Exclusive: Ian McKellen on The Hobbit

The thesp on returning to Gandalf the Grey.

Sir Ian McKellen is spending the week at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain, where he was last night presented with a special Donostia Award in recognition of his career as an actor. RT was in town to catch the presentation, and earlier in the day we sat down with McKellen to discuss the award and his work. Of course, as Guillermo del Toro readies to direct The Hobbit, which will see McKellen pull on the cloak and hat of Gandalf the wizard for the first time in seven years, we couldn't help but look to the future and find out how things were going with the project.

In fact it was McKellen who raised the wizard's name before we asked, rather controversially declaring to RT, "I don't want to play Gandalf again."

But before a million Rings fans cry out in terror at the thought of another thesp stepping into the role, McKellen was actually discussing the risk of typecasting the wake of a big success. "If you play a part that gets an awful lot of attention," he explained, "forever after you're being asked by directors to play the same part in their movie. But I played the best wizard, and I'm happy to revisit him, which I shall do in The Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro."

Not only will The Hobbit afford McKellen another chance to find his feet with one of literature's greatest wizards, but the film will also allow him to return to the earlier incarnation of the character, Gandalf the Grey, who only appeared in the first of the trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring.

"Grey Gandalf is my favourite," he told us. "Peter Jackson's too, we always preferred Gandalf the Grey. Peter liked him because he got down and dirty. He slept in the hedgerows; he was closer to the earth and not quite so spiritual. He's also funnier -- he's got more variety to him. We thought there was more scope in that Gandalf."

One of the joys of playing the character for McKellen is his broad appeal. "He appeals to really young people. Gandalf has 8 and 9-year-old fans who've seen his films a great deal more than I have. Their faces when they meet the actor who plays Gandalf are wonderful to behold, so that's been special."

Del Toro and Jackson -- the latter acting as a producer this time around -- are deep in pre-production on The Hobbit, which will be released as two films in 2011 and 2012. There'll be more from our chat with McKellen, and our time at the San Sebastian Film Festival, soon.

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