Ian McKellen's Blog

Ian McKellen’s Blog – Bijou Cinema, Gandalf’s Bar and Table Mountain

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Ian McKellen will play Two in AMC’s forthcoming miniseries, The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

Cape Town houses The Prisoner’s Village, at least some of its interiors, in the Waterfront Studios and at a few locations elsewhere. My favourite has been in the Observatory District, where workers’ shabby one-storey houses huddle against factories and workshops of light industry. One of these, an armoury where Conrad fashions wrought-iron sculptures, is housed in the disbanded auditorium of the Bijou Cinema, recently a nightclub until fire closed it down. This stands in for The Village club, where Two’s son relaxes away from family life.

The outline of the old cinema was scarcely hidden behind curtains and decorative pieces of hardboard. If you looked up, you could see the slope of the circle, and if you climbed up the side stairs (where we filmed), you could eventually look down on where the screen must have once been. It felt fitting to be filming there.

Opposite the Bijou is a bar for Goths and young punks who have misplaced their ID. No questions asked at “Gandalf’s”! There was a sketchy portrait of him hanging outside. Just up the street was “Mordor”, which is a perverse name for a club where you might hope to enjoy yourself! I think I’ll give it a miss.

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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Shooting at a Wizard’s Pace

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Ian McKellen will play Two in AMC’s forthcoming miniseries, The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

Cape Town is one of those blessed cities with a mountain in its midst. Overlooking a peninsula near the southernmost tip of Africa, Table Mountain dominates in every direction. But there are other ancient granite outcrops nearby and just beneath one of the most prominent, Lion’s Head, are my digs, a summer house par excellence, whose back windows and terrace look out onto the upper slopes of Table Mountain, where I can follow the cable car as it steadily lurches up and down every sunny day. When I arrived in October it rained a bit and it can still be very very windy (25 knots all day the other day), but it’s almost summer now and mostly the sky is blue, with the only cloud draped like a tablecloth over the flat top of the mountain above my deck.

At work too, I can see the mountains. It’s like being on holiday. Our studios are on the waterfront, close to Cape Town’s harbour. I’m invariably up just about dawn so make-up, hair and getting dressed (thanks to Raine, Fernanda and Rivett) can be complete, followed by a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit, in time for a start at 7 a.m. So not a holiday after all.

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Ian McKellen’s Blog – A Tour of The Village and Palais Two

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Ian McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

As we come to the end of our Namibian shoot, there is hardly a corner of Swakopmund that hasn’t been used in the retelling of The Prisoner.

The fictional Village Shop that sells only maps is actually a corner emporium where you can buy for real anything second-hand, from old postcards to washing machines and used clothes.

The Palais Two, where my character (and his family) lives, is in reality the biggest hotel in town and once the railway station. We had intended to shoot scenes in the hotel forecourt doubling as Two’s gardens but our schedule changed and these will now happen in the Cape Town studios.

My first glimpse of The Village before rehearsals was a striking photo of the A-frame holiday chalets on the outskirts of town, which are too regimented for comfort. In reality they are just as unprepossessing, not made any less so by a huge poster of Two declaring the opening of “More Village”, an image that would be a telling advert for the series if hung aloft on Sunset Boulevard.

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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Swakopmund Is The Village

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Ian McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

The more we film The Prisoner, the more appropriate Swakopmund seems as the factual element in Bill Gallagher’s fictional Village whence there is no escape for Number Six, nor indeed for those of us involved in telling his story. Not that there are walls to detain us, either in life or in the screenplay. Rather we are trapped by our contract’s schedule, between the aggressive breakers of the Atlantic Ocean and the inhospitable dunes of the Namib Desert.

The connection between the ocean and the desert is the wind and the tides. Far to the east is the Kalahari Desert whose sand has been carried by the Orange and other rivers to the west coast of southern Africa, where offshore winds have then blown it back inland, mounting it up into the barren dunes of the Namib. You can easily get lost and dehydrate and perish in these dunes: What better barrier to escape for villagers or actors?  There are a few hardy native inhabitants – head-standing beetles who let the morning dew slide down their backs into their open mouths, thus becoming a thirst- quenching delicacy for long-tongued chameleons: There are thin-skinned lizards and the sly snakes who lie in wait for them under the sand, only eyes and enticing tip of a tail visible, so when the prey comes to investigate, the end is fatally nigh.

