Ian McKellen opens the gates to AMC's new The Prisoner

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Ian McKellen (left) and Jim Caviezel star in AMC's The Prisoner.

Ian McKellan, who co-stars in AMC's upcoming re-imagining of the classic 1960s sci-fi series The Prisoner, offered reporters a few details about the new miniseries.

This update of Patrick McGoohan's 1967 cult series still tells the story of a man who wakes up in a place called The Village. Named only by a number, "Six," he faces off against the Village's administrator, known only as "Two."

Jim Caviezel plays Six, a major change from the original to make the character American. McKellan plays Two. He gave reporters a taste of Two by trying to convince journalists at a press conference on Thursday that The Village is a good place to live.

"The Village is a wonderful place to be," McKellan told reporters, who compared The Village to other dystopian futures. "You'll be very, very happy there. People will love you and you will love them and the sun always shines. I think you'd better come and see me later."

The six-part miniseries does not air until November, but the cast and filmmakers spoke at a panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Universal City, Calif., Jan. 8. McKellan remained after the press conference to chat with a group of journalists, including SCI FI Wire. The follow Q&A features edited excerpts from that group interview.

Patrick McGoohan created and starred in the original 1967 The Prisoner.

You've played so many icons: Magneto, Gandalf, Richard III. Do you have a consistent approach to such figures?

McKellan: I'm not on a mission to play a particular sort of character, no. You can only choose from what you're offered. Maybe the same sort of thing appeals to me each time, but I can't see much connection between Two and the other characters you mentioned. I mean, he's a man in his later years who's got an awful lot of power. That's true of Richard III, and that's true of Magneto, and that's true with Gandalf, isn't it? But they don't seem to have much connection between each other.

You joked about the perspective that The Village is a wonderful place.

McKellan: To my character, it is. It's a place he's created to make people happy.

Do you even approach Two as an authority figure, then?

McKellan: Absolutely. He appears to be the king of the village. But he is number two. It's trouble talking about this plot, because if we start going into it, we start giving it away, and half the thrill of watching this is going to be working it out. What does it all mean? When it comes to Rover, yeah, Rover's in there, but what is Rover? Who makes Rover? How does Rover know what's going on? All is explained.

Are these definitive answers or things perceptive viewers will have to interpret?

McKellan: Well, I didn't cotton on until we got to about the fifth episode, but in the very first shot there is a clue to the answer. You didn't have that with the first Prisoner. You can solve it, what it is, what the hell we're talking about, where they all are. They are in a place, and where it is and why it is is explained to you. You will either approve of it or you won't approve of it, but it'll make sense.

What's your take on the modern relevance of The Prisoner in this incarnation?

McKellan: There's nothing about this version of The Prisoner which is challenging the first or commenting on it. It's simply taking that nightmare of being in a place you don't want to be in, apparently for your own good, and unable to do anything about it. Stuff of nightmares. It's just taking that idea and put it into what we know about our modern world in the 21st century. It's about psychiatry. It's about surveillance. It's about how much control we have over our minds or our emotions and our daily lives. It makes you think. It makes you think, and it's not often you do a script where you know the writer is more intelligent and has thought more about it than you will ever do. So when someone's saying, "Is this a difficult part to play?", no, because the work has been done by the writer. And on television. That's something special.

Isn't surveillance an even bigger concern in England than it is in America?

McKellan: Well, in London you cannot walk around in Central London, where I live, without being photographed every step you take. How long will it be before they say, "Well, we can see who goes into your house. Now we'd like to see what they do when they get inside"? There's been no law passed to have all this surveillance. We weren't asked what we thought about it. It's all for our own good, we're told. I'm resisting strongly, trying to get out of my suburban street what a lot of the locals want there, which is constant CCTV. I don't want it. I don't want people to know who comes knocking at my door or who I ask into my house. The war on terror as a concept is catch-all, isn't it? If you object to television in the streets, you're supposed to be on the wrong side in the war on terror. Well, then I'm on the wrong side, because there's actually no need for these cameras. They don't on the whole prevent crime, nor do they, on the whole, solve crime. They just put the people in a state of being nervous. Well, I don't like that. It's not good.