Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen Arrive at No Manís Land While Waiting for Godot

By Mervyn Rothstein
03 Aug 2013

Ian McKellen
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Stewart's theatre credits include a long relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company; on Broadway, he has starred as Prospero in The Tempest, in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan and as Macbeth (he was a 2008 Tony nominee). In London, he has won three Olivier Awards.

He achieved prominence as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and Prof. Charles Xavier in the "X-Men" movies, in which McKellen, a 1981 Tony winner for Amadeus, portrays Xavier's nemesis, Magneto. McKellen has won four Olivier Awards and has two Oscar nominations ("Gods and Monsters," "The Fellowship of the Ring"). He is also movie-famous as Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the "Hobbit" films.

So how did these "X-Men" combatants wind up in this Pinter play? The answer, Stewart said, involves at least in part that 2009 collaboration on Samuel Beckett's Godot. "During the 22 weeks we were doing Godot in London and on tour, Ian and I shared a dressing room," Stewart said, and "I would every few weeks bring up No Man's Land, because I had got it into my head that he would be the perfect actor to play Spooner, the John Gielgud role. I don't know whether it was I wore him down, or he finally opened his ears to me, but it led to a private reading of the play in London. That won him over."

McKellen's reasons for a change of heart? "I enjoy working with Patrick Stewart, and I enjoy working with Sean Mathias," who had at times suggested the No Man's Land idea, he said. And "it seemed just too good a chance to miss."

"When it was put to me finally," he said, "it just seemed ridiculous not to do this."

In fact, he said, "I've fallen more and more in love with this play. I'm a huge fan of it now." It's "very moving," he adds. "I hadn't expected that. And it's very funny." At that private read-through, he adds, "Patrick and I couldn't stop laughing at a couple of points in the play, when the dialogue gets absolutely hilarious."

No Man's Land, as are many Pinter plays, is somewhat baffling. We learn that Hirst, Stewart's character, has invited Spooner one night to his home in Hampstead, London, for a drink, presumably after the pub where they met has closed. That's all we seem to know for sure.

"The language is brilliant," Stewart said. "It's as good as anything written in English drama in the 20th century. The characterizations are so vivid. Yet there is at the heart of this play a powerful mystery. Do these people have a history or have they just met? How reliable are the things they say to one another? Exactly where does the truth lie? And how much is accurate memory and how much false memory?"