British actor Sir Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson's $360 million epic, officially opened the Out Takes 2000 lesbian and gay film festival in Wellington.
Sir Ian, 61, has been a gay activist for many years. Last year, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor when he played gay film director James Whale in the film Gods And Monsters.
He arrived in Wellington in January for The Lord of the Rings and is here until Christmas. But Sir Ian said he hadn't been out much. "In Wellington I've got a lovely house that I've rented looking out of Seatoun over the harbour, so I'm very lucky there. But I'm really here to work and that is five, sometimes six days a week and 14-hour days," he said.
"I wouldn't say I had got to know Wellington well yet. One of the joys of coming out on a night like this is to think, 'Oh well, I see this is the sort of thing that goes on in Wellington', and I like it."
Sir Ian said he wasn't surprised at the huge interest in The Lord of the Rings films. "Wellington has got in its midst, as Peter Jackson says, the most ambitious film ever made in the history of cinema in terms of the logistics and technology. There's never been a film this size and it's being made in your town. It's quite an achievement," he said.
"And it's a New Zealand movie. It may be paid for by American money. There may be foreigners like me coming in and helping out, but the director, the scriptwriters, the technicians, the heads of most departments are New Zealanders. New Zealand's reputation's got a lot riding on the success of the film." Sir Ian also plays the villain Magneto in X-Men, a big-budget film based on the Marvel Comics super-heroes, which is released in the United States next month and New Zealand in August. Kiwi actor Anna Paquin also stars.
Sir Ian on playing Gandalf: "Gandalf is an unusual part in that he is good and yet he's a very entertaining person. There aren't many good characters in literature or films which are at the centre because they tend to be rather boring. This man is extremely enjoyable to play."