Sir Ian McKellen and the story behind The Hobbit
I first met Sir Ian McKellen nearly ten years ago when I was working as a producer/director on The South Bank Show. Twenty years previously he’d made a film for the series documenting his life as a working theatre actor. But so much had changed since then.
On the professional front he’d made the transition into film, with major roles in Gods and Monsters, X-Men and the first two instalments in the Lord of the Rings trilogy making him an international star. And on the personal front he’d made a perhaps even more significant transition – coming out as a gay man on a radio show discussing Section 28 and, in the process, opening up a parallel career as a gay activist.
It was decided that I’d make a follow-up South Bank Show twenty years after the first, trailing Ian around the world with a little hand-held camera, tormenting him with my relentless questioning along the way. Well that wasn’t part of the original plan but that’s at least how it turned out.
Over the course of a year I followed him to New Zealand, where he attended the premiere of the final Lord of the Rings film The Return of the King, and to Los Angeles, where he celebrated its triumph at the Oscars. I filmed his various activities campaigning on behalf of gay rights organisation Stonewall, of which he’d been a founder member. And I followed him home to the North West, where he was visiting his elderly stepmother. From start to finish, Ian was a most open, generous and forthright subject and the experience – and the resulting documentary – rank among the highlights of my career as a director of arts television.
Since then I’ve followed the story behind the making of The Hobbit – and the project’s various setbacks – with great interest. And now that the films have finally been made (or at least the first one has been completed), I can’t wait to see it. But I was perhaps even more excited about the opportunity to interview Ian again. And this I did last week before either he or I had even seen the film.
Here’s what he had to say…
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