How playing Gandalf and Magneto made Ian McKellen "less shy"

14 June 2015, 17:00

The great British actor tells Classic FM about his iconic roles, his love of live music, and lack of superstitions.

Acting in two of cinema's most successful franchises - Lord of the Rings and X-Men - has made British actor Ian McKellen world famous. And, the actor says, being recognised everywhere has given his confidence a huge boost.

"As someone who’s rather shy...I now find that most places in the world there’ll be somebody in the room, or on the subway, or in the street, who recognises me as the actor who pretends to be Gandalf or Magneto," he told Classic FM's Charlotte Green (Charlotte Green's Culture Club, Sunday 14 June 2015). 

"That’s very nice for me because it’s a friendly face, and something in common. And I feel less shy so its been a real boost to my confidence." 

Despite being associated so closely with the stage and screen, McKellen told Charlotte Green that his favourite pastime is seeing live music. 

"I love the excitement of a live performance," he said, "and when you get a total master who rehearses eight hours a day for our benefit so that the music can just flow out, that’s so overwhelming and beyond any endeavour that I've ever put into my work."  


The 76-year-old actor can currently be seen taking on another iconic literary role – Sherlock Holmes – albeit as a 93-year-old, "losing his mind, losing his memory, discovering his humanity." 

McKellen's "utterly believable" performance required him to have rubber applied to his face to create the nonagenarian's wrinkles: 

Asked by Charlotte Green about whether he employs different techniques for acting on film and on stage, McKellen said that, in front of the camera "there shouldn’t be any technique."

"There shouldn’t be any projection, there should be just being the character, existing, and the camera will pick up every detail because it’s so close."

"That doesn’t apply when your in the theatre and the audience can’t quite see your face. Then your body will come into play and there’ll be all sorts of communication that wouldn't be appropriate for the camera."


Actors are a famously superstitious bunch. McKellen's close friend Patrick Stewart is one who you wouldn't name a certain Scottish play in front of. But McKellen would...