The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Ian McKellen
Last week, we took a look at the career veteran badass extraordinaire, Kurt Russell. If one were to tally the box office results of an given performer, this week’s subject would be one of the highest grossing actors of all time, thanks to central roles in three huge franchises. It doesn’t hurt that he also happens to be one of the finest actors of this or any other generation....
Sir Ian McKellen is someone who I can confidently say is as badass in real life as he is in the movies. After all, how many actors of his generation can say that they've anchored three major franchises, constantly poked fun at themselves through a mastery of the internet that seems unlikely for an English gentleman in his seventies, and also had the courage to boldly come out-of-the-closet years (decades actually) before it was considered fashionable?
The only downside about McKellen is that his younger fans – such as myself – never got the chance to see him onstage where he was renowned for his incredible presence. In fact, McKellen only really began to devote himself to film in the nineties, where he occasionally classed-up big movies like LAST ACTION HERO (where he played the Grim Reaper), and THE SHADOW, while also starring in riskier indies, like the modernized RICHARD III, and a slew of English films. It took until the late nineties for him to hit his stride as a film star, but once he did – look out!
One thing McKellen is especially good at is humanizing larger-than-life characters, be they heroes or villains. His Magneto hits the perfect balance between being a super-villain/victim/anti-hero, while his Gandalf is iconic to the point that if he hadn't agreed to come back for THE HOBBIT, I have my doubts the new trilogy would have ever happened.
Of course, we should also acknowledge that his best-buddy bromance with X-MEN co-star, and lifelong pal Patrick Stewart is possibly the greatest thing to hit the internet since the invention of the MP3, with their slew of happy-go-lucky photos providing countless hours of entertainment for their massive fanbase which – let's face it – includes just about everyone these days.
For most of us, McKellen – despite his immense body of work – will always be Gandalf. That's not a slight to the many other things he's done, but just like Peter O'Toole will always be LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and Sean Connery will always be James Bond, McKellen will be Gandalf. It's crazy to think that he almost didn't play the part, with Connery being heavily courted at one point. Even in THE HOBBIT trilogy – which I don't think anyone would ever say quite matches up to LOTR – McKellen is superb, and seems to be having a grand-old-time in the part. Also worth mentioning is his Oscar-nominated turn as FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale in Bill Condon's GODS & MONSTERS, a terrific movie ripe for discovery if you haven't seen it.
Like many others profiled in this column, I doubt McKellen has ever given a bad performance. However, one project of his that I did find to be ill-conceived is the AMC reboot of THE PRISONER, where he played Number 2. McKellen is the best thing about it, but it's really a pointless show that mercifully only lasted six episodes. The original series by Patrick McGoohan remains untouchable, and should only be updated if the people involved really have a handle on what made the original so great in the first place.
APT PUPIL is an important movie for several reasons. First, it was Bryan Singer's first post-USUAL SUSPECTS movie, and second, it was through this movie that McKellen wound up as Magneto in X-MEN, and by extension Gandalf. While not a hit, APT PUPIL is nevertheless a really interesting film, with a show stopping performance by McKellen as Nazi war criminal hiding in suburbia who's blackmailed by an unhinged teen, played by the late, remarkable Brad Renfro. It's a terrific film and one that's too often overlooked.
Really, what else could it be but the famous “You shall not pass!” scene in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING where Gandalf blocks the path of the pursuing Balrog Demon, thus allowing the fellowship to survive and fight another day.
In addition to THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, McKellen is also re-teaming with his GODS & MONSTERS director Bill Condon, for his Sherlock Holmes tale, A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND, where McKellen takes on yet another iconic character. I have no doubt he'll be incredible.
|Extra Tidbit:||McKellen also did a great job hosting SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in 2001.|