Gandalf Question: For what it’s worth, Peter told me you were always his first choice. There was other actors that he went to– Yeah.

McKellen: (overlaps) Really? I was his first choice, but he went to other actors first?

Question: It was the studio. The studio might have–

McKellen: (interrupts) Studio.

Question: Yeah. And that actor very famously talked shit about the role. He talked publicly about it.

McKellen: Did he?

Question: Yeah. And before he turned it down. That’s how the studio knew that this actor turned it down.

McKellen: Who was this? Sean Connery?

Question: (overlaps) Connery. Yeah.

McKellen: He didn’t like the part?

Question: He said he didn’t understand it. And nobody would have understood him in the part, so it would have been–

McKellen: I can see Sean Connery as Gandalf. I can see lots of actors a Gandalf. It’s such a strong personality that it would stick to whoever was playing it, I think.

Question: But you were able to disappear in Gandalf, though. You’re able to bring your power and your presence to it, but I don’t– I look at Connery, and he would have been Sean Connery in a robe. And especially at that stage.

McKellen: (overlaps) Well, he would have had that disadvantage that he was already extremely famous as another character. Yeah.

Question: And he probably would have punched Peter, because that’s what he does to directors.

McKellen: (overlaps) Does he? He probably wouldn’t be sitting where I am now, He probably wouldn’t have done The Hobbit, would he? So somebody else might have gotten a chance. Who remembers now that Richard Harris ever played Dumbledore? I think The Hobbit would have survived somebody else playing Gandalf. I’m sure of it.

Question: Well, as a fan, we’re glad that you came back.

McKellen: Well, thank you.

Question: So, Ian, in the third film particularly, lots of the characters in the film have some real drastic changes, some really severe character arcs, but Gandalf is solid and a lot the same. Are there some Gandalf moments in the third film, some iconic things or some–

Ian McKellen As GandalfMcKellen: I’ve, on a number of occasions, had to say to Peter, “We can’t do that, Peter. We did that in Lord of the Rings.” I think there might be a couple of– Yeah. I think the scene molded in, noted between Galadriel and Gandalf, where there’s a personal tenderness between them which pays off in the third film, that’s something a bit unexpected.

No, he’s just going about his job of looking after Middle-earth and all its inhabitants as best as he can. Yes, there may be one or two moments, but you can never quite be sure what they are until Howard Shore’s come in.

Question: Well, Gandalf gets to be a bit of an investigator in this one, which is a little bit–

McKellen: (overlaps) Yeah.

Question: It’s definitely a different side to him because in Lord of the Rings there’s a clear mission. They know exactly what has to happen after the first half hour of the first movie, they know the ring is the ring that needs to get destroyed, that’s A to B. But here, he’s having to go by instinct and emotion.

McKellen: (overlaps) They know how to get rid of the ring because Gandalf knows.

Question: Yeah, absolutely.

McKellen: Gandalf is an investigator, yes. Compared with the other wizards, that’s his specialty. He’s not the philosopher, he’s not the man in touch with the animals in the way that Radagast is. Nobody knows what those two nameless wizards– The Blue and the Green, I think. I don’t know.

Yeah. Tolkien doesn’t bother much about them. Gandalf is on the road, that’s what he does. He listens to people, he’s sympathetic to them, he has an overall view, and then he gets extremely bossy.

Question: Are you going to cry? Any chance you’re going to cry? [Ed note: question is implicitly referring to whether McKellen will become emotional after filming winds up for his role.]

McKellen: I don’t– When we finished the other trilogy, it was a big day, the day you finished, for the principal actors. We’d finished shooting and they said this is the last day for whoever, everyone went away, the actor got changed, and everyone came back. People didn’t go home. They waited.

And I remember my last day was out here in the car park, the battlements of something or other, Minas Tirith. And Peter, Barrie Osborne, the producer, stood up there and they showed a film all about me. Five, six, seven minute film, full of fun, jokes, moments you wanted to remember. And then you were called up and you were given your sword. Which I still have at home, of course. And there was torch light.

You couldn’t help being moved by that. We’ll see if anything similar happens tomorrow. I suspect it will just be b’bye. “Bye-bye, Hobbit, bye-bye.” I don’t know. But yes, I should be very sad to say goodbye to some friends. But I sense that why won’t we be meeting up again in a few years’ time? We probably will. It’s possible, isn’t it?

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot