How Ian McKellen Acts with his Eyes Only

Credit: ITV
He's Sir Ian for a reason...and that reason is that his frickin' eyeballs deserve an Oscar. 

Acting is incredibly hard. The best acting can sometimes go unnoticed because we get so used to characters and actors in roles that we forget they have to work hard to behave that way. One of the greatest actors of our times, Sir Ian McKellen, is a master at disappearing into a role. His tone, diction, and study have allowed him to bring some of the most popular and deepest characters to life. 

His secret? 

His eyes. 

In this enthralling video essay from Nerdwriter, they break down McKellen's use of his eyes as a bridge for the audience to be sucked into a fantastical world. Check it out! 

One of the biggest takeaways here is that McKellen can only bring so much with his eyes. You have to put his characters in situations to really get the most out of him. That means always bringing conflict and hard questions before each character when you write them. 

The actor can only be as good as the material provided. 

Even in direction, you have to give actors the freedom to personalize the material, and the trust that they can carry a scene with just a look. 

What's Next? Develop Your Character's Arc!

You can't get Ian McKellen to act without developing a character! Now it's time to take a look at our character arc post, so you combine them for a winning story. Also, take a look at our internal and external conflict post for ideas on the kinds of situations where we can see your characters develop. And don't forget about the six emotional arcs that you can use to help your screenwriting as well. These kinds of stories span film and television. It's important to think about these types of changes and how they'll carry over a movie, an episode, a season, and a series. 

Got a great idea for a pilot or a feature? We have a Free Screenwriting Seminar and a Free Drama Pilot Seminar to help you get it out onto the page. 

Like and share if this helped, and if you have questions, post them in the comments. 

I can't wait to read what you write next...     

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Your Comment


Acting is not faking an emotion with the brain controlling the face muscles like a puppeteer.

Acting is not pretending to feel an emotion by imitating the facial expressions that said emotion is supposed to provoke.

Acting is genuinely feeling the emotions of the character in a given situation.

March 21, 2019 at 1:42PM


Isn't that just method acting?

March 21, 2019 at 2:06PM

Jason Hellerman

Method acting is simply one way of getting to the genuine feelings.

March 22, 2019 at 9:05AM