The first time Sir Ian McKellen worked with filmmaker Bill Condon, he played famed Frankenstein director James Whale in the 1988 drama Gods and Monsters, for which the renowned British thespian scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination. In their second film together, last year’s Mr. Holmes, McKellen portrayed legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. But the pair’s third collaboration finds the actor cast as a rather, let us say, smaller character, that of the enchanted clock Cogsworth in Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast (out March 17), which costars Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald as Madame De Garderobe, among others.
“I’ve done two films now with Bill Condon and we’re always looking for a third,” says the X-Men franchise star. “So, our third job has turned out to be Beauty and the Beast! [chuckles] It was absolutely typical of Bill that he wanted to have a few friends with him, so I was very very thrilled to suddenly be in my first Disney movie. [The original is] such a famous and successful film, and to do the remake as it were, or the reimagining, was very exciting. Cogworth is a sort of a majordomo, that’s his real job isn’t it, yes? When the castle and the prince go into perpetual winter then he becomes a rather officious clock — a rather small object, he’s not a great big grandfather clock, he’s just the sort of clock that might be on the mantelpiece. He’s reduced considerably in scale and probably doesn’t much enjoy that.”
McKellen jokes — although maybe not entirely — that he tried to get Cogsworth his own song in the film. “When we were in the studio, I kept singing what I thought should be a rather good addition to the score,” says the actor, breaking into song. “‘My name is Cogsworth!/And I’m a clock!/Tick-tock!’ But I’m afraid I didn’t get my own song, so I just joined in the big number, ‘Be Our Guest.’ I think perhaps I have a couple of lines on my own, I’m not quite sure how it will all work out. But to be surrounded by Audra MacDonald and the two Emmas all singing out was all just thrilling.”
For more on this week’s cover story, watch EW The Show, available now here, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.