Long before Harry Potter, there was Gandalf. The wizard of J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit and subsequent Middle Earth novels was casting spells on readers around the world decades ago, when young Harry was just a gleam in J. K. Rowling's eye. And this month Potter's about to get some serious competition from The Lord of the Rings, the first in a trilogy of films based on the Tolkien books. Sir Ian McKellen plays Gandalf, the mighty magician who leads a ragtag band of adventurers against the forces of evil. A Shakespearean actor, but best known stateside as the villainous Magneto in X-Men and for his Oscar-nominated role in Gods and Monsters, McKellen spent a year in New Zealand, filming all three Ring movies back-to-back. Soon after the final production wrapped, the knight headed for Broadway to star in August Strindberg's Dance of Death, a pitch-black comedy that pairs him with acclaimed actress Helen Mirren. In a rare moment of downtime, McKellen spoke with Travel + Leisure about his work, his pastimes, and his favorite places here and abroad.
Welcome to Middle Earth Filming in New Zealand was a bit of an epiphany for me. I thought, in my ignorance, that the year there would be a great opportunity to see Australia, where I'd never been. (I was able to nip over to Australia for Mardi Gras, but it was such a short trip—I'd like to go back.) I discovered that New Zealand has so much, there was no need to travel beyond the two main islands. A couple of hours outside the cities, you can be in astonishing places that until 50 years ago had never been charted: there are fjords, glaciers, high mountain ranges where Edmund Hillary practiced for his Everest climb, live volcanoes, hot springs, primeval forests. It's still a Garden of Eden in places, so it's almost ideal for Middle Earth.
Start Spreading the News It's wonderful to live in New York while I'm performing on Broadway. Live theater is part of how New York identifies itself; if you're in a successful show, the city really takes you to its bosom. I love to stay at the Wyndham on 58th Street, which welcomes working actors. It's in the shadow of the Plaza at half the price. I've often found myself in the same elevator there as Lena Horne or Maggie Smith.
You've Got Mail I take my laptop with me when I travel, even though I'm of the generation that has never quite gotten used to the telephone. My 95-year-old stepmother still keeps her phone in the hall, and whenever it rings she gives a jump because she assumes it's bad news. I'm a little like that. But e-mail is another matter. I love sending a quick trivial message to friends or family miles away and knowing that it's going to reach them instantaneously.
In Flight I don't watch movies on those tiny screens. They're an insult to anyone who's made a movie. I usually do the crossword. If I can get the London Times puzzle, I'll happily spend the entire trip across the Atlantic trying to work out the answer to 12 Down.
Pulling a Fast One Edgar, the role I play in Dance of Death, is a real one-off, original character. And it's quite a short play. Normally, the Shakespeare plays I'm in last three, even four hours. But Dance of Death is over before The Producers. Before Nathan Lane has done his final number, I'm in the cab going to my apartment.
Homeward Bound I always enjoy going to the Lake District in the north of England; it's close to the area where I was raised. It's thrilling to drive up the M6 motorway and suddenly see those familiar hills and fells. My heart lifts just to think of that. If I'm trying to get to sleep on a plane, I think about climbing Great Gable and I relax. It's as near heaven as I expect to get.
Coming Soon I'm lucky that my job has taken me to such extraordinary places. But probably in the next five years I shall do some major traveling that has nothing to do with work. I hope that will include India. I also want to go to Bali before too long, and I've never been to South America.
On Travel Today How can airlines in this country make flying as quick and convenient as people have gotten used to and match that with the need for much, much greater security?In the wake of the September 11 attacks, I suppose we're going to have to put up with whatever regulations come into force. I, for one, would be very happy to arrive at the airport in plenty of time to allow that to happen. But I'm someone who spent the first five years of his life sleeping under a metal shelter in the living room—I was born four months before Europe entered the Second World War.