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Interview With Former EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton; Interview With "Mother Goose" Actor Ian McKellen; Interview With Puck Founding Partner And Washington Correspondent Julia Ioffe. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired December 25, 2023 - 13:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone. And welcome to "Amanpour". Here is what's coming up.


CATHERINE ASHTON, FORMER EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: So many crises that seemed to come out of nowhere and we wonder whether you are good enough.


AMANPOUR: Frank admissions from the E.U.'s first foreign policy chief. Catherine Ashton joins me on negotiating with Putin, and why she didn't

like her job. Then.


IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR, "MOTHER GOOSE": Well, I don't know anything to prove, you see. I am not trying to make hit.


AMANPOUR: Acting legend, Sir Ian McKellen serves up the fun on stage as Mother Goose in a hilarious and very British pantomime. Plus, journalist

Julia Ioffe talks to Walter Isaacson about Putin's plans to inflict pain on the west.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Europe is welcoming Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with open arms. Applauding the wartime leader even as he pushes and pushes them for

more powerful weapons. It is an extremely rare visit overseas for Zelenskyy, after his surprise touchdown in Washington, D.C. just before

Christmas. It has been nearly one year now since Vladimir Putin brazenly tried to take Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine.

But in reality, the Russian offensive has been going on for much longer than that. It was nine years ago, in 2014, that Putin invaded and annexed

Crimea, spurring an international crisis. Catherine Ashton was Europe's foreign policy chief at the time. Her new book is called, "And then What:

Inside Stories of 21st Century Diplomacy". And she tells me all these years on, Putin is still trying to run circles around the west.


AMANPOUR: Baroness Ashton, welcome to the program.

ASHTON: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: You were the first, so-called, high representative for foreign affairs for the E.U. and that was in 2009. How difficult was negotiating at

that time? Because you came at it without a foreign policy background, but in the middle of a massive crisis.

ASHTON: So, there were two types of negotiation going. On one was I had to 28 countries of the European Union. Each of them had a foreign minister.

So, it was a constant set of negotiations with the member states. Add into that, the European commission, European parliament, and really, it's a

constant perpetual negotiation.

AMANPOUR: Which is potentially why you found it difficult, right? When people ask you, did you like your job, and you've written about this. I

mean, your answer is?

ASHTON: No. It's because when you are dealing with crises, and you have covered many of them, you know you meet so many people whose lives are just

being destroyed, who are living in deep distress, who've had terrible, terrible things happen. And it is a dire to that because inevitably that's

what I was asked to do. And you wonder whether you're good enough to be the person who's trying to, at least, do part of the -- solving the problem or

helping with the problem. And after a while, that relentless nature of the job kind of gets under your skin.

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to get to one of the relentless, let's say, adversaries that you had, and that's Vladimir Putin. But I want to ask you

about this because maybe this has got something to do with how you feel about it. Your is called, "And Then What?" with a big question mark. What?

What does that mean exactly?

ASHTON: So, one of the things that I used to say in the office a lot was, when given a, you know, bunch of papers about what we should do on a

particular issue. I would say, yes, and then what? Because the problem with foreign policy, diplomacy, with politics, generally, small P, is that it is

short term. Governments think in terms of the cycle of the government. Sometimes I will think longer, particularly if they have a good majority or

if, in some parts of the world, they just plan to stay there. Otherwise, it's a pretty short term such views or ideas come forward. And I wanted

just to start thinking much longer term.


AMANPOUR: Do you think that you did, particularly regarding the Russia situation? I want to read what you said in your book about Vladimir Putin

because you first met him during your first year there in 2009. And you write that, power oozes from him. You say, in all my meetings with Putin,

he gave no sign that he recognized a shared future on the European continent. For him, the sense of grievance went deep. Mother Russia had

been invaded, sacrificed its millions, and suffered over centuries. He was not there to offer friendship.

That doesn't bode well for where we are today.

ASHTON: No, but it was important even then to kind of understand where he came from. You know, Russia had gone through turbulence for decades. It had

in him, so it thought, a leader who brought stability of a kind. He was very proud of his country. He was very determined. His country was, in his

terms, a major power. It's not a reasonable power. I think it is an accumulation of ideas. And I think he saw that the west, in broad terms,

did not take Russia as seriously as it should.

AMANPOUR: You feature, along with many other players, in a very, very, you know, exhaustive series on Putin versus the west which is on BBC right now.

You and others say very similar things, that essentially Putin is a liar. That that is part of his diplomatic toolkit. And that when you guys go to

negotiate with him, I mean, you know that he is lying to you. Knowing that, how does one even negotiate with him now?

ASHTON: Well, it goes back to the, you know, the idea that you got to verify everything that he says or does. And you have to start from the

principle that he is not telling you the truth. He is telling you either what he thinks you want to hear or simply what it suits him to say. The

evidence has to be what's going on, on the ground. So, when he says, we haven't got anybody in Ukraine, and you can see them, it's pretty obvious -


AMANPOUR: And this is what he said to you --

ASHTON: Yes, that he --

AMANPOUR: -- and others?

ASHTON: -- that he sees things in the way that he chooses to. So, with me, it was about, well, you know, if we do allow Ukraine to have this kind of

trade agreement with the E.U., what's to stop all this stuff coming across our border, he would say, that's contaminated or not good enough or we

don't want it. Well. the answer is, your border controls. But that's not the point in his view. In his view, it is about letting in some force that

he does not want to have in his country.

