Ian McKellen on Playing Sherlock in ‘Mr. Holmes’: ‘He’s Not Who You Thought He Was’

Ian McKellen Mr. Holmes premiere
Gary Gershoff/WireImage

Those searching for the pipe-smoking, cape-clad Sherlock Holmes of old at Monday’s “Mr. Holmes” premiere were sure to come up empty handed, but no less entertained.

Directed by Bill Condon and starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, Miramax and Roadside Attractions’ latest debuted at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to a packed house of A-listers from film, fashion and philanthropy. The movie, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” marks McKellen and Condon’s first collaboration since “Gods and Monsters” earned the writer-director an Oscar in 1998.

“I’ve known Bill ever since [‘Gods and Monsters’] and we’ve stayed friends; how can you not? He’s the most lovable fellow!” gushed McKellen. “We always said we’d try to do something else if we could find anything that really tickled our fancies.”

The film marks the fifth collaboration between Condon and Linney, who plays Mrs. Munro, Holmes’ widowed housekeeper and confidant.

“Bill Condon is someone I will work with under any circumstance,” Linney said. “He makes everything better, he makes a room better, he makes a story better.”

Speaking of her co-star, McKellen, Linney was no less generous. The often fraught onscreen relationship between Holmes and Munro was nowhere to be seen on set.

“We work in a similar way, we’re both trained in the theater, and there was a very strong, common actor language,” she said. “We just sort of jumped in. It happened very easily and naturally.”

McKellen said shooting the film was comparable to going on vacation.

“The movie’s packed with my old friends. It was not a labor, it was just a joyful summer last summer,” recalled McKellen. “The sun was shining all the time, I got to live at home, we went down to the South Coast. It was more like a holiday, really.”

The Holmes in this film is a far cry from the quick-thinking detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canonic stories. Now 93, and long-retired, Holmes spends his twilight years attempting to reconcile his rational modus operandi with a rapidly deteriorating mind. “Mr. Holmes” marks McKellen’s first time playing the iconic detective, but according to the star, it was the script that surprised with a twist.

“We all think we know Sherlock Holmes. The fun of this is, you don’t know him; he’s not who you thought he was,” McKellen added. “You then get on with playing just a man. He’s not just a man of course, he’s got the old grey cells, and is determined to solve this last mystery. What this mystery reveals is that Sherlock Holmes is not all brain; he’s got a heart.”

The films’ stars and guests, including Dan Hedaya, Swoosie Kurtz and Christian Slater, headed to Southgate at Central Park for libations and tasty snacks after the screening.

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