Ian McKellen: I do find myself thinking “how am I going to remember my lines?”

He channelled his inner old man to play a 93-year-old Sherlock in new film Mr Holmes - and reveals his own memory isn't what it was

Ian McKellen says it is becoming harder and harder to memorise his scripts.


“Lines get more difficult to learn,” the 76-year-old veteran of stage and screen explains in this week’s Radio Times.

“When I was a young man, people would ask how I remembered my lines, and I’d think ‘That’s the easy part!’ Well, these days it’s one of the problems. I do find myself thinking ‘How am I going to remember it?'”

McKellen explains that it took him six months to learn his dialogue for an upcoming BBC adaptation of The Dresser, and eight to prepare for a Broadway production of Harold Pinter’s play No Man’s Land in 2013: “That was just memorising the lines, and that was working on it every day. But it’s not yet that bad for me. I can do it. But for some of my friends… well, if you can’t remember lines, you really can’t act.”

In the last decade, McKellen has found global fame as wizened Gandalf in JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Now he is playing a role 17 years his senior in Mr Holmes – a drama centring around a 93-year-old Sherlock tackling one last case.

Unlike his character, he has no plans to retire to the country.

“I belong in the city. I wouldn’t like to not be able to see the theatre or just drop in on friends,” he says.

“I’d have to find the nearest cow and have a chat. Friendly, inquisitive cows.”


Read the full interview with Ian McKellen in Radio Times magazine, on sale in the shops on 16th June and from Apple newsstand