AMANPOUR: And you, you write in the book that the first major signs of potential crisis over Ukraine and this whole thing that is now -- everybody

can see what it is. It was obvious to you in November 2013, I think, about Ukraine's initial ask to be -- to have a stronger -- I think, what's it

called? A partnership agreement with the E.U.?

ASHTON: Yes, it was a special agreement that was, sort of, trade plus called an association agreement. And the president of Ukraine then,

Yanukovych, was due to come and sign it. It's been negotiated for seven years. That the initial date which meant all the work had been done and all

that required was for him to come and put his name to it. And he came to the meeting, and then suddenly he wouldn't sign.

And it was obvious pretty quickly. I went to see him in Kyiv and he made clear that the reason was Russia. Both in terms of what Russia could do to

their economy, but also in terms of his fear that Russia would see this --


ASHTON: Yes, and that Russia would see this is a move towards the west. It's been going on for years.

AMANPOUR: To me, that shows that Putin has never wanted Ukraine to have anything other than an eastward view. Did not want Ukraine to have any

westward links that were too strong. So, when he says things and half the world believes, and it's about NATO expansion and this and that, it's been

going on way before that.

ASHTON: Yes, well, the original reason that he moved into Ukraine was to deal what the European Union. It wasn't NATO. I mean, NATO's been kind of

added in because, as he says, all the countries that joined the E.U. that have been in the former Soviet Union also joined NATO. So, he sees the two

-- or he claims to see the two, as indivisible.

But the reality was this was about trade and economic issues. And it was about Ukraine's decision to try and develop its economy in a particular

model or style, which was European. And that, he could not tolerate.

AMANPOUR: When you met him face to face, what did he say to you about yourself or the west? For instance, you did go to Kyiv right after this

issue in Lithuania. About a month or two later you were in Kyiv. And it was at the beginning of the Maidan (ph) and the people of Ukraine were very

disappointed. And they were protesting against Yanukovych because they held signs, you know, E.U. and Ukraine, or the like. You were there.


ASHTON: Uh-huh.

AMANPOUR: What did Putin say to you about being there and being so involved?

ASHTON: We saw them in January for what was a regular six-monthly summit between the European Union and Russia. And he said to me that I should not

be in the square. My answer was, you know, I'd what I felt was necessary. But as I pointed out to him and to Yanukovych, the people standing in the

square who are all sorts of people, families, young people, journalists, activists, sure. But there were lots and lots of people who just felt that

the promise that Yanukovych have made in his election to take them into this agreement had been broken.

But I said, you know, when I go into that square, this people are all holding E.U. flags. As E.U.'s foreign minister it's my responsibility in a

sense to, kind of, know what is going on. I didn't stand on platforms in the square. I didn't make speeches in the square. But I did go and talk to

people to find out who they were and why they were there.

AMANPOUR: And Putin didn't like that at all.

ASHTON: No. No, he didn't. But, of course, the Russians particularly didn't like when they started to see politicians arriving. And I remember Sergey

Lavrov saying to me at one point, if I went and did that in a European Union country, what would you think?

AMANPOUR: In retrospect, do you believe that Putin has been encouraged by the E.U. and the west, rather timid reaction to his invasion and annexation

of Crimea? You talk about the official E.U. position on Russia's invasion. I knew invasion wouldn't stand, it would be too strong for some countries.

But it would be a good place to start and keep on board those who feared that we had not understood what was going on. We spent six hours discussing

the crisis, with lots of amendments to the text from ministers. The word invasion became active of aggression in the final text.

ASHTON: The problem, I think, in a way was we didn't quite know what we are looking at. You know, when you're in the middle of something going on, you

don't know what it is. You don't know where it's going to end. I remember very clearly, sitting in the office on the Sunday night before the meeting,

in which we had to decide the words. And we did not know whether Russia would stop, whether they would keep going.

And so, I think that holding all of the countries together around a position, that accepted that this was aggression was good in its way. Now,

looking back it turned quite quickly into a, sort of, semi-frozen conflict. And in fact, the last place I was before we all went into lockdown was

actually in Kyiv again looking at what is going on.

And I was quite worried then that we, sort of, not really given them the support that they felt they needed. They didn't feel that people were

looking at them because we moved on back to my, and then what? You know, things happen. You kind of deal with them as best as you can and then the

next crisis happens and the next and people move on.

AMANPOUR: It is interesting because -- I mean, I guess it's obvious for a diplomat, but even for someone is adversarial as Putin turned out to be

during your time there and since, you actually needed them and worked with them constructively on other issues, for instance, on Iran. Russia was

instrumental to getting the nuclear deal.

ASHTON: Absolutely right. I was flying from Vienna where I'd be spending a week with the Russian team, including the deputy foreign minister Sergei

Ryabkov directly to Kyiv where I was standing on a platform condemning Russia for what it had done, and then flying back. And literally, we

compartmentalize on both sides what was happening. It was quite extraordinary.

And indeed, when I met Putin in Minsk, he made the point to me that this was not about Iran. Where we were all working together, and where the --

they were confident in what was going on in, and I think, in what I was doing. And so, it was bizarre.

AMANPOUR: Well then, I'm interested to hear what you think should happen about trying to start up negotiations with Iran today as it's hammering

protesters and as it's executing people publicly, and the human rights of Iran, finally, are under the microscope. And there is no deal and there is

no negotiations, and the Americans, basically, are saying and even the E.U., by the way, the E.U. president said to me, there is no negotiations

on the nuclear deal right now.

