chapter  12
15 Pages

Sir Ian McKellen: Peter Holland


What defines the Shakespeare actor? Perhaps it is no more than a list of roles. A list of McKellen’s professional Shakespeare roles appears at the end of this article (p. 157). By decades, it adds up to seven in the 1950s, nine in the 1960s, seven in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, three in the 1990s and one since the millennium. A list maps out a framework, a territory that was first taken as given to the young

actor and then carefully chosen by the star. The last few choices have not been surprising. McKellen had played Aufidius in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Coriolanus at Nottingham Playhouse in 1963 and discussed playing Coriolanus himself with Adrian Noble for the RSC in 1984 but, instead, McKellen chose to play it at the National Theatre, working again with Peter Hall who had directed him so successfully as Salieri in Amadeus on Broadway in 1980. After the brilliance of Macbeth at The Other Place in Stratford in 1976, directed by Trevor Nunn, the chance to play Iago in Nunn’s Othello in 1989 was not an opportunity to be missed. Kent to Brian Cox’s King Lear was the consequence of cross-casting the company at the National Theatre to be able to tour King Lear and Richard III (Cox playing Buckingham to McKellen’s Richard III). And McKellen was bound to play King Lear sooner or later, returning, again, to work with Trevor Nunn, the director who gave him the Shakespearean space he needed. As he acknowledges (‘Exclusive Interview’ on the King Lear DVD), there is little left beyond supporting cameos of the kind he is not interested in playing, not even a return to Justice Shallow whom he played in 1959 in Cambridge to excited reviews in the national press. The map ofMcKellen’s Shakespeare career, considered in simple list form, may be complete.