Friend of the Blog #3 Sir Ian McKellan

Saturday night and the lights were turned down, the wild Wellington wind howled outside and I was disrupting the silence by shuffling along a few seats to sit on an empty end one in order to get a better view as Sir Ian McKellan, actor, gay-rights advocate, Gandalf himself, burst from the darkness of the stage (wearing some of the tightest pants I’ve ever seen on a guy over 25). He began by recounting the episode from the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf saves Frodo from some tentacled thingy (geeks correct me here please) and as Sir Ian yelled those immortal lines “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” a collective smile was cast over the audience and after he whispered, “Run, you fools” I knew we were truly in for a night of magic. What came next was a stunning two hours of perfection, it was candid, it was funny, heart-breaking and beautiful. You really did feel like you and old Ian were just having a chat, with most of the first half dedicated to audience questions. After taking one from the front row he looked right up the back (where all us students were sitting) and asked for a contribution. Noone said anything, so I just jumped up and yelled “I’ve got a question!” and so, mopping his brow he looked at me and I asked him about his performance in Waiting for Godot and was it really as easy for him as it looked? He gave the most perfect reply about his interpretation of the play and how, when you get to his age, even the most revered absurdist play in the world “makes sense because it’s about being old.”

And that’s how I got to be talking to Ian, and throughout the evening it felt like we were just having a coffee, and what an interesting date he was. We all heard about meeting Nelson Mandela, being gay in South Africa, being gay in England, hating on Maragret Thatcher (who then recommended him for a knighthood), about getting the knighthood, does he have a partner at the moment? someone wanted to know. It was a sea of stories punctuated by questions which lead us onto the next adveture in the life of a man with literature in his veins and a twinkle in his eyes. He had stagefright while with Judy Dench, he has been sunburnt in Mexico with Ava Gardiner and he has done Shakespeare with everyone from Maggie Smith to Albert Finney and back again.

The second half was Shakespeare but again interspersed with stories and facts and reasons for doing each selected piece. At the end, the cast of The Hobbit popped up onstage to help him with a last bit of fundraising for Christchurch’s Theatre Royal and there was (Bilbo) Martin Freeman! So, not only is Sir Ian McKellan a talented actor, stunning performer, personable and humble, but he’s friends with Dr Watson (therefore by about three degrees of separation the blog is friends with Sherlock).

Sir Ian, let’s be friends.

 

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