ASHTON: Yes, it's shocking what Iran is doing to its people. It's truly, truly shocking. In a situation where I thought it was impossible to be

shocked. I'm -- I am by what's going on there. But it's back to this point about diplomacy, is for me the drip, drip, drip stuff. You know, it goes on

and on and on. I negotiated with around four and a half years. And I neither started nor ended the talks. And that's how it has to be.


So, either you need to keep the conversation in some way at some level, somewhere, moving in order that when you get to the moment that it might be

possible again, you're there and you're ready, and you can move. And it might not come. And it doesn't mean you like it. The whole point about

negotiation is you don't negotiate with people who you'd like to go and have a coffee with. You're negotiating with people with whom you have a


AMANPOUR: I mean, on that level, the IAEA chief has said that Iran, in the interim, Since Trump pulled America pulled out of it, and it sort of

collapsed has enriched enough uranium for several nuclear weapons.

ASHTON: We're in a much worse position than we were when I started the talks all those years ago when we were very worried about how close Iran

was to being able to build a nuclear device. We're much closer now, you know. And the tragedy is, in part, that the U.S. decided to pull away from

the deal because instead of building on it, it was never meant to be the only deal, and human rights was a massive issue that we wanted to tackle.

We wanted to talk about. We wanted to put pressure on. But we had to get rid of this urgency that was the idea that Iran could have a nuclear


AMANPOUR: Let me go back to your personal journey. When you were first named, you got some pushback because at that time you had no foreign policy

experience, certainly not at that level. And in 2011, about a couple of years after you were there, the U.K. foreign office mistakenly published a

confidential memo, suggesting that you weren't experienced enough to be Europe's foreign policy chief. How did that affect you? How did you react

to that criticism?

ASHTON: Well, I didn't know about that until you just told me. So, that's really interesting.


ASHTON: But there were plenty of other criticisms. There were quite a lot of people who felt that the job should have gone to a foreign minister or

somebody with experience, and that was fair enough. It was personally very difficult and very tough. It's not easy to have that kind of stuff thrown

at you. Not least because you haven't actually done anything at this point. I wanted to be judged on what I did, and I decided the only way which is to

get on with it.

AMANPOUR: I think it's interesting this, you described meeting that then- commissioner president Barroso who you, for the HRVP, the high representative job, we need a Brit and a woman from left-of-center

politics. Voila.

ASHTON: Exactly. He said this to me, we were in India together at a conference. And he very sweetly just said, have you thought at all about

this role? And I hadn't. In the least, I was ready to go home. I've done my years' trade. I'd really enjoyed it.

AMANPOUR: You were the trade minister to Europe from the U.K.?

ASHTON: That's right.


ASHTON: I was the first woman who'd ever been sent by Britain to the European Union. I was the first woman to be given the trade portfolio. So,

I felt I'd done something of, hopefully, value, and I was ready to go home. And he just said, have you thought about this? And I said, no. Not in the


There are loads of people far more experience than I am. And I genuinely felt that. And he just said, look, we are going to have to give the Brits a

big job. The other jobs are kind of gone. It needs to be a woman, because there were no women in this mix. And it needs to be somebody who is not a

conservative, because the conservatives have taken the president jobs. Britt, woman, socialist.

AMANPOUR: That was you. An amazing perch on the windowsill of history. Baroness Ashton, thank you very much, indeed.

ASHTON: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Turning now to theater royalty. He may be known to millions around the world as Gandalf, in "Lord of the Rings". But this British

national treasure's big love is for the stage, especially Shakespeare. He is Sir Ian McKellen. And now, at the age of 83, he is taking on a very

English thing called a pantomime. Starring as Mother Goose in a modern retelling of the classic fable.

It's full of high jinks, cross-dressing, and hilarious fun. And McKellen is taking the comedy on tour, around the U.K. and Ireland after a sold-out

west end run. When the indomitable star joined me here in a studio, he explained who he wants to reach.


AMANPOUR: Ian McKellen, welcome to the program.

MCKELLEN: Thank you very much indeed.

AMANPOUR: So, we are going to talk about pantomime. But for those who don't know exactly what it is, what is the story of "Mother Goose"? And you are

Mother Goose.

MCKELLEN: Mother Goose is very happily, in our version, married. She's running an animal sanctuary. She's a good person. She goes around doing

good deeds but she has a secret desire, which she keeps banked down which is to be famous. And by chance, it comes about that she can swap the golden

eggs from her goose in exchange for fame and fortune, and I won't --

AMANPOUR: No spoiler alert about it.

MCKELLEN: -- won't spoil. But it's a very suitable, moral story. So, it's this mishmash. And I always compare it to this, sort of, Christmas pudding

that we eat in the United Kingdom. It's full of all sorts of things, unexpected things, bits of mani (ph) and cherries and raisins and nuts, you

never quite know.


And in our pantomime, which you know because you've seen it, you get a little bit of Shakespeare thrown in, and the actual words of William

Shakespeare. And there's some sentiment and we hope it's moving as well as being hilarious.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's certainly hilarious. And I just want to play something that we talked about when I last interviewed you, when you put on your

spectacular "King Lear" at the same theater --


AMANPOUR: -- the Duke of York, that was back in 2018. And you said this about why it's important that all generations come to see you.

MCKELLEN: Of course, it's a thrill to play to old people, like myself. People who have seen many "King Lears" and feel they still haven't got it,

they still want more. But then to capture the mind and the heart, and affect the life of a young person and that they discover life theater early

on, I just think that's what gives me the most excitement.