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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Gandalf Hats and Golfing

ian_gandalf_steeple.jpgIan McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

A century ago, when they occupied the desert land northwest of South Africa, just south of Angola and east of Botswana, the German colonialists needed a fishing centre and founded this place at the mouth of the Swakop River: hence their name for it, Swakopmund. Previously the locals had called it “Excrement Opening”, if Wikipedia is to be trusted.

Once Namibia became independent in 1990, Swakopmund was established as its “premier holiday resort”, a genteel hideaway for those wanting to escape the heat of the Namib Desert and relax in the milder temperatures afforded by the daily sea-fog, which rolls off the Atlantic and across the road that separates my apartment from the ocean. From my balcony, it looks dangerous and I’ve yet to spy any intrepid swimmer or surfer gambolling amongst the breakers. Swakopmund is the largest town in the country after the capital Windhoek, and there are holiday homes galore but not much to be done here, at least on a conventional vacation. A “what to see” brochure lists the star attractions as “Prison”, “War Memorial” and “Martin Luther”, who turns out to be a museum for a steam engine named after the Protestant reformer.

Those actors who were working here before me have already explored the local fun — sailing with dolphins, cuddling seals and snapping the inhabitants in Etosha’s game park up north. One day Jamie Bower and Lennie James invited me to join them careering up and down some mighty sand dunes in 4×4 vehicles from “Daredevil Enterprises”. I said I’d prefer to go with a firm called “Absolutely Safe”. So we settled on a sedate guided tour inland along the dry riverbed between sun-parched mountains, granite stubs of the world’s most ancient heights. There we met a 800-year-old cactus flat on the earth waiting for its daily dampening.

I’m not working every day, so what does one otherwise do in Swakopmund? Well, I’ve joined the gym to do my twice-weekly stretching exercises. I’ve attended costume fittings at the main hotel, which used to be the railway station and will soon stand in for Number Two’s home in The Prisoner. I am driven on my expeditions for fresh fruit and general provisions by my ever-attentive “chaperone”, Peter Owens from Cape Town, where he is a tour guide. And mostly I’ve stayed indoors learning my lines to the accompaniment of the ocean’s swash.

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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Delays, Directors, Nights in Namibia

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Ian McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

Film schedules often shift but always in one direction: They get delayed. Why, is another matter and not one usually divulged to the actors when they are informed, just before they are ready to leave home, that they can stay at home for a few extra days. Two weeks ago my bags were packed, I’d said most of my goodbyes, was ready to turn off the water heater and double-lock the windows, when a brisk phone call from my agent said: “Hold on, there’s been a delay. You are not needed in Namibia yet awhile. Nothing to worry about.” So I didn’t, until the next day there was another call to say there was a problem, unspecified.

Then, the following day, the bombshell. The director of The Prisoner, the estimable and universally-liked Jon Jones, who had cast me and visited me at home to express his excitement about the project he had worked on for 18 months; who had introduced me to the AMC producers over dinner in a Soho restaurant in London; who had led me through my scenes during those rehearsals I’ve already blogged about: Jon Jones was now off the job. Indeed, as I crossed Africa north to south en route for Cape Town where I would rest up for three nights before going on to film in Namibia, he was flying home in the opposite direction, with only he knows what feelings of relief or regret in his heart. 

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Ian McKellen Blogs From London Before Heading to Namibia

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Ian McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

As the millennium turned, I was in Middle Earth filming Lord of the Rings. On my website I started a sporadic diary called “The Grey Book”, and inadvertently helped invent blogging although back in 1999, such
cyber experiments were not appreciated by everyone.

For instance, New Line Cinema were very nervous that any inside information about their films should reach the public, except through their own publicity department. I thought that policy was short-sighted, as there was a multitude of Tolkien fans longing for news who deserved to be encouraged. I often reassured Tolkien admirers that they must be prepared to welcome Peter Jackson’s version of the novels or, if not, go and make their own film. I had to agree
to submit my blog to NLC before posting it.

Peter, much more savvy online than I was, carried on regardless of the studio’s constraints with his own regular comments online. He even courted the rumour-mongering Ain’t it Cool News, then thought to be every studio’s potential bane, by inviting its prime critic to Middle Earth. A special chair was built to seat the mighty Harry Knowles close to the filming action. Thus the fan-base was informed directly about our progress on set.

I much prefer publicity which is informative rather than sensational or bland – so here I am blogging again, though this time at the invitation of this site, where I can be found over the next three months of filming The Prisoner.

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