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Wizard With a Web Site

Acclaimed British actor Ian McKellen keeps his fans informed online.

January 17, 2002

Ian McKellen stars as the wizard Gandalf the Grey in the massive film adaptation of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." On stage, he just finished a limited Broadway run in a new translation of August Strindberg's "Dance of Death" opposite Helen Mirren.

Knighted in his native England in 1989, McKellen has a long list of highly prestigious movie credits, including the title role in his own adaptation of "Richard III" and as director James Whale in "Gods and Monsters." But he has not shied away from pop culture projects, playing Magneto in "X-Men" (a role he'll reprise in the sequel) and the Chairman in Sidney Sheldon's "Windmills of the Gods."

He won a best actor Tony award in 1981 for his role as Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus," and to local stages he has brought his one-man shows "Acting Shakespeare" and "A Knight Out" that presented excerpts from plays and literature concerning gay issues.

McKellen, 62, lives in London and has a Web site (, that includes his commentary on dozens of his roles.

DESKTOP: I don't know, but I'm the kind of guy who can't tell you what kind of car I drive. I know it's a Macintosh, a G4 that has a lovely screen that shows DVDs, not that I've done that yet. I got it on the suggestion of the Webmaster of my site, Keith Stern.

Question: Why did he suggest you get a Mac?

Answer: I think it was because of the aesthetics of the thing. I don't think I'm untypical in that I don't have much of a sense of how these machines work. I just use them.

Q: When did you get your first computer?

A: It was about six years ago when I was writing the screenplay for "Richard III." Before that I was using a Brother word processor that showed about three lines of text on a tiny screen--when it was on the screen you could make changes, but thereafter it was fixed.

The computer I got was an Amstrad (an English PC maker) on the advice of the film's director, Richard Loncraine. He had the same computer, so it was easy to pass material back and forth.

LAPTOP: The metallic one (Titanium PowerBook). It's lovely and I have not spilled any wine into it, which is what happened to the last one. It got drunk. I pressed a key on it and it typed about 200 "t"s.

Q: You use it for e-mail when you are traveling?

A: Almost exclusively. Every day Keith sends me a batch of e-mail that came into the Web site. To some of them I give answers that are posted on the site. I don't on the whole do personal replies. Maybe on a gay issue, if someone is confiding something about their own lives and asking for my comments or help, perhaps about coming out. Also, sometimes an actor who is preparing for a part might want my views.

Q: How did the Web site get started?

A: When I was doing "A Knight Out" in Los Angeles four years ago, Keith did a little page to publicize it. He asked if I would be interested in having a site.

The idea interested me because I didn't want to write a biography. I thought it would take too long and the trouble with them is that they finish but the life carries on. The beauty of having something online is that it can be updated.

When we started, I was just going to put up some information on my roles and some photographs. But once people started writing and I started replying, the site got taken over in an exciting way by the people who were going to it and sending e-mails. It was truly interactive.

The first week in January, the site got 21/4 million hits because of "Lord of the Rings."

Q: You pay to have the Webmaster manage the site?

A: Yes. He handles them for other actors too. I have approval over the look of it, the type used and the content, of course. We sell a few things on the site, such as T-shirts, that go toward paying for it.

HAND-HELD: No Palm or anything like that. I would just lose it.

BOOKMARKS: I've got my favorites, but it's not a long list. I love reading the British press online when I am away--the Guardian Unlimited (www., the Observer (www. and also the BBC (

I look at the Drudge Report ( and post-9/11 I go to the ZNet site ( It's from Z magazine and has commentaries from Noam Chomsky and Australian John Pilger, who wages war against capitalism and globalization. It has points of view you might not read in the American press.

CELL PHONE: I see the point of them and I do have one, but I don't think anyone has the number. I very occasionally make calls out.

I have a temperamental disaffection with cell phones. When I see someone coming down the street on the phone, I always take it personally. Don't they want to be outside, don't they want the possibility of running into someone--not necessarily me, but someone? Don't they want to be open to serendipity, to having an adventure?

No. Apparently they would rather be with the person they are talking to. Well, the whole world can't be in love.

If you can carry the office with you, why bother to go out? When I go out I am looking forward to the journey. I don't want to be doing something I could be doing at my desk at home.


As told to David Colker

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