Question: When you come to work, and you’re going to be Gandalf today, is it a pretty comfortable process? You’ve spent a lot of time in the robes, I guess. Is that pretty–
McKellen: (overlaps) I’ve been trying to find out how many times we’ve put on the nose and the wig and the beard and the staff. Nobody seems to know. But somewhere in the records, it must be and I don’t know whether it’s in the thousands of days. It probably isn’t. It is a routine. I go to work, I get up, I come into work, I don’t live far away, it’s an easy drive. I go in to see Rick forty-five minutes later, having had breakfast in the make-up chair I emerge as Gandalf. That’s no effort at all.
And poor old Dwarves in the same trailer have been there since half past three or four in the morning, wearing masks and false heads and all sorts of prosthetics. Ah, they’ve been so good-natured about it, but it’s been difficult. In comparison, I just sort of get ready. In the theater I quite like the time between getting changed in the dressing room and leaving the day behind and knowing that now I’m going to be in this situation with this character I’m playing. And the forty-five minute series is a useful time to forget everything and concentrate on the day ahead. So, it’s easy
Question: These films, in a way have introduced New Zealand to a global audience. And tomorrow’s your last day. How close do you feel to New Zealand as a country at this point, having spent so much time here?
McKellen: Yes, well the trouble with New Zealand or me in New Zealand is that I live in a country which couldn’t be further away if it tried. So, I can’t nip down to New Zealand, in the way that I can nip to Paris in three hours from London. Or even New York on a fast plane. But New Zealand, it’s a journey and a slog and a commitment, isn’t it? But having lived in the same place and the same area on all the occasions I’ve been here, different houses but always looking out on the Wellington Bay, that’s absolutely in my heart now.
One way I get to sleep is by sitting up, drawing Karaka Bay in my imagination, walking around the headland, climbing up those stairs now that didn’t used to be, there used to be just a rough path up onto the top and looking down into Breaker Bay and marveling at it all. So, yes, I suppose it’s close as any place that isn’t home. My favorite part of the United Kingdom is the lake district in the north of England, the, still, quite rural and mountainous. Not as tall as the mountains here but. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people hadn’t emigrated from the lake district and arrived in New Zealand and thought, “Oh, this feels like home.”
When I met Edmund Hillary, who was a big fan of The Lord of the Rings, claimed he read it three times each year, couldn’t believe his luck to be having supper with Gandalf. The first mountaineering he did after climbing Everest was in the lake district on his way back here. But he was the only Kiwi I really knew about. I’d heard how beautiful the country was from other actors who had toured here.
I remember arriving on my first day and Peter Jackson said, “What do you want to do while you’re in New Zealand?” I said, “I want to meet Edmund Hillary.” He said, “Well, give him a call. He’s in the telephone book.” Wow, that’s a big difference between New Zealand and other countries. If you’re celebrated on the whole, you don’t put your number in the telephone book elsewhere, but you do here. I went to see his widow quite recently in Auckland. I think the spirit of the Kiwis is so wholesome and sensible, modest, and would hard-working be another quality you’d want to praise them for?
If I had children leaving school, I’d send them to New Zealand for six months. There is another way of looking at the world, and it’s down here. Don’t be fooled because they all speak English. They are different. There’s a cultural difference towards life and what it’s about. And you meet people on this film, talk to them about why they’re doing what they’re doing, they all have a passion for it. They’re very common-sensical about it. And much as they enjoy it, probably what they’re looking forward to at the end of the week is going fishing.
I met the leading dancer with Royal New Zealand Ballet Company, after he’d given a pretty startling performance. And I was asking did he get many days off, he said he got Sunday off this week, and I said what was he going to do and he said, “Oh, I can’t wait to go fishing.” Well, I don’t think there’s another premier dancer in the world whose real passion would be fishing.
But in New Zealand it seems about right. You talk to people who’ve change their jobs because they weren’t getting enough satisfaction out of life. And that satisfaction wouldn’t be anything to do with status, and it wouldn’t be anything to do with how much money they were earning. The modesty that you see in the way people behave to each other and dress and everything else is absolutely genuine. And that I tend to admire. That accords with what I like about people.
Question: Have you taken any of your days off to go fishing since you’ve been doing this?
McKellen: Fishing– I mean, I’ve never fished. The idea bores. Well, I feel rather sorry for the fish. You’re very close to the moment of having killed another being, aren’t you? Although I did once see a man near where I live in London in a little marina there and he’d just caught a huge carp, I suppose it was. And he was cradling it. And I said what was he going to do with it?
He said he was about to put it back. To let it go. And he was just checking it was all right. And he said, “I’m really fond of this fish. I’ve caught it six times.” So maybe there’s something about fishing I just don’t know about. But I think fishing here, on the whole, is catching fish to eat, isn’t it? Yeah.
Question: If you’re not fishing in your leisure time here in New Zealand, what do you do?
McKellen: Well, I haven’t had much leisure time this time, but in the past, I sometimes got weeks off at a time. And I went around the place as a tourist. I drove around, went north, went south. Friends would come out, I’d go repeat journeys that I’d enjoyed. I’ve done a lot of that. Because there’s so little theater and live entertainment compared with living in London, I keep an eye out for it and see if there’s anything that I want to go to.
So, a comedy festival I’ve been to a lot. I’ve been to a number of classical concerts. There was a brief jazz festival recently I went to. So I’ve kept in touch with local live entertainment. A bit involved in gay issues. It doesn’t seem as if New Zealand needs much help in racing into the twenty-first century. They’ve just established gay marriage in advance of most countries in the world. And I help out there a little bit. I accept invitations.
And otherwise, just live. Often just settle down in my house. I’m looked after by Steve who is my cook, masseur, driver and knocker-upper, which means knocking on the window, “Time to get up.” So I’m often at home, eating homemade food, looking out on Wellington Bay. Living here, not visiting.