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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 08:02 GMT
Sir Ian's lasting Rings success
Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Sir Ian said many people "think I am Gandalf"
Lord of The Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen has said he is surprised to be still wowing filmgoers after more than three years on screen in the fantasy epic.

Sir Ian plays the good wizard Gandalf in The Return of the King, the final part of director Peter Jackson's trilogy, which is tipped to sweep the board at the Oscars on 29 February.

He first appeared with his staff and trailing beard in The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, followed by The Two Towers a year later.

"I think I thought that Gandalf was over as far as I was concerned in December 2000," Sir Ian told the BBC's Hardtalk programme. "(Yet) I still haven't finished. I'm doing some added dialogue for extended DVD of The Return of the King.

"Even if that is the last of me pretending to be Gandalf, there will be a lot of people who think that I am Gandalf and will probably bump into me during the rest of my life."

Sir Ian McKellen
Sir Ian trained as an actor in repertory theatre
Sir Ian said he normally preferred playing villains, but the Rings films based on JRR Tolkien's books were a "remarkable" exception.

"The fellowship are all good people, and all doing their best, and that Tolkien was able to make them all differentiated and attractive and intriguing is a mark of what a good writer he is and probably explains the success of the films," he said.

Sir Ian, a classically-trained actor, said acting for audiences running into millions was in some ways similar to playing to a handful of people on stage.

"It's just another wonderful experience of being an actor," he told Tom Brook on BBC World's HARDtalk.

"Like playing Macbeth in a very small theatre with Judi Dench nearly 30 years ago in Stratford on Avon. That felt the height of achievement for me as an actor. Nobody saw it.

The audience come up in the streets at the premieres and shriek and go bananas
Sir Ian McKellen

"Here I am at the opposite end of the scale. The difference is with Macbeth I actually saw the audience. I looked them in the eye. Just 100 of them, easy to do.

"You never meet your audience normally when you are in a film. In this case I have met quite a lot of them because they come up in the streets at the premieres and shriek and go bananas."

Speaking of his hopes for The Return of the King, he praised director Jackson and singled out actors Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum, and Elijah Wood (Frodo).

He took an affectionate swipe at Jackson's dress sense, saying: "Peter's sartorial tastes are limited . It's about the only area in his life where his imagination lets him down a bit.

"He's got two shirts and they are both identical. He's a man who very much lives in his body but he's got a huge head, and inside it what is most impressive about him is his huge imagination."

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