Ian McKellen is one of the finest Shakespearean actors alive, with a stage career that spans Romeo to King Lear. But today, at 76, the actor is best known for playing the wizard Gandalf in six film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth saga, and the mutant Magneto in five "X-Men" adventures.

As his version of Sherlock Holmes hits theaters with the release of "Mr. Holmes," McKellen would like to remind the world that he never intended to build a career based on interpreting some of the world's most indelible characters.

"It isn't as if I said to myself, 'Right, I'm just going to play iconic heroes from literature, and turn them into movies,' " McKellen said.

"That is what's happening. But I'm simply somebody involved in telling stories. They are likely to be stories that people relate to, and want to have more of," he said in an interview.

McKellen's No. 1 criterion for choosing a part these days: Is it fun? He also takes into consideration such questions as "Where is it, when is it, who else is in it, how much does it pay and am I available?" But pleasure takes precedence. That, and a good yarn.

Directed by Bill Condon — whose 1999 film "Gods and Monsters" garnered McKellen his first of two Oscar nominations — "Mr. Holmes" is based on "A Slight Trick of the Mind," a 2005 novel by Mitch Cullin imagining Arthur Conan Doyle's detective as a slightly doddering 93-year-old retiree.

Washington Post