A difficult time on the set of Bag End – or rather a duplicate green screen version – left Sir Ian McKellen to consider that perhaps he would rather not continue on with the shooting of The Hobbit Trilogy. However, what soon followed reacquainted him with the joy he had come to experience during his previous journey to Middle-earth. It was a reaffirmation that even with the massive scale of the production, and all the complicated technology used to craft these cinematic stories – at the end of the day, there was a family dynamic at work on this journey, as there so often has been on Peter Jackson’s many films.
For those who have not yet heard this tale on the Extended Edition release of An Unexpected Journey, it goes a bit like this (bring the kleenex). Director Peter Jackson and his crew had developed a new technique on this trilogy for showing the actors in different sizes. While the proportions for actor Martin Freeman and the dwarf actors worked well enough for them to act in the same room, Sir Ian was required to be in a completely different area for his part of the scenes.
McKellen would be on a smaller sized set comprised entirely of green screen, with the camera zoomed in by 25%, to give the appearance of a larger Gandalf the Grey. While he was equipped with audio (via earpiece) from his fellow actors and visual cues as to where they were on the corresponding set, the isolation left the veteran actor feeling shut off.
“I felt pretty miserable… and thought perhaps, has the time come for me to stop acting altogether if I can’t cope with these difficulties?”
At one point during the Bag End shoot, Sir Ian became overwhelmed by the separation, and his director took notice.
“He truly had such a miserable time on the first day or two of the shoot, we felt sorry for him being dumped in green screen land.”
What followed were overlapping emails between director and actor, with Jackson urging him that the footage was coming out wonderfully, promising that the vast majority of the shoot would not be like this – and McKellen expressing overwhelming doubts about his ability to carry on under the circumstances.
“It was so distressing and off-putting and difficult that I thought ‘I don’t want to make this film if this is what I’m going to have to do’. It’s not what I do for a living. I act with other people, I don’t act on my own.”
The crew proceeded to prepare a surprise for the actor. They decorated Sir Ian’s personal tent with old relics from Rivendell (from the original “Lord of the Rings” production) – to give McKellen the sense of returning to Middle-earth. Upon entering his tent, McKellen was overcome with emotion and, with a big smile, said “Who’s done all this?” Joining him in the tent and embracing his actor, Peter Jackson replied “It’s an Appreciate Gandalf Day today.”
“I was made to feel, as so often happens when you’re working with Peter Jackson and his colleagues, that you belong and you’re to feel at ease and at home and happy.”
The actor emerged from his tent and quipped with the crew, saying that they were “all very, very welcome to come and visit me.” Though he does make note to joke:
“However, once the flowers faded I noted they weren’t replaced. I think I was meant then to get on with the job (laughs).”
Read more about this story in the following article: The Hobbit: Ian McKellen almost quit acting over Peter Jackson production.