AMANPOUR: And still?

MCKELLEN: Well, he's a nice, avuncular chap, isn't he? And speaking a lot of sense.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes.

MCKELLEN: I agree with him entirely.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes. Five years younger.

MCKELLEN: And what he might have added is what I've always known, is that British families go to see a pantomime, regardless of class or income, a

pantomime is a must in the holidays part time. And you go with your parents, and your siblings, and your aunts and uncles and grandparents. And

all the generations are there, laughing. Not perhaps always understanding what they're laughing at, in the case of the children because some of the

jokes can be a bit risque, but many are not. And it's a confirmation of the family, but the family in public.


MCKELLEN: Next door to other families doing exactly the same thing. So, that's what theater can do, it can take groups of strangers and turn them

into a homogeneous family --


MCKELLEN: -- and larger family. A nation, really, that enjoys what it is seeing and let's its head out in public. And that's a very good thing to

do, I think. But it's also a very good introduction to the possibilities of theater. And in pantomime, you get singing, you get dancing, you get a

story, you get the audience participation.


MCKELLEN: Sometimes you get the audience on the stage. The audience is another character in the story. And that is not unlike what can happen in a

Shakespeare play where a character will speak (INAUDIBLE) "To be or not to be" directly out of all this.

AMANPOUR: Yes, you did a bit of Shakespeare in there. We'll get to that in a second. But you are, as Mother Goose, dressed in a phenomenal set of

fantastic dresses. So, that's -- awe, I guess, it's Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady".


AMANPOUR: This is you being -- I don't know, it looks like Julia Childs. I don't know whether it is.

MCKELLEN: Yes, it does.

AMANPOUR: Isn't it?

MCKELLEN: A little bit.

AMANPOUR: This is you?

MCKELLEN: That's my favorite.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes. Hilarious, you, the housekeeper, the cleaner.

MCKELLEN: Yes, and I always think that Mother Goose, daft as she is, has a heart of gold. And perhaps as a magistrate, you know, at the local court. I

certainly remember a time --

AMANPOUR: Well, or a guard at the Tower of London.

MCKELLEN: Well, she becomes the owner of the Tower of London when riches come her way. But I like her best --

AMANPOUR: There, because she is very wise and very funny. So, I want to ask you first for our global audience, the energy company is the big bad

bogeyman of this play.


AMANPOUR: Everybody has to react -- and repeat it and all the rest. And then you talk about one of these rather hardline ministers in charge of

policing others as Cruella Braverman (ph), her real name Suella Braverman (ph). And you have a pig in a school tie that you call Boris, Boris

Johnson, I presume. What are you saying? Because it is a political time, even as we speak, people are out on the streets in huge strikes and there's

so much cost of living and social discontent.

MCKELLEN: Well, the group of people who put this show on are fed up to the teeth with the governments of late. And it is the government that comes in

for our drives rather than the opposition --


MCKELLEN: -- who are waiting to be the government. So, it's -- we're not fair. It's all thrown at the right wingers. And -- but the audience

reaction is clearly on our side as well. So, we're speaking to the converted, we're not really getting involved in politics. But we're like --

we're -- I think pantomime brings out the child, not just in the performer, but the audience as well.


MCKELLEN: And it's just being that sort of --

AMANPOUR: Calming your nerves.

MCKELLEN: -- a joke.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And actually, one of the more right-wing, let's say, conservative broad sheets, "The Daily Telegraph", which is a Boris Johnson

loving paper --


AMANPOUR: -- gave you a five-star review. I mean, that's the most stars.

MCKELLEN: Yes, yes.


MCKELLEN: Well, because that's critic. Well, as a child who'd been to pantomime in our hope of -- been reminded in ours, the joy that she had

some years ago and probably why he has ended up being a --

AMANPOUR: A critic.

MCKELLEN: -- drama critic.


AMANPOUR: I was wondering, you're 83 years old.

MCKELLEN: Am I really?

AMANPOUR: Apparently. You don't look it.


AMANPOUR: You certainly don't act it, which is what my question was.


AMANPOUR: How do you -- do you train? I mean, this is very physical, "Mother Goose". You're always on the stage, or running in, running out,

changing clothes. At one point, I saw -- I don't know, you bared your chest or something because I saw your arms.


AMANPOUR: And then very good nick, do you -- what do you do?

MCKELLEN: I think most of that is genetic.


MCKELLEN: So, I have to thank my father and mother for a strength of frame.


MCKELLEN: And I wouldn't say I have a healthy lifestyle. And I do a little bit of training. I do Pilates, which is an easy form of yoga --


MCKELLEN: -- that stretches the form. But most of all, a trick I learned a long, long time ago is I always sleep before work.

AMANPOUR: You mean literally just before?

MCKELLEN: Yes, I will go to bed in the afternoon for an hour and a half. Then get up and have something to eat or shower, and then I'm ready.


MCKELLEN: Where does he get his energy from? Well, because he hasn't been wasting his energy on life. He's been waiting for the moment when he will

come alive in front of your eyes. And all that's where my energy goes and then I flop and go back to bed.

AMANPOUR: And sometimes two performances a day, right?

MCKELLEN: Yes. So, I --

AMANPOUR: Do you still do a matinee and a nighttime?

MCKELLEN: -- often and I will sleep before both performances, yes.


