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The stars of "The Dresser" brought with them well over a century of acting experience, but neither Anthony Hopkins nor Ian McKellen is anywhere near ready to call it quits — though Hopkins, 78, admitted he has thought about it "several times."

"But they come up and offer me a job, and I say, 'OK,' because I'm an actor," he said.

Hopkins stars as the imperious Shakespearean actor known only as "Sir"; McKellen as his dresser, Norman, who struggles to get the increasingly confused star back onstage for one more performance.

"There have been many films, many television [shows], many plays, about what it's like to be an actor — the backstage story," McKellen said. "And, frankly, none of them is any good, with the exception of this one. I think every actor recognizes themselves and their past in this play."

McKellen can relate to Sir's long history of performing Shakespeare; Hopkins, not so much. "I had an uneasy relationship in the theater and with myself in the theater, so I skedaddled and came to America," he said.

But with "The Dresser," Hopkins was "intrigued" by "what makes actors want to act?"

"Why do they want to do Shakespeare? Why do they, night after night after night, go onstage and repeat the same performances over and over and over? And this play more or less answers that — that you have to go half mad to survive that kind of life."

And speaking of actors in general, Hopkins said, "We're mad."

"The Dresser" is the first made-for-TV movie produced for Starz — in conjunction with the BBC. It's certainly a prestige product with more sirs than just Sir — Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ian McKellen star; Sir Richard Eyre directs; Sir Ronald Horwitz wrote the play, first produced in 1980.

("The Dresser" premieres with back-to-back showings — 7 and 8:55 p.m. — Monday on Starz.)

"The Dresser" — set in WWII England — makes the life of an actor look tough. But Hopkins said, "It's not a difficult life. Thank God for it, because it's given me a tremendous life, the acting profession."

McKellen, 77, agreed. And he insisted the thought of retirement has never entered his mind.

"What would I do?" he asked. "One of the thrilling things about acting is that you don't necessarily have to stop. There will always be some little part for an old geezer in the corner of the script."

Or front-and-center, as is the case for McKellen and Hopkins in "The Dresser."

"Anthony and I are very lucky in this, that our two characters are center stage, as it were," McKellen said. "The other great thing for me about acting is that I get to work with young people. I used to, when I was young myself, enjoy being with the old actors, and now it's reversed.

"And to not still be in touch with the world of theater and film and television would be an irreparable loss to me. So, no, you've got me for as long as I'm mobile."

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.