Out film star Ian McKellen, who played the wizard Gandalf in the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, will appear onstage as a cranky pantomime dame later this year, actor Kevin Spacey said Thursday. McKellen will play Widow Twanky in December in a reworking of the classic pantomime story of Aladdin, which is taken from the Arabian Nights tales. "He has always wanted to play a dame in pantomime. We chose Aladdin because it is the one Ian wanted to do," Spacey told a news conference to announce the agenda for his first season as artistic director of London's Old Vic Theater Company. But he declined to confirm speculation that he was trying to persuade Hollywood sirens Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz to tread the Old Vic boards. Two-time Oscar winner Spacey said he also intended to stage The Philadelphia Story next year and had been talking to Hollywood agents about availabilities of some of their stars to play the lead role made famous by Katharine Hepburn in the 1940 film. He declined to confirm any names, though, and said the role could go to a complete unknown. "Until we get a director, it is total speculation. We don't want to do any stunt casting. We will cast actors for the parts," he said, adding that he would be one of the leads.
Spacey, appointed to the post last year and insisting he was in for the long haul, said he would kick off his first season in September directing a work by Dutch playwright Maria Goos, who is little known outside the Netherlands. After the pantomime run in December, he would stage and star in National Anthems, a play by Dennis McIntyre set in the 1980s that has been performed in U.S. provincial theaters but never before in Europe. Spacey said he played in it before and had owned the rights to it for years but had been waiting for the right opportunity to stage it himself again. He said the four-play season would be completed with The Philadelphia Story but that the choice of plays for his first season did not mean he was ignoring the English classics. Successive seasons would not only see him starring in several Shakespeare classics at the theater--where actors of the stature of Laurence Olivier gave voice to the Bard--but would also see the company starting to gel under his leadership. "The question of my commitment to this company is not in doubt. But I will not be giving up my film career entirely. Theater is a living expression. It is the most exciting thing I can think of doing," he said.