10 Questions for Ian McKellen, The Hobbit‘s Gandalf the Grey

"This is the Gandalf who likes to smoke and drink and party with the hobbits rather than the driven commander. It’s the fun Gandalf."

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Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images

Ian McKellen attends "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on Dec. 6, 2012 in New York.

To fans of serious acting, Ian McKellen’s work in movies like The Hobbit and X-Men is the equivalent of putting fried mozzarella sticks on a fine dining menu: just done for the money. Not so for Sir Ian, who says that every day that he has to act he wakes up feeling uneasy in the stomach. “Every time you work is a challenge,” he insists. “There’s a constant worry about it, and it’s a side of acting I don’t like.”

Nevertheless, in this weeks’ 10 Questions, available to subscribers here, the 73 year-old acknowledges that he enjoys playing The Hobbit’s younger version of Gandalf (the Grey) more than the bellicose old white wizard in Lord of the Rings. “This is the Gandalf who likes to smoke and drink and party with the hobbits rather than the driven commander,” he says. “It’s the fun Gandalf.”

(MORE: The Hobbit: Why Go There and Back Again?)

McKellen, who recently announced he has prostate cancer, also talked about his decades-long activism for gay rights. He holds benefit concerts, regularly visits schools to talk about his childhood and is a scolding presence on twitter to world leaders who rouse his ire. Recent recipients of an upbraiding include the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Moscow Mayor. “They’d both done stupid things,” he says. “In Moscow, banning a gay pride march and John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, carelessly using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘useless’.”

Despite the fact that the actor became Sir Ian when he was knighted by the queen more than 20 years ago, he’s a bit ambivalent about Britain’s royal family and the arrival of the monarch–to-be. “Privilege handed on by the accident of birth just doesn’t seem to fit,” with the idea of democracy, he notes. Then again, kings and queens are born in Middle Earth all the time.

For more on McKellen, including what he does to hotel Bibles and whether he would have liked to be married, subscribers can click here.

MORE: Ian McKellen: The Player