MCKELLEN: So, that's the trick, really. It's -- you know, the audience have been working all day long and think it's amazing that anyone's got any of

the energy when they're just slacking.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's true.

MCKELLEN: Well, it's got to --

AMANPOUR: Now we know.

MCKELLEN: I'm doing the right thing.

AMANPOUR: Now we know.


AMANPOUR: You know, you talked about how this, you know, often some Shakespeare and this and that. I didn't know whether that was always or

just in this one because of you. There's obviously a reference to Gandalf, and "Lord of the Rings". There's obviously -- you do some Shakespeare, and

John Bishop who plays Father Goose, he's a British comedian, who is hilarious as well.

MCKELLEN: Yes, funny.

AMANPOUR: You guys play off each other so well.

MCKELLEN: Well, look, I have played --

AMANPOUR: But t's kind of legacy stuff, right?

MCKELLEN: Yes. You have in a pantomime, the right, if not, the duty to throw in anything that you want. If you can play the castanets, you must do

it. If you can do the splits, now is your chance. If you can do a little bit of Shakespeare convincingly, that's my turn. But my -- I do, I also get

to saying, which quite probably I shouldn't.

But the thing is, I'm playing not just a woman, Mother Goose of a certain age. I am playing a version of a woman. An exaggerated, masculine view of a

woman. I am certainly a man in a frock.


MCKELLEN: So, I am also in the kiln. And I'm also, peoples' memory of other dames, other men dressing up as women and trying to be amusing. And there

are -- there is a moment that perhaps you remember when "Mother Goose" has been promised a chance of fame --


MCKELLEN: -- which is what she's always wanted. And she reminisces with the audience about the first time she saw a pantomime. And she says, it was

wonderful. But this man came on in a frock and a wig and painted fingernails, which I have as "Mother Goose".


MCKELLEN: I said, it's not my -- not my taste, really. And the audience laughs, because they know I'm Ian McKellen as well as Mother Goose.


MCKELLEN: There's a duality going on there. I used the story I'm telling about seeing pantomime for the first time, "Mother Goose's" story or is it

in McKellen's story? It's both our stories, and it's the story of the audience who are there watching the pantomime even as I speak.

Now, those complications are not possible when you're reading a novel --


MCKELLEN: -- or watching a ballet, probably, or certainly watching a film. Cinema doesn't lend itself to that sort of complication.


MCKELLEN: But you take it in your stride in the theater. And it sets you up for the day when you see a mighty at work like Shakespeare and check off

where those -- that, sort of, practicality becomes more important.

AMANPOUR: Talking about ballet and Shakespeare, you have done two "Hamlets" over the last couple of years, '20 -- in '21 and last year. The last one

involved dancing. You were declaiming, but there was ballet going around.

MCKELLEN: Yes, there was.

AMANPOUR: You do like to mix it up a bit. It's all -- it's quite experimental, right?

MCKELLEN: So -- no, these are just things I wanted to do.


MCKELLEN: Shou Mathas (ph), my collaborator says, why don't you play "Hamlet"? No, I say. And then he convinces me, and I do it, and enjoy it,

and then we film it, and I enjoy that too. And then that's all over. And then Peter Schaufuss says, come to my dance company (INAUDIBLE), go and do

it, and speak "Hamlet" while the young people danced around you.

Why wouldn't I want to go and see how a ballet is devised and performed? And I find myself contributing. So, what it is --


AMANPOUR: But it is extraordinary.

MCKELLEN: -- and now I'm doing pantomime. There is no sense to it, other than this is what I want to do.

AMANPOUR: No, but it's very -- you know, it's like -- what can I say? You're so established and yet you're willing to take on all sorts of


MCKELLEN: Well, I don't have anything to prove, you see. I'm not trying to make hit, if I ever want. I'm trying to give the audience a good time,

honestly. That's why we're touring, because I think the regions often get left behind in this country as far as safety is concerned. And I've always

been grateful for those actors who toured around in the north of England when I was living there is a boy because I never got -- could -- never get

to London.

So -- and theater, I think, is really, really -- to discover theater, you would've discovered something for life, and it will repay your attention

and you will be joined in the company of other people, it's a very sociable activity. And it's good not just for the individual but for the whole

audience. In fact, I would even say for the whole nation. And I like it that the Brits are rather good at theater.

AMANPOUR: And you keep us all laughing. I mean, even now, you know, you are just funny, very funny, probably not when you're doing the most tragic

parts of "Hamlet". But you are very, very funny. And clearly, you are impassioned by Shakespeare because, you know, people keep saying, oh, was

that his last Shakespeare? I remember around "King Lear" --


AMANPOUR: -- there are word was put out that maybe the great Sir Ian McKellen would not do Shakespeare anymore --

MCKELLEN: There's fancy --

AMANPOUR: -- and then boom.

MCKELLEN: -- other great actors waiting.

AMANPOUR: I know but will you keep doing it? Are these your last dance?

MCKELLEN: Well, I've actually --

AMANPOUR: More Shakespeare for us?

MCKELLEN: Yes, I think I probably am going to do more Shakespeare. But I won't tell you now.

AMANPOUR: Which one? Come on tell us.

MCKELLEN: But it's --

AMANPOUR: Breaking some news.

MCKELLEN: Well, I've been asked to play a Falstaff which is a mighty part in two of my favorite plays, "Henry IV" part one and part two. It sounds

really dull, isn't it --

AMANPOUR: No, they're very famous.

