Monday, 5 April 2010

Gandalf vs Magneto vs Godot

Sir Ian McKellen talks to students at a Theatre Peckham workshop. © Magnus Andersson

In a face-off between the above mentioned characters I reckon that Godot would win every time, simply because by the time Godot turns up (if at all), the other two would have done each other in already. Anyway, lets face it, its not often that life feels complete but on Tuesday it all came together.

I grew up reading Tolkien books as a kid and then one of the living legends of the dramatic arts - and a personal hero of mine - made a surprise visit to Peckham; Sir Ian McKellen. He is known as Gandalf from Lord of the Rings to most people of my generation, and he came to look at the various workshops led by Theatre Peckham (he's the patron) at the Harris Academy. Best of all; being the only media there, reporter Lindsey and me had an exclusive.

Ian keenly observes a drama class. © Magnus Andersson

His role for the afternoon was simple - observe and don't intrude. The kids in these groups were all teenagers or younger and perhaps wasn't quite aware of the grandeur of such a presence, which made the whole thing that little bit sweeter. Most of them seemed to recognise him as Magneto from X-Men rather than Gandalf and he ordered them all to go and watch LOTR immediately.

I think for a moment Ian (apparently he doesn't like to be called Sir) could actually just sit back and relax, taking in the enthusiasm of new talent and their interpretations of the old classics by Shakespeare.

Mr. McKellen is course a man of integrity but he is also a man of the people. He didn't mind arriving in a small Fiat Punto. I got a couple of shots of him coming out of the car before
the pinnacle occurred - he shook my hand and I introduced myself. My life was complete. Meeting your idols can sometimes be a bit disappointing. I once met one of my favourite musicians (who shall remain nameless) and after a short rebuttal for an interview, I simply couldn't listen to his music anymore, the illusion was shattered. Luckily I had no such bad luck with McKellen.

Drama class action. © Magnus Andersson

I'm not sure if he believed me when I said my name is Magnus - the same name as his character Magneto in the X-Men movies - but from there on in we had a non-speaking relationship. Observer photographer Jane Bown once claimed that a photographer should neither be heard nor seen, and that's exactly what I did - until I asked him for a close-up that is. Nearly two hours in to what should have been a 30 minutes stay, I had kept my distance. We had been promised a few minutes at the end so hopefully I would get my shot as well...

And before we get to that awkward moment, let me just explain how the whole thing went. Ian would be led into a room of youngsters going through their various dramatic routines, and he simply sat down to observe. As I was the only photographer there from the media I didn't feel like I had to get in Ian's face, instead shooting from a distance and hoping that I would get some nice shots at the end when we had been promised an interview.

Two students act out a scene from Macbeth in front of Sir Ian. © Magnus Andersson

In the early 90's I was doing some media studies paired with Irish studies (don't ask) in the deep south of Sweden and my final dissertation was to be on the works on Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright of Waiting for Godot. Just like Godot, my final paper never arrived. However, Sir Ian has just finished performing this play in London - and the final performance was last night - but don't fret if you didn't get to see it because the play is about to go on a world tour, so you might have a chance to catch him treading some boards near you.

It was great to hear his thinly veiled contempt for some of the [unnamed] actors in X-Men, who perhaps didn't take their trade as seriously as he does, although both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart got a mention as good colleagues. Ouch. I don't think he cares much for his American colleagues.

McKellen showcasing some scenes from LOTR, including 'You shall not pass' on the right. © Magnus Andersson

He did a couple of re-enactments of LOTR scenes and the kids were non-plussed. They had no idea what had hit them, until he did a Magneto move instead. All of a sudden the kids where with him. I felt old immediately. He also explained that when he filmed the famous scene in LOTR where Gandalf The Grey tries to stop the Balrog on the bridge, the graphics people hadn't even designed the Balrog yet, so he had no idea what it looked like. Instead he had to film the scene with a stand-in for the Balrog in the shape of a perfectly normal tennis ball. Remember that next time you watch Gandalf shout 'You shall not pass!'.

McKellen during a short Shakespeare monologue. © Magnus Andersson

My favourite bit though was when he all of a sudden launched into a version of Shakespeare's monologue 'All the world's a stage' or 'The seven ages of man' as it is also known, a concise summary of infancy, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and second childhood. It only lasted a few minutes but right there and then I knew that I had witnessed a masterclass in acting, right before my eyes. The hairs on my neck stand up even as I write this.

Ian looks out the window while answering questions from my reporter. © Magnus Andersson

Nonetheless, before all his interaction with this last class, he had been a quiet observer and I knew I was missing a more intimate shot of him looking into my lens. Towards the end he finally spared us a few minutes on a sofa, and he didn't mind sitting near the window for better light, while he was answering Lindsey's questions, yet he wouldn't look in my direction and I could sense he was getting eager to leave.

Ian McKellen at first protests but eventually I get my three frames, of which this is the last one. © Magnus Andersson

When she was done interviewing he got up to leave and I quickly asked if I could have some frames with him looking directly into the lens? 'I didn't come her to be photographed' was his abrupt answer and I thought 'shit, there goes my last chance'...but then he winked and smiled and gave me three frames! The one you see above is the third and final frame. He had given me approximately three seconds, but it was enough. Thanks for being a good sport, Ian.


Matou said...

love that last shot...

Magster said...