[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