MCKELLEN: -- but he's at the center of the action there. And it's a part I've resisted and may still resist. But --


MCKELLEN: --- I am considering it. Well, I think it's a very difficult, difficult part. And do I want something difficult at the moment? Well,

perhaps I do. Yes, I would like the challenge. Yes, I would like the challenge. And as long as my brain keeps going and my knees keep working, I

will go on doing the theater because --

AMANPOUR: Which it is, right? I mean, you can still learn your lines, right?

MCKELLEN: I can, yes.

AMANPOUR: You don't have them pipe in your ear?




AMANPOUR: Because, you know, some people do.

MCKELLEN: Yes, I know. No, I would rather -- if I don't know what was coming next, and invent something, you know, just keep talking.

AMANPOUR: Improvise.

MCKELLEN: No, I don't want anyone sitting in my ear.

AMANPOUR: Film or theater? What's your favorite?

MCKELLEN: Well, as an audience and as a participant, theater. Theater is in my blood. I know more about it than I do the cinema. I don't feel I'm in

the cinema tradition. I'm in awe --

AMANPOUR: Except everybody knows you.

MCKELLEN: -- I'm in awe of cinema -- of film actors who I don't think I'm - - I can hold a candle too. So, I will stick with what I can do at my best.

AMANPOUR: Favorite role?

MCKELLEN: Favorite role.

AMANPOUR: Favorite Shakespearean or theatrical role?

MCKELLEN: Well, I had a big success with Judi Dench in the Scottish play, for those who don't know what that is, it's MacBeth.


MCKELLEN: It's not a word we like to say in the theater. It's supposed to be -- that was a wonderful production and it has illuminated my ideas of

how to act because it was done in a very small theater. And I learned a level of playing that I hadn't done before, which eventually fits into what

the camera requires. So, that was a very important steppingstone to the film work I did, which I am very pleased to have done and --


MCKELLEN: -- it's very sweet. I meet people of all ages, youngsters and much older who have feel their lives have been changed by "Lord of the


AMANPOUR: Definitely.

MCKELLEN: Because they've enjoyed it so much.

AMANPOUR: Oh, yes. Epic. Epic. My life was changed.

MCKELLEN: So, I was very lucky to land in a classic.

AMANPOUR: And it was a classic, you're absolutely right. Let me ask you, finally, about queer representation in the arts. Because you famously came

out in a dramatic interview with the BBC, some 35 years ago. And now, obviously there is so much progress being made. But in the arts,

particularly, even in the Oscars right now, do you think, you know, it's obviously here to stay.

MCKELLEN: Well, some people in showbiz have been in the vanguard of social change.

AMANPOUR: Such as yourself.

MCKELLEN: And -- well, I was one of many in your country and mine. And -- but I don't know. You notice a change when it's happened, but perhaps not

while it is happening.



MCKELLEN: At the end of this pantomime, there are three marriages. The remarriage of Mother Goose and her husband, who renewed their marriage



MCKELLEN: The marriage of their heterosexual son to his girlfriend, and the marriage of two faires, good and evil, who patch up their differences and

decided to get married, as well. So, we have a lesbian marriage at the end of "Mother Goose". And just before that happens, we have John Bishop,

playing my husband, kissing me full on the lips to the roaring approval of the crowd.

AMANPOUR: And the kids? Including the kids?

MCKELLEN: Including the kids.


MCKELLEN: And then when I say, in a deeply masculine voice but dressed in a very feminine way, wait till I get you home, the audience received that

news with some hilarity, but delight. So, I think we've grown up. We can now allow men to be men in whatever way they want, and women to be women

and everything in between and either side. And pantomime embraces it all. Cross dressing, you say, on behalf.


MCKELLEN: And it brings it all to a very human level. So that people, when they are out of pantomime, can make reference, of course, to their own

lives and the delights and miseries of it. But forget it and indulge in a fantasy, where everyone laughs and -- at the same things, at the same

moment, and takes pleasure from that community.

AMANPOUR: And it is pleasure, indeed.

MCKELLEN: And to be allowed --

AMANPOUR: And that's your great gift.

MCKELLEN: -- to be allowed to be the lord of misrule, conducting all this nonsense.


MCKELLEN: It is a great, great joy and satisfaction.

AMANPOUR: Ian McKellen, thank you so much.

MCKELLEN: All right. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: It is a wonderful show and delivers loads of much-needed laughter. But returning now to Putin's plans to keep trying to inflict pain

on the west and stop its defense of Ukraine. Julia Ioffe is a Russian born American journalist who co-founded and is the Washington correspondent for

the media company Puck. She joins Walter Isaacson to discuss her recent reporting on the Russian president.


WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Julia Ioffe, welcome back to the show.


ISAACSON: So, at the state of the union message, Biden has the Ukrainian ambassador there and says, we'll stand with you as long as it takes. But

correct me if I'm wrong, I kind of got the feeling it was downplayed a bit. It wasn't that much of a push there. What's happening? Is there some

feeling that maybe we are tired of this?

IOFFE: Well, I think one year in, especially with the right flank of the Republican Party and maybe the left flank of the Democratic Party skeptical

of so much aid at this point. Well over $100 billion of aid going to Ukraine, it's probably -- it was probably best for Biden to say, yes, we

are committed to Ukraine. Yes, we are backing Ukraine as long as it takes. And then move on, because frankly, getting the aid in while nobody is

really paying attention is probably better for Ukraine.

