Over the weekend, Sir Ian McKellen resurfaced the extensive blog that he produced while filming The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. Alex Casey plucks out the most wholesome highlights.
It’s pretty cool that in the 20 years that have passed since Sir Ian McKellen posted his first blog about The Lord of the Rings, the wider internet has devolved from a friendly Shire-type community to the actual flaming lair of Balrog himself. Every waking hour of every day we try to run away from his flaming pit of agony, and every time the Balrog wraps his fiery whip around our ankle to drag us back in. Ah well.
I just want to go back, back to 1999, where a nice man called Ian just wrote a wee blog about pretending to be a wizard. Mckellen.com is the only pure place left online, a time capsule populated with iconic Blingee fonts, musings about vegetarianism and many, many low res images of Christopher Lee. It appears to be all run by the man himself, who recently re-shared his blogs written while filming LOTR here in New Zealand.
Preciouses, I read each and every one of them and it was an absolute joy from cover to cover. Here are the most wholesome learnings.
Gandalf LOVED a supportive email
“I have just sent Peter Jackson an e-mail of good luck,” Gandalf wrote on 14 October 1999, the first day of filming for The Fellowship of the Ring. “I don’t expect an immediate reply – directing a film is totally time-consuming.” Reply, you fool.
Gandalf worked with a real (?) witch
In probably the most casual reveal since Arwen chose a mortal life, Gandalf dropped an absolute bombshell in August 1999. “Never having imagined that I would ever play any sort of wizard, I am ill-prepared,” he wrote. So far, so normal. Respect to the Sir for having imposter syndrome like the rest of us. But then: a curveball. “I just worked with a witch, however, a white one, whose spells are formidable. Her energy is impressive.” No explanation, no context, no worries. Now that’s impressive energy.
Gandalf is a sucker for movie theme parks
“I am a sucker for movie theme parks.”
Gandalf loved New Zealand
What I love the most about this whole blog is how McKellen writes with the wonder of a teenager on their big OE. “So far from home but the language is the same and you can buy Marmite and Cadbury’s chocolate,” he wrote in one his early entries. “The Queen is on the banknotes (although they are made of a non-creasable, washable, transparent plastic) and there is scandal about Prince Edward in Women’s Weekly.” If only 1999 Gandalf knew of the Prince-related scandals to come. At least we still have Marmite.
Gandalf loved partying with the lads
After attending a cast and crew screening of a few key scenes, Gandalf let us know about his deepest, darkest vices. “Peter had provided beer and wine but I’m off the alcohol and had two candy floss (cotton candy) and popcorn.” Later that night he found himself at the house of producer Barrie Osborne, and was convinced by Pippin (Billy Boyd) to slide down a 20 foot fireman’s pole. “I wasn’t even drunk,” Gandalf added. A fool of a Took will do that to you.
But even more heartwarming than Gandalf pinging on 2 x candy floss and sliding down a fireman’s pole is this scene from when the gang was filming pickups in 2003. “On Saturday, Shamsung and Elwood accompanied by Deep Sea Diver Boyd McIver took over the Good Luck bar off Cuba Mall in downtown rowdy Wellington where they d-jayed the night away.” I don’t know who those people are but I do know that I like the next line. “I found bopping to rap and hip-hop a bit tricky. But that’s The Fellowship for you.
“Or rather, that’s hobbits.”
Gandalf liked making Saruman laugh
“I like making Saruman laugh.”
Gandalf is the anti-Kondo
In July 2001, Gandalf revealed himself to be a bit of a hoarder after he had his head turned by some set dressing during a fight scene with Saruman. “I asked Dan Hennah (art director) if I could take home a couple of the fake-metal lizards which served as door handles in Orthanc. He smiled quizzically as he often does.” A week later when he was headed home, Gandalf was presented with a hefty wooden box containing the lizard-shaped door handles of his dreams.
The collection of curiosities doesn’t stop there. “Among a few further precious mementoes are an Alan Lee original pencil drawing of Gandalf (another gift from the Jacksons), plus I confess hanging in my study the large keys to Bag End’s round front door… My favourite, although I don’t eat meat, is Burger King’s goblet with a convincing likeness of Gandalf in cameo relief on its bowl. Perhaps this should only be available for consumers of veggieburgers!” Now worth a whopper $20 US – not bad.
Gandalf wrote accidental poetry
Between each take I watched the billy goat snatch from a stall /
a real cabbage to chew in the hot sunshine.
… the forecast is for sunshine /
which will sparkle on my silver scarf.
– Hobbiton Beard Adjustments, 2000
Gandalf enjoyed a post-Balrog dart
“After the Balrog I left for some fresh air and a cigarette,” he wrote after the world premiere of Fellowship of the Ring. “There the fans were still waiting, entertained only by the repeating relay of Howard Shore’s score.” Post?Balrog?durry.
Gandalf made mistakes too
In a June 2003 entry titled ‘End in Sight’, McKellen gets hit with a wave of muddled jetlag brain in the middle of the shoot. “The new dialogue stuck in my throat and I stumbled through half-a-dozen takes. Eventually I isolated the offending phrase and repeated it on camera until Peter felt he could select an appropriate reading for the finished film… Confidence restored.”
And if that’s not relatable enough for you, just remember that Ian McKellen once rubbed fistfuls of cold cream, instead of gel, through his hair before the Fellowship world premiere. My king.