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Another key differentiator this time around is the material. Warner Bros., New Line, MGM and Jackson have made it clear they see “The Hobbit” films as even more family friendly than “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. And that's been very obvious to McKellen who is one of the few actors to appear in what will be two separate, but connected triologies.
“’The Hobbit’ is an adventure story for kids, and told in the first person by someone who might read it to you before you go to bed,” McKellen says. “Tolkien's in the story, ‘I, I, I’... ‘Lord of The Rings’ is about the end of the world. So the tone is clearly very, very different, and that will be reflected. It's reflected in the script, it's reflected in the casting, and it will be reflected, presumably, in the finished film. But alongside that, there's that lighter feel, or a more adventure-story feel.”
For those hoping for a taste of the dramatic thrills from “LOTR” McKellen adds, “There will be the politics of Middle Earth going on in the background as a support.”
To that point, one writer points out to McKellen that Gandalf is something of trickster in Tolkien’s novel. Is he more lighthearted this time around or are dark developments in Middle Earth keeping him more serious minded?
“That is a little bit of a dilemma. A bit of both, it depends on what the situation is,” McKellen says. “The overall view is, ‘I better keep an eye on these dwarves.’ Particularly Thorin, who is a bit out of control, and not easily managed. So, that's clearly an ongoing relationship. Will Thorin do it Gandalf's way or will Gandalf have…? Gandalf loses his temper with him at one point. And then at other times, it is light-hearted, yes.”
For those of you who haven’t read The Hobbit or it’s been awhile, Thorin, played by Richard Armitage, is the leader of the Company of Dwarves who join our hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf on their quest. A reporter asks if Thorin and Gandalf will have more of a relationship on screen than in the source material. McKellen isn’t sure because while he admits, “Once there is a script, although it is very helpful to relate back to the book, I don't start comparing the two.”
But, back to the subject of Thorin, McKellen notes, “It's certainly a constant of the story, and each time he and Thorin talk, it's a development of that relationship. But he's got an ongoing one with Bilbo, of course, but that too has its ups and downs. Perhaps that's a little more light-hearted, yeah. Well, Gandalf loves Hobbits. Peter did say to me very early on, there was a rambunctious scene in Bag End, and all the dwarves were eating and drinking too much. He thought it would be fun if Gandalf were a bit tipsy. And I was appalled at that and said, ‘No, Gandalf doesn't get drunk.’ But now, after a year of it, I see what Peter was after. I think he wants a lightness and he's cast some really expert comedians whose eye[s] will be looking out for what's amusing. And I think Gandalf is a little bit a part of that, but I think the pressure [is] taken off me once you've got Billy Connolly and Barry Humphries and Stephen Fry, and indeed Martin Freeman, who's an expert comic actor. Let them get on with it I think, really.”