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Ian McKellen: 'I've never had an ambition to play Sherlock Holmes'


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Many actors have taken on the role of the world’s most iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes, but in recent years there has been increased interest thanks to the outlandish action movies helmed by Guy Ritchie starring Robert Downey Jr. and the modern-day retellings produced by the BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Now, American author Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind has been adapted for the big screen as Mr Holmes and features Sir Ian McKellen in the title role. In both the novel and the film, Sherlock Holmes is now elderly and not as agile. He has swapped busy London life for the quiet of the countryside. Still, as his memory begins to fail him, he is haunted by a case that had a profound effect on him. At the UK press event held to mark the release of Mr Holmes, Ian McKellen spoke about the themes of the project that attracted him:

‘One of them are very touching, really. Someone we think we know well – Sherlock Holmes – and someone we might not want to spend much time with, as he’s not very sociable, turns out he has a beating heart that he has spent 30 years running away from. I found that very touching: at the end of his life he wanted to complete the emotional side of his life he had neglected.’

It’s difficult for Sir Ian to talk about this particular theme, due to a plot revelation in the story, but his words signpost an important dimension to this movie: the more emotional side to Holmes’s character becomes the driving force of the film. ‘Holmes doesn’t do things by halves, does he. He goes right onto the end and solves it. This case he didn’t solve, Dr Watson wrote it down as a triumph, but Holmes was so upset he didn’t do any sleuthing for 30 years. Is that will power or stupidity or just the way he does things; not by halves?’

So with all the tricky aspects of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, has Sir Ian always wanted to give the role a go: ‘I’ve never had an ambition to play Sherlock Holmes and if I had thought about it I’d think I was too old. But now the role of a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes has come along and I thought, well, that’s all right. This is a peach of a part for any actor. I’m very lucky I knew [director] of Bill Condon of old.’

What does he think about the enduring fandom of the character? ‘I’ve seen them around Baker Street; I went to have a look at the statue. They’re being photographed with it; they think it’s like Gladstone or something. They want to bump into him. It is extraordinary.’

Mr Holmes is released in cinemas on 19 June, Certificate PG.


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