On Friday night the Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel / Stepney Green hosted Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen, formerly @IanMcKellen118
I made some notes while Ian was talking but I was laughing too much for the notes to be particularly coherent. It was all very good humoured and there seemed to be a running gag with the interviewer's microphone which steadfastly refused to work despite being replaced with spares three times. It was difficult to be sure exactly what the interviewer was asking but easy enough to infer from Ian's responses - fortunately he had the good microphone.
If you were there and think I've missed a bit, do let me know - email address above, comments below
First someone from Step Forward thanked us for coming along, we saw a short video explaining the work the charity does helping young people in Tower Hamlets then Ian was introduced to much enthusiastic applause, learning forwards in seats, waving and smartphone photographing. We were pretty pleased to see him.
The first line of my notes reads "3D, pyjamas, landscape, helicopter, Limehouse, Step Forward, Gandalf Grey / White" so let's see what sense I can make of that then.
Involvement with the charity, Step Forward
He was initially asked about his involvement with Step Forward (@Step_Forward) and mentioned that he'd lived in Limehouse for 32 years and the charity had come knocking on his door and it seemed like a natural fit for him. The charity helps young people who are having trouble at home, or difficulty getting into further education and it also provides sexual health advice and counselling.
12 years between films - how was it different
In response to a question about what was different 12 years on he made the point that this time the cast all knew that there were millions of people waiting to see the film(s). The first time round they didn't know if they'd be well received as plenty of people were against any attempts to tamper with Tolkien. The cast was obviously different, one or two the same, but the people behind the cameras were the same. They had new specially designed sets built by Peter Jackson (they were also used in Avatar I think?) and more recently by Spielberg. In response to a later audience question he said that the atmosphere on set was the same, and that this is something that comes 'from the top', ie the director. Apparently it was a bit like the world's most expensive home movie in that Peter Jackson's kids are in it, his partner/wife co-wrote the screenplay and everyone feels like a big family.
He also talked a little about how lovely New Zealand is and how there are bits that are pretty much inaccessible other than by helicopter. Where they were there seems to have been an absence of pylons (as a fan of pylons I can't get quite as excited by that but I get the point). It reminds me of the small child who said, on seeing the countryside for the first time 'look at all the garden without fences!'.
He said before he'd taken on the role initially he'd listened to some tapes of Tolkien reading from The Hobbit and did an impression of him, speaking in a BBCish Oxford sort of voice which I think he said he'd used a little in Gandalf. He said he preferred Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White (a bit more of a 'great commander' type).
He's asked Peter Jackson if there can be a scene in one of the later films where we see Gandalf waking up in the morning - he wants to see what Gandalf's pyjamas might be like although he suspects he just sleeps in his robes ('no-one ever seems to wash').
I think I missed a lot of this cos of giggling but he confirmed that he and most of the Fellowship had indeed had tattoos done after the first trilogy (I think Ian's is on his upper right arm) in Cuba Mall in Wellington. For the latest crop of films the dwarves apparently designed a ring for him with Gandalf insignia inside it. He also mentioned that he had a 'b ring' (I think that's what he called it) from the original films, but he'd elected not to bring it otherwise we'd not be able to see him ;)
This time around the cast was a little bit more middle-aged than the first time and he painted a picture of carousing hobbits off boozing after a day's filming.
What would Tolkien think?
The older members of Tolkien's estate are generally less enamoured of attempts to put the story on film although the younger ones are enthusiastic - one of his grandchildren told Ian that he'd have loved the films (Tolkien was also an amateur actor).
Who would win in a fight? Gandalf or Dumbledore? (Audience question)
This question from a kid got a big laugh :) Ian gave a very thoughtful answer - that Gandalf's powers work most just when he really needs them, and that his spirit informs his innate magic. Also that Gandalf could defeat anyone in the Potter movies ;)
High frame-rate technology
From a bit of background reading it seems that this film is in six versions, 7 if you count the Atmos sound system in some theatres (no idea if we have this in the UK) with 3D/2D, Imax 3D/2D and 2 different frame rates.
Ian said he'd seen the movie twice but that with his older eyes he wasn't sure he could get the full benefit from the frame rate difference, although he thought the use of 3D was wonderful - 'subtle and dramatic' (I saw the film in 3D and it was indeed fantastic - I wonder what Roger Ebert and Walter Murch think as they're apparently not fans of 3D).
Apparently the human eye operates around the 60 frames per second and the high frame rate (HFR) used is 48 whereas we're more used to 24 frame rates.
I've no idea if the Genesis cinema was showing it high frame rate or not - it all looked fine to me though.
Then Ian asked the charity and cinema staff to bring on-stage Gandalf's hat, staff and sword (Glamdring) - he waved the staff at a few people in the front rows, and said that we could have our photos taken with the items after the filming, and then he left our screen and went and talked to the people in the later showing.
As the film began I wondered if my 3D glasses weren't working or if I needed to switch them on as the film was definitely quite blurred. There seemed to be a few people taking off their glasses and putting them on again and there was a bit of movement with people going off and trying a different pair of glasses. Eventually the projectionist realised there was a problem and did something technical that brought everything back into focus - hooray! We only missed the first few minutes so no harm done. It was lovely to step back into the magical world :) I need to go and see it on IMAX now!
This is actually the second time I've seen Ian McKellen 'live' this year - back in September he and 'colleagues' from the Clapham Academy of the Creative Arts ('CACA') packed out the Prince Charles Cinema for a screening of The Academy, a 'documentary' outlining the troubling financial situation that CACA finds itself in. All good fun. Ian plays his less successful brother Murray :)
Ian McKellen's Hobbit blog
McKellen.com: Twitter interviews: #askGandalf transcript (it includes the best way to poach an egg, haha)
Wired: The Hobbit could send movie fans on unexpected journeys - or start a nerd war (on the different film formats).
Quora: What are some of the most mind-blowing facts about The Hobbit (movie)?
Quora: What are some of the most mind-blowing facts about The Lord of the Rings movie
Stuff that Occurs to me (this blog): Actor Brendan Fraser introduces Gods and Monsters, in Belfast - obviously Ian McKellen (who is in the film) features a fair bit in this post too though he wasn't there himself. He sent an email to Brendan for him to read out to us :)