Those who’ve never acted believe it’s an easy job with a great paycheck but that’s not always the case. Certain scenes may require an actor to pull out emotions they’d rather stay buried, and do so over and over for countless takes, but it wasn’t a heart-wrenching scene that made Sir Ian McKellen cry on set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. So what made him get weepy?
It was actually the lack of real human emotion that made McKellen break down. In an interview with Contact Music, the thespian explained how the overuse of green screen technology on the film caused him to cry.
“In order to shoot the dwarves and a large Gandalf, we couldn’t be in the same set. All I had for company was 13 photographs of the dwarves on top of stands with little lights – whoever’s talking flashes up,” he said. “Pretending you’re with 13 other people when you’re on your own, it stretches your technical ability to the absolute limits.”
If time allows, many creators like to have actors on set to help their fellow stars, even if they won’t be seen on screen. You can see an example of this in some of the behind-the-scene featurettes on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. But usually, and especially on productions on scale with The Hobbit trilogy, that’s not the case. So, McKellen had a bit of a tantrum.
“I cried, actually. I cried. Then I said out loud, ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard.”
Whether he would have copped to the drama had he not been heard by countless others remains a mystery but I give him credit for admitting his frustrations. The actor was already reticent to return as Gandalf but was eventually convinced. “It was a little like going back to something that wasn’t necessarily going to be particularly challenging,” he told The Hollywood Reporter adding that it was actually the thought of the millions of fans who were waiting for it that sold him. “They wouldn’t understand if you weren’t as keen as they were,” he said.