Actor Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, shared that he would never “presume to tell the audience what to think, ever, in anything I do.”
McKellen’s comments came back in 2003 while promoting The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. His comments were recently reuploaded by Jonathan Watson and shared to his YouTube channel, The One Ring.
McKellen was asked by a reporter, “What is the one message that you would like the audiences to get? The one thing that will be the legacy of The Lord of the Rings movies?”
The Gandalf actor responded, “I wouldn’t presume to tell an audience what to think, ever, in anything I do.”
He continued, “I am not a politician. I’m not a proselytizer. I’m not a pamphleteer. I’m an actor. And I work on behalf of people who do the writing, who have the message.
From there he explained his role as an actor, “My job is not to ell the audience anything. It’s just to explain the person I’m playing beyond the side of the character I’m playing. Good or bad, I don’t judge character.”
McKellen then provided an example, “When I played Richard III, I didn’t say, I’m going to tell the audience why they shouldn’t like tyranny and dictators. I just got on with explaining why Richard III turned out to be the way he was. And the same with Gandalf. Do my best to impersonate them, but I can’t anticipate the audience’s reaction.”
McKellen’s comments are in direct contrast to how actors promote their films today. One need only look at a number of the movies that came out this year such as Barbie or Blue Beetle, or how Rachel Zegler is promoting Snow White.
Actress Kate McKinnon explained that to Fandango ahead of the film’s release that the script was “about how like gender roles deny people half their humanity and how like we need to just like be ourselves and it’s a like a very powerful message.”
Actor Simu Liu told ScreenRant, “I’m so glad that this movie exists because I think it puts the final nail in the coffin of that very heteronormative idea of what gender is, and what is or is not gendered. How can you make a color gendered, you know?”
He went on, “Over the course of this movie I’ve seen, been around, worn, played with more pink than I ever thought possible and it was so great. And it’s so great to be free to express yourself in all of the ways you feel like you want to, and not to feel like because something is attributed to a certain gender or a certain idea that you can’t also do that.”
“That’s I think what’s really struck me about being in this movie, what’s evolved in my understanding of Barbie and what it is, and what I hope that an audience will get from it when they watch the movie,” Liu continued.
He would later add, “Knowing that Greta is as just talented and intelligent of a storyteller as she is, you knew that she was going to create a story that was just really fresh and exciting and subversive and self-aware. And I think Margot, who also produced the movie, just championed that so perfectly.”
“You have to really watch the movie to understand this, but like, it is a feat to have gotten Mattel on board with this movie,” he elaborated. “Because this movie really goes there, and it attacks all the criticisms of Barbie in the past. It joins in on the conversation, and it’s not just like a fluffy, cash-grabby, sort of like, ‘Look at us, we’re fine. Everything’s perfect.’ There are some really scathing critiques of the idea of Barbie, what Barbie has been or is. And also some really scathing critiques on Mattel as well, which I love.”
“But I think it really speaks to just how much everyone on board believed in the vision and the voice of this movie, that they were like, ‘No, this conversation needs to happen and Mattel needs to be in on this conversation, and we need to be a part of it,’ because that’s the only way that we can move forward,” Liu concluded. “That’s the only way that we can get the audience on board with the story that we want to tell.”
Looking at Blue Beetle, actor Xolo Maridueña informed Empire, “The goal was to create a movie for a young me and a young Angel [Manuel Soto, the film’s director,] that said, ‘Hey, man, someone who looks like you or comes from a similar background can be a superhero.”
He added, “The second thing was to open more doors for people like us. As fun as it is to get into this superhero world where everything is [dialled up to] 110 per cent, [it’s] the characters… that I’ve [most] related to.”
As for Rachel Zegler promoting Snow White, the actress has made it abundantly clear what kind of messages moviegoers should take away from the film.
At the D23 Expo last September Zegler told Extra TV that the live-action film would be eschewing the romance angle of the first film because it’s “Weird. Weird.”
She said, “The original cartoon came out in 1937 and very evidently so. There’s a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her. Weird. Weird. So we didn’t do that this time.”
When asked if the prince would even be in the film, Zegler answered, “We have a different approach to what I’m sure a lot of people will assume is a love story just because like we cast a guy in the movie, Andrew Burnap, great dude.”
She continued, “It’s one of those things that I think everyone’s going to have their assumptions about what it’s actually going to be, but it’s really not about the love story at all, which is really, really wonderful. And whether or not she finds love along the way is anybody’s guess until 2024. All of Andrew’s scenes could get cut. Who knows? It’s Hollywood, baby!”
Zegler then revealed what the film is really about, “It’s an inner journey that she goes on to find her true self. And she meets a lot of people along the way that make the journey really incredible.”
She also told Variety, “I just mean it’s no longer 1937, and we absolutely wrote a Snow White–”
Gal Gadot, who plays the Evil Queen in the upcoming live-action adaptation, interjected, “–She’s not gonna be saved by the prince.”
Zegler then affirmed, “She’s not gonna be saved by the prince and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love.”
Zegler elaborated, “She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be. The leader that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, brave, and true.”
“And so it’s just a really incredible story for, I think, young people everywhere to see themselves in,” she concluded.
To that end she revealed to Entertainment Weekly, the film would be changing the definition of fair from someone’s physical beauty to who is most just.
She explained, “The reality is that the cartoon was made 85 years ago and therefore it’s extremely dated when it comes to the ideas of women being in roles of power and what a woman is fit for in the world. And so when we came to reimagining the actual role of Snow White it became about the fairest of them all meaning who is the most just. And who can become a fantastic leader.”
Zegler continued, “And the reality is, you know, Snow White has to learn a lot of lessons about coming into her own power before she can come into power over a kingdom.”
Gadot added, “Also the fact that she’s not going to be saved by The Prince and she’s the proactive one and she’s the one who set the terms is what makes it so relevant to where we are today.”
What do you make of Ian McKellen’s comments about no presuming to tell the audience what kind of messages to take away in the lead up to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and how actors promote their films today?