Sir Ian McKellen has revealed it was the "magical landscape" of New Zealand and working with Sir Peter Jackson that enticed him into in his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Reflecting on 20 years since filming for the blockbuster franchise began, McKellen posted a link to a blog he kept during his time shooting in New Zealand during 2000.

"If it weren't the director of Heavenly Creatures in control, with a strong vision of all those precise, quirky, majestic locations, I should not much look forward to a full year away from my home in London," McKellen wrote, shortly before he travelled to New Zealand.

"But Peter Jackson's designs, script and his unshowy dedication to the task are irresistible."


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During his early days in New Zealand the English actor remarked on some of the quaint aspects of life at the bottom of the South Pacific.

"What a congenial country New Zealand is for visitors from what used to be called 'the home country'.

"So far from home but the language is the same and you can buy Marmite and Cadbury's chocolate.

"The Queen is on the banknotes (although they are made of a non-creasable, washable, transparent plastic) and there is scandal about Prince Edward in "Women's Weekly" which would be considered too racy for even the UK tabloids.

"It all seems half-familiar with a style of friendliness that is a change from English reserve.

"I feel very much at home."

His posts were full of praise for director Jackson, whose feats he compared to those of Sir Edmund Hillary.


"I haven't been here long enough to judge whether Peter is a national hero but he should be up there with Sir Edmund Hillary for his enterprise.

"Apart from the artistic audacity, he is bringing employment and international attention to his country."

McKellen wrote about how he was lucky enough to have supper with Hillary himself, and wife June, in Wellington.

"Sir Ed is a star. Eighty years old and still revelling in it.

"It is not surprising that Hillary should be from New Zealand, where the land is a challenge and an inspiration.

"These last months I have driven across it, flown over it, boated and tramped. For the first time, I wish my father had taught me to climb."

Actor Sir Ian McKellen at the premiere of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in New York in 2012. Photo / File
Actor Sir Ian McKellen at the premiere of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in New York in 2012. Photo / File

During his year in New Zealand McKellen lived in Miramar, Wellington, "only five minutes away from Seatoun, where Peter Jackson lives permanently with his family on the coast road directly below me".

But it was the natural environment - particularly in the South Island - that McKellen loved the most.

"New Zealand would amaze and enrapture anyone who responds to the wild landscapes of Middle-earth.

"Although I am a chronic townee, I have always been smitten by mountains and water, particularly in the Lake District of my native northern England.

"In New Zealand there really is a natural untouched wilderness and it is overwhelmingly spectacular and moving."

He noted the North Island was more of a "playground with beaches, hot springs and fishing".


"It is generally warmer and the cell phones work. Yet each time I spy the interisland ferry chugging past my Wellington window for the two-hour sail south across the Cook Strait which separate the islands, I envy its passengers."

Some of his fondest memories included flying over Milford Sound, and waking up to find a right whale "cavorting in the shallows" of Golden Bay below his accommodation.

"Indeed, my enthusiasm for the New Zealand I've seen beyond the movie's locations has been an added reward for a year's work away from home."

Despite the overwhelming critical acclaim and numerous award nominations for Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King, McKellen never got his big Oscars moment.

The only nod he received was a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Fellowship.

Although McKellen missed out, the trilogy still raked in a whopping 17 Oscars wins from 30 nominations.


The actor returned to New Zealand to again play Gandalf during the Hobbit trilogy