go? You are very, very
good in Perfume, I thought you were terrific. I couldn’t have imagined any better. No one offered me movies for 40 years, so it was no problem to do a lot of theatre. And now of course, I can do both. I’m very happy. I don’t have the pressure of having to make a career anymore. But they feed off each other, don’t they? If I’ve just done a film and then I do a play, I’m reminded how cruel theatre can be. BW: Yes, I know what you mean. IM: And I’m always saying to film directors, ‘Why didn’t you get further away? I can use my body. I don’t know why we’re sitting on top of each other, you’re not in closer. You’re in long shot.’ Most of life is in long shot, what’s this constant desire to get up close? There’s no point of being there. That’s what I say to the photographer. And you know, when did you last see someone’s feet in a film? They fit you for shoes and there’s no point. Have there been requests for you to go and work in America? And what do you feel about that? BW: I’ve met some directors and casting people, but I wouldn’t say that there have been many requests. But um... I find that a real leap, I find it a bit, well, playing American... I mean, you’ve played Americans... IM: Oh no, it’s disastrous, I don’t do it anymore. BW: Yeah, but you did it incredibly well. IM: Oh, I don’t know. Oh no, you’re mixing me up with someone else. I can’t do it at all. BW: I think it’s a really specific thing, it’s not about the accent. It’s about the whole cultural baggage that those people have. IM: Absolutely, that’s what I’m always saying. I can’t think like that. And I mean you’re right, it isn’t just to do with the accent. But it is a dilemma of our time because America is where the film industry is, although some people might say it’s in Bombay and we should all be learning an Indian accent. Supposedly, the most popular film in England this year was a Bollywood film. AM: Can you be forced to think you can do something, that deep down you know you can’t, for example, like doing an American accent? IM: Well, I don’t take a part unless I think I can’t play it. That’s my test. If I think I can do the role standing on my head, then no, I won’t take it. Well, not unless there was a lot of money involved, and then perhaps. AM: Ben, please give Ian some advice. BW: I couldn’t possibly, I wouldn’t feign to think that I could give Ian any advice at all. I think I’d sound like a complete cock. So I think I’d rather keep quiet. IM: Well, he would give me some advice if we were rehearsing together. He might say, ‘Look, I’ve just noticed, if you’re interested...’ BW: I don’t think I would do that. IM: Well, you would be very welcome to do that. BW: I would rather not give you advice. IM: Oh no, that’s all right darling – I’m always looking for advice. Like a frightened child, totally dependent on Daddy.
Ian McKellen is appearing as King Lear at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from March 24 - June 21.
Styling David St John James Grooming Asashi at Blunt Photographic assistant Kate Peters Ian McKellen wears cashmere sweater by Uniqlo.
Theatre AnOtherMan 307
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