Despite what you might have heard, Ian McKellen’s creative process isn’t quite as simple as pretending to be the person he’s portraying in the film or play. In case you’re still unconvinced, however, the esteemed actor tweeted a link to an online diary he kept while filming Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, spanning from 1999 to 2001, then again from 2002 to 2003, and invites you to peruse it. “20 years ago, I arrived New Zealand to begin filming ’The Lord of the Rings,’” he wrote. “I joined the cast on January 10, 2000. During that time, I kept a journal, which today would be called a blog. Perhaps you’ll enjoy reading about those heady times.”
In his wonderfully late ‘90s blog (the website might be swamped right now, so if it isn’t displaying, just refresh it a few times), Sir Ian ruminates on acting, cinema and the responsibility he feels to fans when crafting his portrayal of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved wizard Gandalf the Grey. “I take comfort from the general assurance that they approve of the casting (not just of me but of all the other actors so far announced-thrilling news that Cate Blanchette is joining us),” he wrote on October 14, 1999, when his cast mates had begun filming ahead of his arrival. “Yet how can I satisfy everyone’s imagined Gandalf? Simply, I can’t.”
“It bears repeating that, as with Richard III or James Whale or Magneto, I must discover Gandalf somewhere inside myself - and that process depends on absorbing the words of the script and its story, listening to the reactions of the director and responding to the performances of the rest of the cast,” McKellen. “So now, still 3 months away from shooting (for me), my Gandalf doesn’t exist, not even in my mind. He will only come to life as the camera turns and discoveries are made in the very moment. Even when I am in the thick of it, in costume and make-up and speaking Tolkien’s words, I’m not sure I will be able to describe the character to you. Actors don’t describe - they inhabit.” You can read more of his inner musings here.