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Wednesday, November 11

Gandalf itching to return to Middle Earth


Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, is itching to revisit Middle Earth after reading the script for the first of ‘The Hobbit’ films.
It's been over a decade since McKellen donned Gandalf's robes on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ set in New Zealand.

And, while he's sworn to secrecy over ‘The Hobbit’ script, the veteran British actor says the part has his name on it and he’s longing for production to get underway.

Gandalf
To be directed by Guillermo del Toro, the script for ‘The Hobbit’ movies has been co-written by New Zealand producer Peter Jackson with long-time ‘Lord of the Rings’ collaborators Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens - and McKellen says it’s very attractive that the Gandalf part has been written specifically for him.

"As Peter has said, they loved writing Gandalf for ‘The Hobbit’ because they knew who they were writing him for. The other Gandalf was written for, well, just as Gandalf. There's lots for me to enjoy, in all sorts of ways. And I couldn't be happier. But I'm sworn to secrecy. I'm not to say anything at all about the script," he said.

Unexpected Hobbit script
McKellen said he hadn’t been expecting to receive any pages of ‘The Hobbit’ but the script arrived out of the blue.

"I was sitting in London and a courier arrived from New Zealand, which is the other side of the world, bearing the script of 'The Hobbit,'" he said.

"It was tied around with so much Scotch tape that even with two pairs of scissors, I only got into it half an hour later."

He said the script had his name on every page with a warning that each page was encrypted, so if it appeared on the internet, it could be traced back to him.

"And I'm not to discuss it with anyone, any colleague, or friend, or family member or pet. I may not write in the script, I may not remove it from its plastic folder, and when it is taken from me by the courier, it will be shredded under supervision," he said.

Production details
Although he has read the script, McKellen hasn’t yet been signed and details of ‘The Hobbit’ production are still sketchy.

‘The Hobbit’ story will be told in two films to be shot back-to-back with a predicted budget of NZ$474 million. New Zealand-based fan website theonering.net reports that the first six months of filming in 2010 will take place in the studio.

Work has begun at Hobbiton near the North Island town of Matamata with hobbit holes and hedgerows appearing on the farm site.

Scouts looking for filming locations have also been reported in New Zealand’s South Island, and it is rumoured that a creative team is already hard at work on visuals for the two movies.

Although it is thought that other actors have seen the scripts, McKellen is the only one to have spoken publicly.

"Gandalf is a fantastic part and I long to do it," McKellen said. Both he and Peter Jackson preferred the earlier Gandalf the Grey version to his later, post-resurrection incarnation, he said.

"He was more humane somehow. He was the guy who liked to hang out with the hobbits and drink too much and smoke too much."

20-plus takes
McKellen said he didn’t, however, always prefer the 20-plus takes Jackson often required on set to get a scene exactly as he wanted, and he wondered if Guillermo del Toro might spare his actors such lengthy repetition.

"A slight shiver went through me just then," he said (smiling), "because I thought perhaps Guillermo might be a little quicker than Peter, but maybe he won't be. He's a bit of a perfectionist. But this script plays very much to his strengths and I can see where he's put his mark already on the script."

Although sworn to secrecy, McKellen promised a resemblance between ‘LOTR’ and ‘The Hobbit’ in both look and feel.

"Peter Jackson is still a hands-on producer," he said. "Guillermo del Toro comes in not as a wild card but very much respecting it all."

Jackson and del Toro
Jackson and del Toro speak the same language, McKellen said.

"They are the same person. They were separated at birth. They’re twins. They have the same attitude. Neither likes working in Hollywood. They're both brilliant storytellers in very much the same way," said McKellen.

"And I think the script, because I have read it, plays very much to Guillermo's strengths, as I've seen them. I have seen his other movies, and people act very well in them. So I think it's all fine. And Peter will always be there," McKellen said.

McKellen said that the role of Gandalf changed his life forever. "I can't believe it's 10 years for me," said the actor, who first played the wizard in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - film one in the trilogy that began principal photography in New Zealand in 1999.

"I remember being told by a friend in Hollywood that 'your life is going to change,' and it has. Gandalf is an extremely famous character, and I quite like having him around the corner. He's very popular."