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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Delays, Directors, Nights in Namibia


Ian McKellen will play “Two” in AMC’s forthcoming mini-series,The Prisoner. His diary entries from the set during filming and production will appear periodically in The Prisoner blog.

Film schedules often shift but always in one direction: They get delayed. Why, is another matter and not one usually divulged to the actors when they are informed, just before they are ready to leave home, that they can stay at home for a few extra days. Two weeks ago my bags were packed, I’d said most of my goodbyes, was ready to turn off the water heater and double-lock the windows, when a brisk phone call from my agent said: “Hold on, there’s been a delay. You are not needed in Namibia yet awhile. Nothing to worry about.” So I didn’t, until the next day there was another call to say there was a problem, unspecified.

Then, the following day, the bombshell. The director of The Prisoner, the estimable and universally-liked Jon Jones, who had cast me and visited me at home to express his excitement about the project he had worked on for 18 months; who had introduced me to the AMC producers over dinner in a Soho restaurant in London; who had led me through my scenes during those rehearsals I’ve already blogged about: Jon Jones was now off the job. Indeed, as I crossed Africa north to south en route for Cape Town where I would rest up for three nights before going on to film in Namibia, he was flying home in the opposite direction, with only he knows what feelings of relief or regret in his heart. 

As I ordered a meal aboard the BA flight, a stranger left his seat across the aisle to say hello — which is how I met the new director Nick Hurran. He is an easy man to like and we bonded as we journeyed together into the unexpected. I didn’t envy his having to spring into action, as onto a seesaw of being sympathetic to decisions already made and yet insistent that changes were necessary. He seemed excited and apprehensive simultaneously, but I re-assured him that coming to the rescue was an honourable part to play. After dinner, we shared a sleeping-pill. Back in his seat he was reading his way through The Prisoner scripts as I fell asleep and woke up over Africa.

On landing, I checked with the producers who explained that after a few days filming, there had been a disagreement over the look of the Village and the style of its presentation on screen. Not having yet started on the job, I couldn’t disagree and anyway, it would have been impractical for me to reverse the decision to improve things. Fait accompli. When I e-mailed commiserations to Jon, he replied immediately with his best wishes for the shoot.

Two days later, feeling more relaxed about the new situation, I flew north to Namibia, of which more next time. I settled in to my apartment overlooking the Atlantic and that night strolled along the front to a seaside fish restaurant to meet up with my colleagues. The surf pounded the strand and in a black sky punctured with stars, the crescent moon lay on its back, which it never does in the Northern Hemisphere. I felt a long way from home and, of course, I was.

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