Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The smell of napalm in the morning

It's not available online, but John Lahr has an interesting profile of Ian McKellen in this week's New Yorker:
McKellen's obsessive focus makes him a dangerous actor. "He likes the smell of napalm in the morning," the director Sir Richard Eyre said. He has a habit of inventing virtuoso challenges for his characters. While playing Richard III, for instance, with a withered arm, he stripped off his uniform to present himself bare-chested to Lady Anne. "In the soliloquy afterward, one-handed he had to dress himself, do all his buttons up, plus a clasp, take a cigarette out of his case and light it, and appear the perfect military man by the end," Eyre, who directed the 1990 Royal National Theatre production, said. "It was the apotheosis of technical virtuosity married to character." In Martin Sherman's "Bent" (1979), a play about the treatment of homosexuals in Nazi Germany, McKellen's character was forced by S.S. guards to beat his boyfriend to death and have sex with a dead girl to "prove" that he wasn't homosexual. "He did something that was phenomenal," Sherman said of McKellen's interpretation. "He was sitting there, and he defecated. It was very subtle--but you saw in his body the spasm, which is what a person does in a period of such shock. It was one of the most stunning things I've ever seen." Sherman continued, "After a month, he didn't do it any longer, because he was on to something else in the scene that he thought made it even more honest."
I saw that National Theatre production of "Richard III"--actually I would have to say I thought the film was better than the stage version...

Of course because I am an idiot I did not think of trying in time to get tickets to BAM, and now all of the Lear performances and all of the Seagull ones with McKellen are sold out! I am foiled!

Actually I have seen "The Seagull" several times also, once with Vanessa Redgrave in London c. 1985, and the other was the Central Park production with an excessively star-studded cast: both times I felt sorry for the poor actress--in the second case I believe it was Natalie Portman--who had to actually utter the words "I am a seagull," it is one of those speeches (rather like "My kingdom for a horse," come to think of it--a line handled very well in McKellen's film adaptation) which basically cannot be spoken these days with a straight face...

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