Sir Ian McKellen: there will be no more British acting greats
[quote]Sir Ian McKellen argues that today's young actors will never develop into fine middle-aged performers because they have not honed their talents in repertory theatre.
15 Nov 2012
Britain will produce no more actors of the calibre of Dame Judi Dench or Sir Derek Jacobi because repertory theatre has died out, according to Sir Ian McKellen.
Sir Ian said he would not have the career he has today without a grounding in regional rep. The current crop of actors, who go straight into television and film roles or appear in the occasional stage production, do not have the same experience.
“The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country - not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert,” he said.
“The danger’s going to be that the current generation of actors won’t develop into good middle-aged performers because they won’t have been able to live from their work.
“The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.”
Sir Ian said he had “always been an actor for the long haul. And it all began for me with doing three years’ apprenticeship. I didn’t go to drama school.”
He appeared in 15 productions at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in the early 1960s, where he was paid £8 10s and honed his talents in Shakespeare, Chekhov and Agatha Christie.
Asked if the current system could “produce another Sir Ian”, the actor replied: “No. Nor Derek Jacobi, Mike Gambon or Judi Dench. I got better as an actor, and still I’m getting better. That’s only been possible because there’s always been work.”
Dame Judi has also spoken about the benefits of appearing in regional rep, where a full-time, resident company performed different plays.
“You could make mistakes, and have a go at playing some terribly old person when you were 23. Ideally, what I’d like is to be in a company and not be doing the same play every night,” she has said.
Sir Ian, 73, told the December issue of Reader’s Digest that spending years in regional theatre had other benefits.
“Why do you act? You act for an audience. In the theatre, you’re in their presence. Film stars don’t know what it is to have an audience,” he said.
“You see some at awards ceremonies who can hardly make it to the middle of the stage, they’re so nervous. There’s a microphone so they don’t have to project. And they read their words.
“You see a theatre actor come on and it’s, ‘Oh, hold on, there’s a show happening’. Hugh Jackman at the Oscars - that’s a theatre man, who happens to be a film star.”
Sir Ian won a new generation of fans with two roles in Hollywood blockbusters: Magneto in the X-Men franchise and Gandalf in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is reprising Gandalf in The Hobbit, which opens next month.
The actor said he refused to be “snooty” about his roles.
“I’ve always had very catholic tastes. Tolkien and X-Men are both good storytelling. They’re not franchises about cannibals or mindless outer space visitors - these are epic tales that do more than entertain,” he said.
“Millions and millions of people have seen Lord of the Rings. Of course I’m more famous for that than Waiting for Godot. Just because a piece of work has been seen by so many more people doesn’t mean it’s less in value.
“I’d as soon see a pantomime as a revival of Shakespeare; it all depends if it’s any good.”
Sir Ian was one of the first celebrities to embrace the internet, posting regular blogs on his website long before they became commonplace.
In the interview, he joked that he had “almost invented” blogging. “We called it e-posts. Didn’t catch on,” he said.
“I’ve always been interested in publicity. I remember doing Bent with Michael Cashman and going round London putting up our posters. All this internet stuff is far easier.”
The full interview appears in the December issue of Reader’s Digest, out on November 20
Andrew Garfield is not British. He was born in the USA and just lived in England for a while.
He is right, unfortunately. The last actor to come from the rep system was probably David Tennant, but that system was well into death throes by then.
Of course many actors do spend years working in fringe and regional theatre, but so many get noticed right out of drama school or via TV auditions looking for untrained kids and start doing screen work right away and never have stage experience, or they make their stage debut in some big West End play cast on the strength of their celebrity without the necessary experience.
Jesus, R1, this again? He was TRAINED as an actor in the UK and made his real start there. That's the point of the discussion.
He has dual citizenship and didn't just live in the UK "a while". He moved there as a small child, grew up there and went to drama school there.
He's half-Brit who was trained in Britain as an actor.
You're an American, aren't you, R1?
