Berlin: Ian McKellen Calls Sherlock Holmes a "Great Englishman," Gandalf an "Oxford Professor"

Agatha A. Nitecka

The actor also discusses how director Bill Condon sent him on a bee training course to prepare him for his lead role in "Mr. Holmes."

Ian McKellen estimates that he’s played "around 250" roles on stage and film, including a number of renowned British figures.

But his turn as an elderly Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon’s reflective Mr. Holmes, having its world premiere Sunday night at the Berlinale, offered an interesting twist, he told a Berlinale press conference early on Sunday.

"Like most people in this room I have an image of what Sherlock Homes looks like," he said. "He’s one of the great Englishmen. And he never lived. It’s astonishing. Of course, I’ve played other great Englishmen, like Richard III of whom we’re not so proud."

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And while the original birthplace of arguably McKellen’s most recognized onscreen character is shrouded in mysterious Middle-earth, Tolkien-esque history, the actor said that he considers the character a fellow Brit.

"I always think that Gandalf is really an Oxford professor," he joked to laughs from the audience.

Unlike previous incarnations of the Baker Street-dwelling sleuth, Mr. Holmes has the lead as a 93-year-old, long-retired and living on a remote British farm, reflecting on his previous life while tending to his bees.

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"I said to Bill, 'Look, I’d be delighted to play Sherlock Holmes, but I am having nothing to do with bees.' And he said, 'No that’s fine.' And of course he then sent me on a bee training course," McKellen said. "I’m now proud to say I worked with the bees. I did my own stunts on this occasion. Those are my hands lifting the frames with the bees on them. I wasn’t wearing gloves, which is a dangerous thing to do. But I didn’t get stung and nor did anything else."

McKellen concluded: "No bee was harmed in the making of this movie."

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