ISAACSON: You know, 180,000 Russian troops have been killed already in a year. And I think 100,000 Ukrainian ones. And that to me, that's like five

times the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. How can this war be sustained that much longer?

IOFFE: That is the question on everyone's minds. It is absolutely mind- boggling that we're hitting -- we're coming up on a year of this war. And the collective death toll for Russia and Ukrainian soldiers, or Ukrainian

civilians, the total number is hitting half a million people in a year, in the 21st century. That is absolutely a mind-numbing number.

But unfortunately, Putin seems to be following the age-old Russian tradition in which the lives of everybody, but the ruler, do not count and

do not matter. And he seems absolutely willing to throw countless bodies at the meat grinder and hoping to win that way by sheer numbers.

ISAACSON: Tell me how this could end in a negotiated way.

IOFFE: It's hard to see it ending --frankly, at this point, it's very hard to see it ending in a negotiated way. I don't think either side is

exhausted enough or wanting this to end. Russia does not want to negotiate. Russia thinks it could still win this thing. Ukraine still thinks it could

win this thing. So, I think we're very far away from any kind of even beginning of the negotiation.


ISAACSON: When you say, Russia still thinks it can win this thing, I assume you're talking about Putin still thinks that. What does win mean? Does he

think he can capture all of Ukraine, occupy it again?

IOFFE: I think the goals are fluid. I think right now, Russian troops are making progress in the Donbas. They're getting close to taking the city of

Bakhmut, which has become a city of very important, very big significance for them. It doesn't really have that much tactical significance or

strategic significance. But it has the -- acquired this aura of political significance, they're on the verge of taking that and I think that might

give them some, kind of, political momentum.

And then I think once they -- if they take the Donbas, I think that might give Putin the idea that maybe they can try again for Kharkiv, try again

for Kyiv. This is not a man who thinks that he should stop. I think he thinks he has time on his side. And he has numbers on his side. Again --

ISAACSON: Wait. Is that true? Maybe he does have time on his side.

IOFFE: He might or he might not --

ISAACSON: Maybe he does have numbers on his side.

IOFFE: -- or he might not. He might also drop-dead tomorrow, you know. And, you know, when Joseph Stalin died, his -- the people below him, his

successors decided to wrap up the Korean War because they didn't see much point in continuing their old boss's war. We have no idea. But I don't --

as long as Putin is in charge, I don't see this going to a negotiated settlement anytime soon. Putin wants to keep going all the way. He wants


ISAACSON: And if you can't see a negotiated settlement of all the issues, is there a possibility, though, of having just the ceasefire in place and

pushing down the road, maybe, a few years, with the larger issues?

IOFFE: Well, that's what we had, basically, in 2014, 2015 with the various Minsk agreements. But what it gave us was February 24th, 2022. So, we had

a, kind of, little war that stretched on. A frozen conflict that took 13,000 lives in eight years. But it was manageable. The world saw it as

manageable. And I think Ukraine came to basically see it is manageable.

But it gave us a much bigger war in the end. It gave Russia the time and the space to accumulate, train forces, and to plan this much bigger war.

The worry is that you freeze the conflict in place as it is now, and then that becomes the starting line for the next war which can be much bigger,

and even more destructive, and even more deadly. Sometimes you have to solve the problem now in the present instead of kicking the can down the

road even more.

ISAACSON: So, if you think this war is just destined to drag on. Does that mean we should be giving a lot more Jaguar tanks, a lot more Abrams tanks,

longer-range missiles, airplanes?

IOFFE: I think the fastest way to end this war, frankly, is to give the Ukrainians the weapons they need to win this war. That is the only way to

end this war and it is the fastest way to end it, frankly. The worst thing that the west can do is to do what the western powers did in Spain in the

late 1930s. They gave the Spanish republic just enough -- and frankly, with the Syrian opposition during the Syrian civil war.

They gave them just enough not to lose, but not enough to win. Thereby dragging out the fight, taking more lives, making it bloodier, longer, and

not preventing the inevitable loss. So, sometimes you just have to go all in and faster.

ISAACSON: And if we go all in and really support Ukraine, and you say there's a possibility Ukraine could just win this war. Does that mean that

they would even retake Crimea, and everything, or could they declare victory by just retaking the Donbas region?

IOFFE: I don't think that's a politically viable solution for them right now. I think if you were to ask Ukrainian people if they would accept that,

I think the vast majority of them would not accept that, unfortunately. The problem is that Putin himself has made that a non-viable option.


Maybe they would have accepted that pre-February 24, 2022. But the absolutely vicious, destructive, brutal war that he has unleashed on them

has deeply radicalized the Ukrainian population, understandably. And has made them absolutely unwilling to compromise with the power that is

brutalizing and destroying their country, and killing their countrymen and women.

ISAACSON: I understand what you're saying that the Ukrainians would not accept anything other than an outright victory, including taking Crimea.

But is that in the American interest to keep this war going until something like this happens, or is it interest in the west to say, all right, we now

need a solution?

IOFFE: I think it's in America's interest to get peace. And a lasting peace has to be a just peace, and it has to be a piece where both sides walk away

from the table feeling like they don't need to go to war again. And I don't think the conditions are there yet on either side to get there.

So, imposing, the U.S. could drag the Ukrainians to the negotiating table. I don't think the Russians will be there. I don't think the Russians would

negotiate in good faith. I think the Russians would use any settlement as time and space to mass more forces and try again for Kyiv. Try again to

take over more Ukrainian territory, and I think the Ukrainians know that. But again, the U.S. can't just wave its wand and make the parties do what

it wants.