I would add David Morrissey as another brilliant actor that started out in theater.
The entire cast of One Direction have acted like musicians successfully enough to convince millions of teenage girls they are all living Mozarts. (So has Justin Beiber)
Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Ben Whishaw, Michael Sheen, Rory Kinnear, Daniel Evans, Simon Russell Beale, Ralph Fiennes and Mark Rylance, among many others, should keep the show on the road for a while.
And Orlando Bloom.
Olando Bloom? He's a celebrity, not an actor.
Well fuck that old bitch!
James McAvoy,just might prove Sir Ian wrong.
The man is GOOD!!
The Mark Strong Troll
Also it is unfortunate Kate Winslet went crazy.
She could have been a contender.
As long as I have all the greats of the Booshiverse.
Actors will be good because of some different kind of training. Or the audience and critics will lower their expectations even further and in a couple of years one of the Real Housewives or Kardashians will get an Emmy and Oscar for some acting gig.
James McAvoy and the barely closeted Ben Whishaw will be considered acting greats.
R3 is correct.
Andrew Garfield even has a British accent and has said he considers himself both British and American.
But all these actors you are so quick to cite as proof against McKellen's argument had exactly the kind of training McKellen is talking about. McKellen is not saying that there aren't actors working today, including young actors, who have had the benefit of coming up in resident companies in the UK and show it; he's saying that the days in which actors have that kind of training are coming to a close.
I'm not an actor, so I have no idea how skill is developed. But, why can't it be honed in television and movies?
Andrew Garfield learned a British accent because it boosts his career options.
Agree with r19. There are a few younger actors who have that kind of background and training, but the many of the actors named are at least pushing middle age.
Though his comments referred to the rep system, specifically, rather than theatre training in general. Starting out in theatre is fantastic, but rep does train actors much more fully than the kind of theatre that exists nowadays. I do think great actors can and will still develop, even without rep. And Britain does still have a very strong theatre industry and a culture that prioritises theatre and theatre training. But the death of the rep system is a blow to the industry and has made entering the industry much harder for young actors.
Young actors from all over the world try to make their luck in Hollywood and become the next Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, the Hemsworth bros, Logan Lerman, etc. without wasting their time to really learn acting from scratch when all they need is to look hot and get teen girls' pussies all wet.
I agree with R7, I think Britain is still producing fine young actors, and lots of them.
What I don't know is if it's producing fine THEATRICAL actors, because live 10,000 miles away from its theaters. Obviously the new generation is doing a terrific job with TV and movies, but for all I know the English theater is heading for trouble.
I think the UK still produces a lot of fine actors. As long as you don't count idiots like Pattinson or Alex Pettyfer.
r24 UK regional & fringe theatre is still a great proving ground for young actors and we have some amazing theatre schools. I wouldn't even discount people who make a start in television/films and then transfer to stage (which is A LOT easier to do in the UK). Case in point: the multiple Olivier Award winning actress Sheridan Smith who first gained fame in a TV series called 'Two Pints of Lager & a Packet of Crisps' but has more recently been lauded for her star turns in Little Shop of Horrors, Legally Blonde, Flare Path and Hedda Gabler.
I see a lot of theatre and, believe me, the young British acting talent is DEFINITELY out there.
What about Mrs. Gwyneth? She be very good.
My favorite young actor in the Lincoln Center Repertory Company in 1972-3 was a gorgeous young guy named Christopher Walken.
But he has been playing the same character since Annie Hall. So rep wasn't very helpful to him.
I think Gus the Theatre Cat lamented the same thing:
And he says: "Now then kittens, they do not get trained
As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.
They never get drilled in a regular troupe,
And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop."
And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,
"Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.
What about Luke Evans? He spent ten years in theater and worked with Ian on the Hobbit.
I think many American actors fled the USA during the Bush Administrations. So they all reclaimed their Euro toots.
Ian McKellen is a terrible ham on stage. Saw him in King Lear and The Seagull and he was absolutely terrible in both. Same with Michael Gambon - what a hambone.
