Ian McKellen on Playing the Iconic ‘Mr. Holmes,’ Re-Teaming With Bill Condon

Bill Condon Ian McKellen Mr Holmes
David Vintiner for Variety

Ian McKellen stars in “Mr. Holmes,” the Bill Condon-directed film that bows on DVD and Blu-ray Nov. 10. The actor worked with writer-director Condon on 1998’s “Gods and Monsters,” the first of McKellen’s two Oscar nominations (so far).

What drew you to “Mr. Holmes”?

After “Gods & Monsters,” Bill and I always agreed, “Before we die, we’ve got to do another film together.” Finally, he called and said, “I think I’ve found the film.” Then when he said, “It’s about Sherlock Holmes,” it just kept getting better and better! It’s a mixture of the familiar, with Sherlock, and what’s going to happen next, but it also delves into the man’s insides. It’s about widowhood, loneliness, about the possibility of redemption — that it’s never too late to find yourself.

Was it challenging to play the character from ages 60 to 93?

I’m at an age when I could imagine being 93. It wasn’t foreign. And I had a stepmother who lived to be 100, with a bit of dementia. We’ve all been young and had aged parents.

Do you ever get tired of acting?

Anything I’ve learned about life, I learned by acting out someone else’s story. When you play Macbeth or Richard III, you have to face the possibility that someday you may be so angry or so ambitious that you could kill someone. And if you can’t imagine what that’s like, you can’t play Macbeth.

You do a lot of scenes in “Mr. Holmes” with Milo Parker. Is working with child actors different?

A child actor is not a fully fledged professional with the cunning of experience behind him. But what you’re getting, if you’re lucky, is something genuine. And that’s very precious. If they’re in touch with it, they don’t have to work at it. And Milo had no apprehension. It was his first film, and he was very comfortable.

Had you worked with children before?

I have the distinction of not giving Eddie Redmayne his first film role. He auditioned for one of the boys in “Richard III” (1996), and he didn’t get the part. Every time I see him, he teases, “You’re the guy who didn’t give me my first job!”

What’s your biggest surprise about “Mr. Holmes”?

It’s not just older people who like it; kids like it too. That’s gratifying.

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  1. What a lovely interview! I felt moved by every performance in the movie; that comes from great acting and subtle (but wonderful) directing.

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