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X-Men: The Last Stand - Sir Ian McKellen interview

Sir Ian McKellen in X-Men: The Last Stand

Compiled by Jack Foley

SIR Ian McKellen talks about what it means to play the character of Magneto and the possibilities it has opened up for his career – including how it gave him the courage to appear in Coronation Street!

Q: What initially appealed to you about the role of Magneto?
A: I hadn’t read the X-Men comic before, but it was explained to me that it was an outsider story, and I was instantly drawn to that. Also, how could I not be attracted by the idea of a great big cloak, huge boots and the ability to fly where I want? In this latest film, I do one of the most spectacular stunts ever seen in the cinema. I can’t reveal what it is, but rest assured, it will take your breath away! Also, while you don’t expect great long speeches in X-Men, all the films are very, very stylish. They have a great look.

Q: Why has the character of Magneto struck such a chord with audiences?
A: The demographic of our audience is young. It also contains a high proportion of black, Jewish and gay people, who have all been encouraged by society to think of themselves as oddities or mutants. I hope that’s why X-Men chimes with them – it’s certainly why I was attracted to the idea in the first place.

Q: So the film supports the idea that “different is good”?
A: Absolutely. There is a famous scene in X2, where the character of Bobby comes out to his parents as a mutant. His mother says to him: “Have you always known?” Similarly, in X-Men: The Last Stand, a cure for mutancy is discovered – mutants are encouraged to have an injection that will make them “normal”. Magneto is dead against the idea, just as I’m dead against the idea that you should try to “cure” people of being gay.

Q: What effect has X-Men had on your career?
A: It’s given me an immense amount of street cred. On the day after 9/11, I walking through the smoke and the smells of New York. There were knots of policemen everywhere. As I went past one officer, he called out: “Hi, Magneto.” That’s an indication of X-Men’s extraordinary reach. Rather gratifyingly, Magneto in the X-Men comic now has a look of Ian McKellen about him!

Q: What was it like filming X-Men: The Last Stand?
A: I had an absolute ball. I was in Vancouver for 15 weeks and spent most of my time outdoors. The actual filming was an occasional interruption to our sybaritic life in the open air. We all had such a brilliant time that if the third X-Men does well, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make another one.
It was lovely to hang out with the cast again _ we’ve all become close friends. Hugh Jackman and I are great chums – it was wonderful to see him again. Vinnie Jones is in this film, too, and you’ve got to get on with him! He’s unfailingly jolly, the life and soul of the party. To have cred with him is quite something!

Q: How did you get on with Patrick Stewart?
A: Patrick and I completely bonded. It’s odd – although we’re both English and have done a lot of theatre, we’ve only ever worked together in Vancouver. When we first met, he was still feeling an exile in LA. He loved to hear my stories about London, just as I loved to hear his stories about Hollywood. We’re so close, we’re the same person really!
I’m hoping to work on his long-planned film version of The Merchant of Venice, set in Las Vegas. I’m really interested in playing Antonio, the only gay character in Shakespeare. And it would be a marvellous chance to play opposite Patrick’s Shylock.

Q: Have you found your global fame hard to handle?
A: No. A few years ago, a friend said to me: “You do realize, Ian, when X-Men and Lord of the Rings come out, your life will totally change?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was right. My life has totally changed – but in a good way. Unbeknownst to me, it’s given me a lot more confidence.
For instance, people said to me: “You can’t possibly appear in [the long-running British TV soap opera] Coronation Street – what a ridiculous idea!” But they were wrong. Viewers’ reactions to my role in Coronation Street last year were entirely complimentary. I discovered I could slip into the special form of acting required for that show. I don’t know if I would have had that confidence a few years ago. Success in the movies has pushed me to places I didn’t know I was allowed to go.

Q: So how do you stop all the adulation becoming oppressive?
A: I know Magneto and Gandalf are the superstars, not me. They’re icons. It’s on those characters’ backs that I ride. They’re mighty inventions and whoever had the luck to play them first would have been the beneficiary of people’s respect. I feel like I’m their representative on earth. People keep coming up to me and saying, “hey, Magneto” or “hello, Gandalf”. They’re not my fans, they’re the characters’ fans. Which is fine by me because it stops me getting a swollen head!

Q: You’re one of the finest theatre actors of your generation. Do you ever get the slightest bit peeved that you’re being up-staged by a comic-book character and a 7000-year-old wizard?
A: Not at all. Journalists often ask me: “Aren’t you sorry that after all the work you’ve done, you’re best known as Magneto and Gandalf?” But that’s what I’ve always wanted – not to be known as myself. I want to draw attention to the characters. JRR Tolkein and Shakespeare are the really great guys. Actors are merely the medium through which a story happens.

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