Acting styles change. There's still plenty of great acting talent in the UK.
Nothing worse than a grumpy old man realising he's at the end of his career.
Luke Evans is an average actor and a creepy person.
Judi Dench is hugely overrated.
I am no theatre expert, but while I can definitely see the appeal of repertory theatre from an actor training perspective (as part of company you pretty much are assured constant work and would get a crack at all the roles your "type" would allow), I can't see contemporary audiences being interested in watching a troupe of actors mount hastily rehearsed (and produced) live theatre.
How come the repertory actors in the US aren't beloved like their British counterparts and are generally regarded as such hams? Among them you can count: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Ashley, Judith Ivey, Linda Lavin, Christopher Walken...
Speak for yourself, Sir Ian. I deserved a bloody Emmy for my role on Wizards of Waverly Place.
p.s. I love getting fucked by David Henrie.
Sir Gregg Sulkin
Luke's a creepy person? You can't leave it at that. Explain.
That's Dame Hugely Overrated to you, 35.
I won two Golden Globes in the same night...plus I like to take my tits out...just sayin.
Shut up SirIana.
You always have been a little too free with your opinions.
If David Tennant is what the British repertory theater was producing, it deserved to die out. That guy cannot stop mugging for one second.
The UK is crawling with fantastic actors with far better opportunities to work their creative muscles than any American performer will ever see. What's needed aren't great actors but capable and interesting performers who can interpret and improvise for today's audiences. They don't have to be Jacobis and Gambons any more than Jacobi and Gambon had to be Olivier and Gielgud or Olivier and Gielgud had to be Irving and Beerbohm Tree (who according to Bernard Shaw actually sucked as actors by today's standards.)
Don't get the David Stratharien thing. Do he and McKellen have a Meryl and Glenn thing going on?
Jason Straham is sort of like the British version of Vin Diesel.
Outside of DeCaprio, America does not have a male acting great today. Leos pick of roles is also all over the map and does not always show his talent.
The world will always be "declared" to be full of acting greats who can't get work. Whether it is true or not.
r44, there is some arcane datalounge cross posting happening @ r42 the reference is to two threads that included feuds between Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren and David S. among others.
Vastly entertaining threads if you interested in Broadway backstabbery.
Not just dish about Sir Ian but plenty on the batty bitchy bettys [Bacall and Buckley] and many others.
Andrew Garfields IMDB board would like you to know he is Super Duper heterosexual X 1000.
"Outside of DeCaprio, America does not have a male acting great today. Leos pick of roles is also all over the map and does not always show his talent."
Surely you must think at least one of the following contemporary American actors other than DiCaprio is a great actor.
Johnny Deoo, Morgan Freeman, Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Stanley Tucci, Michael Shannon, Jeffrey Wright, Viggo Mortensen, Ryan Gosling, Forest Whitaker, Ed Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale, Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Jeremy Renner, Kevin Spacey, Terrence Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Glover, Adrien Brodie, Josh Brolin, Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Sean Penn, James Franco, Frank Langella, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Justin Kirk, Patrick Wilson, Ned Beatty, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, James Soader, Tim Robbins, Benicio del Toro, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, Robert Downey, Jr., George Clooney, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, John Travolta, John Malkovich, Lawrence Fishburne, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Crudup, Kevin Kline, Jim Parsons, James Earl Jones, Brian Dennehy, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, Victor Garber, Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Jefferson Mays, Boyd Gaines, Gary Sinese, Willen Dafoe, Oliver Platt, Nathan Lane, Zeljko Ivanek, Michael Stuhlbarg, Philip Bosco, Stephen Spinella, Bill Irwin, Robert Morse, Charles S. Dutton, Vincent D'Onofrio
R45 = Leonardo DiCaprio.
Not really a British actors expert, but Nicholas Hoult and Freddie Highmore both seem to have a chance to do some good things in the future. Of course, McKellen's idea of greatness is probably in an altogether unfamiliar stratosphere.
