Exclusive: Ian McKellen On Playing Sherlock Holmes

'I am not going anywhere near any bees, I’ll tell you that now.'

sherlock ian mckellen

Back in early September, it was announced that Magneto / Gandalf himself, Ian McKellen, would be playing an elderly Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon's adaptation of novelist Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick Of The Mind. Speaking to McKellen for this month's issue of Empire about working on The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, we also took the time ask him about the project.

"It’s a charming book. That’s going to be my next job, when I’m finished on Broadway [where he's acting alongside Patrick Stewart in both No Man's Land and Waiting For Godot] and I’m back with Bill Condon again, who I did Gods And Monsters with, and I’ll be filming in London, which will be wonderful."

"I’ve never had ambitions to play Sherlock Holmes, but this is Sherlock in a very particular place… he’s nearly 100 years old, and in retirement, and it’s more about being a beekeeper than it is being a detective."

This this mean we'll get to see you in a beekeepers outfit?

"You certainly will! There will be plenty of nets too, because I am not going anywhere near any bees, I’ll tell you that now. I have a healthy respect for bees. I love their honey, but that’s about it."

There’s a younger version of Sherlock within the narrative… have there been any discussions as to how to tackle that?

"Oh, is there? Ah well, you never know… sometimes they call in Michael Fassbender to be me as a young man, and sometimes they put Patrick Stewart and me through the mangle of film technology and out we come looking 20 years younger, so who knows what will happen? Then again, it’s not an expensive movie, so there probably won’t be too much CGI…"

Are you up to date with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock?

"Of course, of course! I wanted to look at this Martin Freeman chap as Doctor Watson. I’ve met Benedict a couple of times. I knew his father, Timothy Carlton, when we were both quite young, and I remember him telling me that his real name was Cumberbatch. ‘But of course I had to change it because you could never be successful with a surname like that.'"

Mitch Cullin's award-winning novel sees Holmes as a 93-year-old man bumbling - pun intended - around his apiary in rural Sussex, tending to his bee colony with his housekeeper's young son. Watson has long since passed away, though he appears in rememberances of time past, as does his spymaster brother Mycroft.

A key part of the book sees The World's Greatest Detective - take that, Batman - telling the story of a mystery he solved on his own, way back at the turn of the century when he was in his sprightly 50s. Whether that version of Sherlock will be played by McKellen himself or Fassbender as suggested, remains to be seen - and considering part of the story is set in Japan, keeping the shoot to just London may prove difficult.

The production for A Slight Trick Of The Mind kicks off in London next April. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is out in the UK on December 11 (and it's on the cover of the new issue of Empire, out today)