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Feature: The Return of the King
With The Return of the King now on release, it’s time for Ian McKellen to bid farewell to a character that’s bought him superstardom…
Starburst:Are you allowing yourself a sense of completion with The Lord of the Rings?
Well, everything we did was basically all done when we finished principal photography, and after a year we left New Zealand and went back home. But we were called back each year to do pick-ups, and then we had to do the voice. I did the last Gandalf grunt for battle scenes in Return of the King three weeks ago in London, down the line with Peter. He kept saying ‘More, more, more!’ He said, ‘Yes, it’s all over, Gandalf. Stop shooting. Oh,’ he said, ‘Wait. No, no, with the extended DVD we really want you back.’ So, who knows? But it’s been a gradual disengagement and, you know, since then I’ve had two movies and done a play on Broadway and the West End of London. So I’m not still totally absorbed with Gandalf, but he’s with me all the time because I keep seeing him. That seems very odd. And that notion of Gandalf the president, on the Sixties American campus, where Tolkien’s reputation was made… It wasn’t known in my country, it was known in the US. It’s still alive and well. I’m riding on his coat-tails. But, suddenly, I’m famous as the man who played Gandalf and the one that played Magneto as well.
There was, I suppose, a sense of completion, if that’s the word. I never want it to end. When three percent of the entire population of New Zealand lined the street for the première, nearly half the population of the city was just stopped to welcome us back! And it was like being the conquering football team that had come home. Except that it wasn’t trailing along behind Peter Jackson, or one actor being more important than another, or even being part of the acting team: it was just having worked on the film. And so many people lining the streets had worked on the film, as well as other people marching in the processions, still dressed as elves and orcs and soldiers, that they didn’t recognize them. They were all extras on the movie. And our relatives were watching, people were watching on television and the Prime Minister introduced us to the merry welcome that we got at the Parliament building… So it was a country celebrating, a nation, so that we as visitors were sort of the focus of their nationalism, actually. And smiles everywhere, in celebration. The enterprises are coming to an end, but also the story, which was about good people. You never get to meet the villain. Sauron is an image, an eye. You never meet him. somewhere else’.
by Judy Sloane
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