Wednesday, June 28, 2006
#21 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)
In his Oscar-nominated turn in The Fellowship of the Ring, Ian McKellen disappears so completely into the role of two-thousand-year-old Gandalf the Grey, it is difficult to believe he is giving a performance. It is, excuse the hyperbole, an inhabitation; from the moment he appears riding his wagon-of-tricks, McKellen carries the full weight, power and grace of a noble wizard. Clad in drab robes and a pointed hat (which would look, let's face it, ridiculous on any other actor), Gandalf nevertheless is a character that is instantly accessible: McKellen plays him as the kind, tender caretaker that all of us would love to have watch over us. Over the course of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, he plays several roles: the wise old man, the father figure, the fellowship leader and - in his resurrection as Gandalf the White - graceful (read: kick-ass) warrior. But for me, it is in the first film that McKellen gives the most winsome and formative potrayal of this old soul, rejuvenating a familiar archetype. Despite the fact I knew going into the film that Gandalf would die (thus fulfilling the arch of the old wise man in fantasies), the scene still struck me in the gut. It is quite the achievement to stand out in such a stellar ensemble cast, but McKellen proves himself utterly and totally invested in this world. From wistfully smoking his pipe with long-time friend Bilbo Baggins to ferociously defending his clan from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria ("You... shall not... pass!"), McKellen keeps offering various shades to his character. His Gandalf is not always smiles and winks, but is stern and wholly uncompromising when the time arises. Equal parts dependable buddy and protective parent, McKellen's Gandalf is the kind of character you would hope to encounter one day in real life.