It’s disarming to meet a knight in Chuck Taylors.
It’s also highly appropriate for Sir Ian McKellen to dress so casual-cool for our interview as he promotes The Prisoner, a brilliant new miniseries that manipulates appearance and perception while deftly delving into themes of paranoia in a seemingly civilized, but truly authoritarian, society.
“Individual’s place in society, surveillance, the knowledge the authorities have on you simply because you carry a cellphone…” — McKellen rattles off the heady topics The Prisoner examines.
“They know everything that’s in that phone, everything you’ve said, every message you’ve sent. You cannot delete a message —?did you know that?”
McKellen is the man behind the conspiracies, not the one pondering them, in The Prisoner. He plays Two, the leader of a mysterious modern-day utopian society where everyone is known by a number, not a name.
It’s called the Village, and when New Yorker Michael (Jim Caviezel) wakes up in the strange, resort-like town, disoriented and demanding a way out, he is told there is no out. There is no New York. And, by the way, he is Number Six.
After portraying Jesus in the brutal, bloody Passion of the Christ, Jim Caviezel knows what it takes to bring a gruelling role to life. And no matter how much playing the tortured hero in The Prisoner drained him, Caviezel refused to give any less than what it took to make the miniseries a work of art.
“If The Prisoner had just been a random thing, I would have taken the scripts, learned all my material, showed up for work and said, ‘OK, there it is,’” the actor says. “But we had to make it better.”
That kind of dedication — he worked 92 of the 96 days on the shoot — took a toll on the actor.
“When it was done, the last day, I remember I threw on a Christmas song by the Beach Boys — ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ — and I’m sitting there, listening to Brian Wilson sing, and I just ... argh!” He yells abruptly in a show of relief.
“The tears came ’cause I felt like we didn’t just get out of this project. We did great … We were great.”
A remake of a cult British series from the 1960s, The Prisoner is a mental chess match between McKellen and Caviezel. It’s a terrifying meditation on freedom versus conformity and state control.
“Six and Two are closer than they think,” explains McKellen. “Still, they don’t stop arguing and battling and fighting it out — thank God not physically, because I’d lose every single one of those.”
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