“ Lord of the Rings [was] 50 times, 100 times bigger than The Da Vinci Code ,” notes McKellen, who earned an Oscar nomination for his first turn as Gandalf. “Millions around the world over, all the generations, and they were much, much more – and [it was] a book for them that was central to their lives.
“It wasn't just an exciting read. It was a book that they read 20 times in some cases. They were very, very interested in the movie. Very disturbed about whether it was going to be the movie of their book or was it going to be Peter Jackson's book.”
In the end, most Tolkien fans were pleased with Jackson's treatment of the books, though McKellen doesn't have the same expectations of total fidelity from fans of Dan Brown's religious potboiler, which has been directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon.
“I think that with The Da Vinci Code , I doubt if people have [read] it more than once,” McKellen speculates. “It's not that sort of book. You understand it as you go along and having understood it – it's like a crossword. Once you've done the crossword you don't rub it out and do it all over again and go onto another one, do you? I don't.”
And McKellen already knows that for Da Vinci fans hoping for a literal translation, his presence as historian Leigh Teabing may already seem wrong.
“Actually, the description of Leigh Teabing makes me inappropriate casting,” he admits. “He's small and round and white haired and I think balding and a jolly man. I'm rather gaunt and narrow. But Ron Howard didn't care.”
McKellen is full of praise for his director, an Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind .
“Well, you know him better than I do – you've been watching him for years and he's like that,” McKellen says with a wry laugh. “He's absolutely like that. He's enthusiastic as a kid about it all. He's nervous. He can't quite believe, I think, his luck that he's allowed to play with the grownups.”
The actor, who will also be seen later this summer as Magneto in X-Men: The Last Stand , can't contain his contempt for groups urging boycotts, though he sees a positive to the controversy coming out of various branches of the Catholic Church.
“The people who go and see movies, their minds aren't as finely tuned as those who read a book – is that what the Vatican is thinking?” McKellen ponders. “Therefore they have to be protected from what they see? I don't approve of censorship. I don't approve of having lists of things that you can't see. The good thing about it is that once you publish a list of things that you can't look at or can't read it makes everyone want to do everything that you don't want them to do.”
© 2006, Zap2it.com.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
The Da Vinci Code is currently in theaters.