ISAACSON: President Zelenskyy has become an amazing player on the world stage. And just this week, there were the scenes of him making a surprise

trip to England. Do you think that he has become such a force that he will be able to have the British, the Germans, and others keep supplying weapons

even if some in the United States want to pull back?

IOFFE: I think so. I think he has become an incredible spokesman for the Ukrainian people. Both inside his country, where he has been able to rally

the population and to unite the population. Which is incredible because going into the war, his approval rating was something like 25, 28 percent.

He has become an incredible wartime leader and has become a very effective messenger for the Ukrainian people abroad, including here in the U.S.

I also don't see the U.S. fatiguing as quickly as you are suggesting. I think it is still the mainstream position of both the Democratic and

Republican parties to support Ukraine. I know the White House -- the Biden White House, sees its main ally on this in Congress as Mitch McConnell, who

sees a strong support of Ukraine as a very strong signal to China, on Taiwan. He As he -- kind of, he sees it as two birds with one -- killing

two birds with one stone.

So, I think -- I don't see aid to Ukraine becoming too much of a problem. It might not be in as big numbers as we saw in the first year, which is

natural. But I don't see it completely going away in the second year of the war.

ISAACSON: But Kevin McCarthy seems to disagree with his fellow Republican, Mitch McConnell. He says, we're not going to give a blank check. What do

you think that means?

IOFFE: I think he is playing to the right wing of his party who has -- who held his speakership hostage and now has hang the, sort of, Damocles over

him. But still, the -- you know, the question is, can these packages get on the House floor for a vote? And if they do, they will have the majority of

the votes because it's still the mainstream of both the Republican and the Democratic parties, and the House as well. It is still the majority of the

position to support Ukraine.

But I do think it is a completely disingenuous position. The U.S. has not, in any way, been sending Ukraine a blank check. And in fact, a lot of the

money, much of the money, that the U.S. has been sending to Ukraine stays in the U.S. It is spent on replacing, for example, replacing what the

Pentagon has sent from its own stocks. So, it's just spent on refilling Pentagon stocks of weapons. It has spent at American manufacturers of

weapons, Lockhead, Raytheon, et cetera. A lot of these --


ISAACSON: Wait. Are you suggesting that maybe the defense contractors like that are pushing this?

IOFFE: No, I'm just saying I think the argument that we're just sending, you know, pallets of cash to Ukraine, you know, an unmarked bills is a

disingenuous and not fact-based position.

ISAACSON: When we were going into this winter, we thought, this is going to be a brutal test. This is going to be a brutal test for Europe when it

comes to the need for Russian energy supplies. It's going to be a brutal test on the battleground. What did we learn from this winter? Especially

when it came to Europe and its dependence on Russian energy supplies.

IOFFE: Well, we learned that Putin massively overplayed his hand. And that this was one of several massive miscalculations that he made going into

this war. He thought Ukrainians would greet Russian troops as liberators, and they didn't. And he also thought that he had a stranglehold of Europe,

in terms of energy, and he didn't.

It was amazing to see how quickly Europe pivoted from its heavy dependence on Russian energy. Germany went from importing two thirds of its natural

gas from Russia to importing zero percent of its Russian -- of its natural gas from Russia in just a matter of months. Europe was able to quickly

store up gas, other forms of energy.

And the Russian budget is taking a massive hit. It is the Russian federal budget is running at a deficit. And for the first time in a long time, so

again, Putin thought that he had all this control over Europe. But as I said from the very beginning, Putin needed Europe just as much as Europe

needed him for energy because it was Russia's biggest, most important energy market. It is one that the Soviet Union and Russia had spent three

generations building. All of that infrastructure, all those pipelines go west and not east.

And it turns out, you can't just threaten your clients into buying from you. You, you know -- they have to voluntarily come to you and buy from

you. And if they don't, you are going to have a bigger hole in your budget.

ISAACSON: You wrote in one of your essays that the far scarier option that we could face is that of assassinations. That Putin could order the

assassination of other world leaders, journalists, and others. Tell me about that. How possible is that as a Putin action?

IOFFE: So, there's a worry inside the Biden administration that because Putin can't achieve his goals on the battlefield, and because it's very

clear that since he doesn't have the military capability to capture Ukraine because his military is so degraded in the fight for Ukraine, that he

certainly can't take NATO on militarily, that he would fight back against the west for its support of Ukraine by other measures. By asymmetrical


We've seen it, for example, in their alleged attempts to undermine Sweden's ascension to NATO. And other -- you know, we've have seen the mail bombs

across Spain with the, you know, their mail bombs full of animal eyeballs.

But there's a worry that there might be assassinations across Europe. They're, apparently, not very difficult to carry out. Although again,

Russians -- Russian intelligence capabilities across Europe have been severely degraded in the wake of the invasion. Western countries have PNGed

or made persona non grata over 400 Russian diplomats who were, basically, intelligence agency -- agents operating under diplomatic cover.

So, that very much limits their access. But they can still travel into Europe under other guises. And we might -- it might be easy to catch them

after the fact because they tend to be very sloppy operators as we saw in the Skripal poisoning in 2018, in the U.K. But that doesn't mean that they

won't try, and that is the concern.

ISAACSON: Julia Ioffe, once again, thank you so much for joining us.

IOFFE: Thank you.



AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and of course, on our podcast. You can

find that at and on all major platforms. Just search for "Amanpour." Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.