Ian McKellen is already besties with Patrick Stewart. Why not Anthony Hopkins, too? The two English legends of stage and screen appear together in “The Dresser,” a Starz TV movie take on Ronald Harwood’s beloved 1980 play. Hopkins plays a grouchy, aging, self-destructive stage favorite whose latest performance of “King Lear” may be his last. McKellen takes on his longtime “dresser,” who has spent decades helping him backstage. Incredibly it’s the first time the two Sirs have worked together, despite once being in the same National Theater company when they were younger.
McKellen, now 76, talks to us from London about his own stint as Lear in 2007, and being glad he didn’t become a movie star until his later in life.
It’s amazing you and Anthony Hopkins have never worked together before.
There aren’t many scripts for two stage actors where they have equally good parts. I can think of “Othello” or “Uncle Vanya.” And then there’s “The Dresser.” But there aren’t many opportunities. So if anyone wants to see us together they have to write a script.
Your characters have spent most of their lives working together. How do you convey that deep history together?
[Long pause] It’s called acting, isn’t it, really? [Chuckles] You basically learn the lines and use your imagination. Not as difficult as it seems.
“The Dresser” takes place during a performance of “King Lear,” which you did in 2007. How were your experiences doing it back then?
It’s very rewarding, of course, but it’s not easy. You can’t play King Lear unless you get a cast of remarkable actors in all the other parts. It’s not a one-man show. But Lear is the highest pinnacle in the range of Shakespeare’s mountains. Still, I don’t think there’s ever been a Lear who was ever satisfied with his performance. A number of actors returned to it. [Laurence] Olivier played it twice, John Gielgud played it three times. Maybe I’ll go back to it sometime.