Sir Ian McKellen has spoken out about the demise of reportory theatre, fearing the current generation of actors won’t be able to live from their work and therefore “won’t develop into good middle-aged performers”. The 73 year old actor goes as far as to say this will spark the end of British greats such as Dame Judi Dench or Sir Derek Jacobi.
Speaking to Reader’s Digest, Sir Ian said that his career would never have developed to what it is today if it wasn’t for his “apprenticeship” in regional rep.
“The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country – not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert,” he said.
“The danger’s going to be that the current generation of actors won’t develop into good middle-aged performers because they won’t have been able to live from their work.
“The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.”
I got better as an actor, and still I’m getting better. That’s only been possible because there’s always been work
These days, actors who go straight into film and television, with the odd stage role, lack the experience needed to be one of the country’s greats, he claims.
Sir Ian, who did not go to drama school, always knew he was in the industry for the long-haul. In the early 60’s, he appeared in fifteen productions at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. It was here he learnt the skill of performing Shakespeare and Chekhov.
‘Could the current system produce another Sir Ian?’ the actor was asked. “No,” he replied. “Nor Derek Jacobi, Mike Gambon or Judi Dench. I got better as an actor, and still I’m getting better. That’s only been possible because there’s always been work.”
It is Sir Ian’s opinion that the current trend of film actors don’t know how to hone their skills in the theatre.
“Why do you act? You act for an audience. In the theatre, you’re in their presence. Film stars don’t know what it is to have an audience.
“You see some at awards ceremonies who can hardly make it to the middle of the stage, they’re so nervous. There’s a microphone so they don’t have to project. And they read their words.
“You see a theatre actor come on and it’s, ‘Oh, hold on, there’s a show happening’. Hugh Jackman at the Oscars – that’s a theatre man, who happens to be a film star.”
The full interview is published in Readers Digest December issue, out 20th November 2012.