‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum (Andy Serkis). Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is the first of three films based on ‘The Hobbit’ novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy of ‘Hobbit’ films are set in Middle-earth 60 years before Jackson’s ’The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.  The release schedule for the three ‘Hobbit’ films are as follows: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is set for a December 13th release; ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ arrives in cinemas December 13th, 2013; and ’The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ concludes the trilogy on July 18th, 2014. My other interviews for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ can be found through the following links: Andy SerkisRichard ArmitageMartin FreemanAidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman and James Nesbitt, and Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving (more to come).

How was it reprising the role of this wise, intuitive, and occasionally mischievous Wizard, Gandalf the Grey? You don’t have to play the more serious Gandalf the White in these ‘The Hobbit’ films….

Ian McKellen: Yeah. Going back to this character was perhaps not as enticing as taking on a new role, and it was a big commitment, but, in the end, I couldn’t really bear anyone else playing Gandalf (laughs). And over the years I’ve heard from quite a lot of fans that they’d be upset if I didn’t play him. So I was thrilled to come back and spend time with this wonderful family again.

Thankfully it was great playing Gandalf the Grey instead of Gandalf the White, me and Peter Jackson always preferred Gandalf the Grey, as he has time to enjoy himself, he has a smoke and a drink and a chat, he shows off a few little tricks. Gandalf the White, he’s really a man on a mission, a commander. Gandalf the Grey is a lot more congenial and humane – particularly in the company of hobbits. The audience shouldn’t expect to see a very different sort of Gandalf the Grey in being 60 years younger though, because ‘The Hobbit’ takes place 60 years before the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ When you’re 7,000 years old, 60 years doesn’t make much difference (laughs).

In choosing to advise and accompany them on this perilous mission, what do you think it is Gandalf sees in this company of dwarves and in Bilbo Baggins?

Ian McKellen: I think Gandalf seems to like dwarves, or admire them. And because he’s old – 7,000 or more years – he can put the current situation into context of recent and past history, and make a judgment that now is the time to help them. And I think Gandalf lands on Bilbo Baggins because he remembered him as a feisty lad who was up for anything. He discovers, to his surprise, that this bright boy has settled into a life of some complacency (laughs). But Gandalf suspects that inside Bilbo, somewhere, there is the right spirit for adventure. There’s that took side to him.

Gandalf has a tremendous amount of faith in Bilbo, as he’s not the typical “hero” or adventurer….?

Ian McKellen: Yes. ‘The Hobbit’ is an adventure story, an adventure story of this Hobbit, Bilbo. He’s rather bullied into it by a wizard who thinks he knows best. And no sooner has Gandalf cast his young friend Bilbo to accompany the dwarves on their quest, he worries whether he’s made the right decision or not. He’s constantly keeping a protective open eye to Bilbo’s progress. He senses that Bilbo is the person who’s needed to help the dwarves accomplish their ends. He thinks it would be good for Bilbo, for him to discover. Not to discover through books and maps, as enjoyable as that is, but to discover things on the road. Climb to the top of that mountain, have a look.

In ‘The Hobbit’ book, like in these films, Gandalf comes and goes. Yet in the films we get to see what Gandalf is up to in that time he’s not with the dwarves and Bilbo. In the book it’s never fully clear why Gandalf is helping the dwarves, or even why he picks Bilbo as the burglar….

Ian McKellen: That was interesting. In the book ‘The Hobbit’ and in the three films, Gandalf comes and goes, he’s at the center of the action, then he withdraws because he’s got another job to do. In the film we often find out what that job is, but he is in and out of the progression of the dwarves towards the mountain and the treasure and the dragon. Middle-earth is starting to rumble and tumble a bit. Things seem to be changing and not for the better. There are forces at work, and Gandalf is looking to uncover just what those forces are. That leads him to Radagast, who is the first to see the signs. But it takes Gandalf’s intelligence and sense of the larger picture to make the connections. And so when Gandalf leaves the dwarves to get on with their job, you get to discover why he is supporting them. And that involves an overview of Middle Earth, which Wizards and High Elves get involved with. So I think that will lead on very well, out of the story of ‘Lord of the Rings.’ That sets that up nicely.

With the White Council – which is comprised of Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel, aside from Galadriel, the other members of the Council aren’t best pleased with your characters quest? How was it working with Cate Blanchett again in particular, as Galadriel?

Ian McKellen: I love that scene we have together. There’s an emotional connection between Gandalf and Galadriel, which I think comes as much from the actors as it does the script. It’s based on their mutual trust and admiration for each other. In fact, I wouldn’t think love was too strong a word, really. They have a sublime intimacy between them. There’s an extraordinary bond between them. I really enjoyed working with Cate Blanchett again. That was wonderful.

And working with Peter Jackson again, under his direction. What was that like?

Ian McKellen: Inside Peter Jackson he has to have an iron will, even though on the outside he’s almost, at times…. cuddly (laughs). Peter’s always friendly, always helpful, always attentive. And he’s generally quiet, he has the right temperament for the job, for taking on such a huge project. He’s the facilitator, he makes things happen, he puts things together, he organises, he’s a commander, he’s a soldier. Peter, he’s always got an overall view of everything, he is like a general.