The rep system of McKellan and Dench's youth was already over (i.e. had changed into something else) when actors like Damien Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic West etc came through, let alone Ben Wishaw and Tom Hiddleston. The 'rep company' tradition had its time and place and may go completely, but it hardly follows that poor acting is the result.
wow. those Broadway threads are amazing. I honestly can't believe Lauren Bacall is as mean as they say though, tough yeah maybe, but mean? Doesn't sound right.
My favorite bit of gossip though was the thing about Katherine Hepburn stopping the shitty show she was in and yelling at the audience for taking pictures. Hilarious.
Ian McKellen doesn't come off so bad at all.
[quote]Outside of DeCaprio, America does not have a male acting great today. Leos pick of roles is also all over the map and does not always show his talent.
Joaquin Phoenix is roughly DiCaprio's age and he is a far more natural actor than DiCaprio. I'd rather see Joaquin work from the heart in that downright feral way he does, than DiCaprio trying to go for Oscar gold with every single last performance he does.
Cherry Jones is the best example of someone who studied with a rep and wound up doing grand work. She is a founding member of ART and studied with them for the gist of the 1980's. In terms of American actresses, she is the only one I can think of who made her bones from studied with a rep.
For the most part regional theaters cast all the major roles in their productions from NYC.
Regionals hire NY Based casting directors who [via agents] bring in actors to audition on a production by producton basis.
Most regional theaters in the US have a few local equity actors they use as they need them but it is a far cry from the day when regional theaters had resident company members on contract for the entire season.
Basically, the regional theater system is an extension of the NY Theater scene. Only people with subsantial NY or regional credits will be considered for major roles in regional theater unless you are very young and then your training better be top notch to even get seen.
I love Cherry and have known her for years but there are many actors like her who have just never broken into the NY Theater scene and have done mainly regional work for years.
When I started in the business Cherry Jones was a client at the Gersh agency and the agents there used to go up to ART on a regular basis to see her work. She was not Broadway name at that point and had virtually no film or telelvision. The business was different then. If your client was in a regional theater production, you went to see it if you could reasonably do it.
Nobody at Gersh would be schlepping up to ART to see the next Cherry Jones in a play these days and that next cherry jones could easily toil in obscurity for her entire career.
I say all this to point out that there is no regional theater system in the states anymore, it is just an extension of the coasts and has been for years.
ART under Brustein was an exception and one of the last company centered theaters
Ian McKellen is an extremely overrated actor who takes himself far too seriously.
whoop dee deoo
big difference between being a great screen actor and a great stage actor. Some are both but it is rare.
I grew up in Louisvill KY and the Actors theater had a company for years, now disbanded I believe. Some of those actors were the best I have ever seen.
None of them were famous, some did go on to do a few things in NYC but most not.
I have lived in London, NYC, SF and Syndey AU, gone to the West End, Broadway and many local regionals and I agree with R56 that there are many actors as good and better than Ian McKellen that you never hear about because they don't do their best work in major markets.
McKellen is an idiot. Tons have. He's an old fart. That's the reason he's making such ridiculous statements. Ironically, he was never that great an actor either.
The majority of young British actors today have trained.
Ian McKellen = Rupert Everett
more from r56 please. What is Cherry Jones like as a person? Any stories?
hello r63, this is r56, what I remember about Cherry from that time is her genuine sort of "nice girl" ness. She is still that way. The only " incident" I remember around Cherry had to do with her writing a very strong critical letter to a rather important casting director who had pissed her off and this casting director did not receive it kindly.
The agents at Gersh tried their best to clean it up for her and I think it was smoothed over but they did ask her not to write any more letters.
Wish I could remmeber more of the details of this but it was over 20 years ago.
Puh-leese. As it is now, many of the plum roles in film are being taken by UK/Aussie actors.
And while Sir McKellen is a fine actor, I never got the hype over Dame Dench, who is annoyingly one-note in most of her roles.