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Ian McKellen’s Blog – Shooting at a Wizard’s Pace

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

Cape Town is one of those blessed cities with a mountain in its midst. Overlooking a peninsula near the southernmost tip of Africa, Table Mountain dominates in every direction. But there are other ancient granite outcrops nearby and just beneath one of the most prominent, Lion’s Head, are my digs, a summer house par excellence, whose back windows and terrace look out onto the upper slopes of Table Mountain, where I can follow the cable car as it steadily lurches up and down every sunny day. When I arrived in October it rained a bit and it can still be very very windy (25 knots all day the other day), but it’s almost summer now and mostly the sky is blue, with the only cloud draped like a tablecloth over the flat top of the mountain above my deck.

At work too, I can see the mountains. It’s like being on holiday. Our studios are on the waterfront, close to Cape Town’s harbour. I’m invariably up just about dawn so make-up, hair and getting dressed (thanks to Raine, Fernanda and Rivett) can be complete, followed by a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit, in time for a start at 7 a.m. So not a holiday after all.

There are always delays on a film set but on this job, fewer than usual. Nick Hurran is a pacey director and we have all settled into the pattern of two takes for each camera set up. Florian Hoffmeister is a wizard with lighting, and a quick wizard too. There is no hanging around on The Prisoner. As Craig Feather manoeuvres a vantage point for the “B” camera which lodges easily on his wide shoulder, Nick and his editors will have four different versions of each set-up to choose from. I like working at this quick pace (Peter Jackson, back in Middle Earth, thought nothing of twenty or more takes until he was totally satisfied). Actors don’t necessarily improve with each take and Nick told me on our first day together that an actor’s first crack at a scene is often his best — fresh, unpremeditated, untried and so, with luck, more natural than subsequent takes. I hope he’s right.

After each take, Nick doesn’t mind if we check the playback on the tiny monitors which record the pictures. The only hint of the finished show that I have seen is a 7-minute presentation spliced together to give AMC and ITV a sample of what they will get for their investment. The desert, New York City, The Village explode onto the screen, demanding attention as the action zips by. Jim Caviezel’s soulful, handsome face dominates: A classic leading man. I’ve rarely seen such enthusiasm from producers when ours viewed the little trailer. In January, something similar will be shown to television critics when they congregate in Los Angeles to preview the upcoming shows. I expect this site will give the rest of you a taster before too long.

Photo: Ruth Wilson (313), Jim Caviezel (Six), Craig Feather (camera operator), and Ian McKellen (Two)

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