Portrait has special meaning for Rings actor

00:46, Jun 29 2010
Sir Ian McKellen
FINE LIKENESS: Sir Ian McKellan with his portrait by Wellington artist Nick Cuthell. The two first met during filming of <i>The Lord of the Rings</i>.

Sir Ian McKellen is back home in Middle-earth, with a Wellington-bred artist he met here by chance 10 years ago.

The Lord of the Rings actor is in Wellington this week to play Estragon in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and spoke last night at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, where a series of portraits of the Godot cast by Nick Cuthell is being shown.

"It's lovely being back home again, I don't know whether you're Middle-earth or Wellington," he said last night. "I've been on the stamps here, you know."

Cuthell, now based in London, grew up in Wellington and studied at Victoria University.

He met McKellen in Cuba St in 2000, when the actor was in town filming The Lord of the Rings, and the two became close.

"It was a dark and stormy night, and we met, and fell in love," Cuthell said.

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It was McKellen who suggested the paintings would make excellent opening-night gifts for the Godot actors.

Cuthell said it had been a huge privilege to spend time with the rest of the cast, watching rehearsals as he worked on the portraits.

The nine portraits in the Waiting for Godot collection, depicting the cast in character, are on display this week only.

The paintings travel with the play and are normally hung in the theatres where it is being performed.

It was a double celebration for the gallery last night, when Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson announced a grant of $750,000 – the gallery's first government funding.

Gallery director Avenal McKinnon said the grant, along with privately raised funds bringing the total to $1.45 million, would make it possible to rent Shed 11 for 25 years, with a right to renew the lease for another 25 years.

The Dominion Post