McKellen at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International
|Born||Ian Murray McKellen
25 May 1939 
Burnley, Lancashire, England
|Alma mater||St Catharine’s College, Cambridge|
|Partner(s)||Brian Taylor (1964â€“1972)
Sean Mathias (1978â€“1988)
I'm not being offered a constant stream of wonderful parts with wonderful directors that would keep me away from the theatre. When they turn up, I do them.
There is a fantasy as old as the modern gay rights movement that if all our skins turned lavender overnight, the majority, confounded by our numbers and our diversity, and recognising a few of our faces, would at once let go of prejudice forevermore.
In the '50s and '60s, the life of a gay man was a secret. Homosexuality was illegal, so you didn't draw attention to yourself.
Theatre is relatively easy if you're British – you're living in the theatre capital of the world, London – there are so many places you can work, still. If I had begun to think of myself as a film actor, I think I would have got distracted.
When I came out, I told my stepmother Gladys, and she just said she had known for years and was glad I wasn't lying anymore.
The BAFTAs give the British point of view, and the Oscars give the American point of view, but the truth is we're all working in an international industry.
Anyone in public life who comes out, comes out primarily for themselves, and their life is immediately improved. That's what happened to me.
It's only fair that stable gay relationships of long standing should have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. I know the image of gay marriage is to some people horrific and ludicrous.
When you grumble about a taxi being dirty, people your own age will absolutely agree with you, whereas younger people say, 'You should be so lucky to have a taxi – I walk to work!' So I have lots of young friends, who fortunately don't treat me as a guru, a person that knows all the answers.
There are people who've enjoyed my work in the theater, and they let me know that it was special for them. I'm not going to say, 'Well, you should have seen me as Gandalf!'
If I have any audience, they can know that anything I am in, I would go see, with the expectation of being really satisfied.
What I particularly like about Broadway is the camaraderie and the friendship of other people in other shows. Everybody knows you're opening and cares about you. There's a real village atmosphere.
Every anti-gay remark from the Church gives the thug a license to be cruel.
Acting is a very big part of what human beings do. A dog is always a dog, but we're always changing.
Capitalism offers you freedom, but far from giving people freedom, it enslaves them.
In Singapore, Malcolm X type of activity would be extremely difficult because the government can be very harsh on lawbreakers.
There have been many gay knights in the past – like Sir Noel Coward or Sir John Gielgud.
If I was on a march at the moment I would be saying to everyone: 'Be honest with each other. Admit there are limitless possibilities in relationships, and love as many people as you can in whatever way you want, and get rid of your inhibitions, and we'll all be happy.
I came rather late to film. I've done an awful lot of theater before – before I discovered the camera, you know, seeing everything, requiring much less acting and – and much less presentation, much less projecting, more just being.
Imagine trying to be a gay actor, a gay anything in modern Russia? Where to be positively oneself, to be affectionate in public with someone you love of the same gender, or to talk of that love in the hearing of anyone under 18, will put you prison?
I have heard of people dying from prostate cancer, and they are the unlucky ones, the people who didn't know they had got it, and it went on the rampage.
Splendid architecture, the love of your life, an old friend… they can all go drifting by unseen if you're not careful.
Very, very rare that you do a job knowing that the audience is desperate for you to do that job. Most films you make don't get released, is the fact.
Macbeth is a very popular play with audiences. If you want to sell out a theater, just mount a production of Macbeth. It's a short play, it's an exciting play, it's easy to understand, and it attracts great acting.
The conventional wisdom is that if you are gay, you cannot play the romantic straight lead in a movie.
Shakespeare's villains are fabulous because none of them know that they are villains. Well, sometimes they do.
I headed out to have a breather at the stage door, dressed in my tramp costume. I had my bowler hat between my feet and there were passers-by, and one of them turned back and said, 'Do you need help, brother?' And $1 fell into my hat!
There are still times in my life where I pull back from being totally honest, and I can't imagine a single straight person who would understand that.
It was wrongly assumed that I wished to become some sort of leader among gay activists, whereas in reality I was happier to be a foot soldier.
The huge difference in my lifetime is that you can just go up to somebody and make a pass. You couldn't do that in the 1950s if you were gay. There were secret handshakes, a secret language. There was nowhere you could go to be romantic outside of people's houses.
I owe a great deal to Harold Hobson, doyen drama critic of the 'U.K. Sunday Times,' who championed me as Shakespeare's Richard II at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival.
There are not many things in my life I can be absolutely proud of or certain I got right, but one of them is that I've got better as an actor. I've learnt how to do it. And I still have enough energy to do it.
Before acting, I wanted to become a journalist. I also toyed with the idea of being a chef – but that's only when people asked me what I wanted to be. In fact, I always used to say I wanted to be an actor, but I didn't ever believe that I was good enough to be come one.
I don't make any distinction between a popular TV series or blockbuster film and doing Shakespeare. They're different, but as long as the material is good and the intention is honourable, it's all the same to me.
I'm only an actor. I'm not a writer. I'm not going to leave any legacy. All I've ever done is learn the lines and say them.
I have little routines in the theater. Once I've established something, like the order of putting on makeup and a costume, I have to invariably do it in the same order every time, even if I only did it by chance the first time round.
Personally, coming out was one of the most important things I've ever done, lifting from my shoulders the millstone of lies that I hadn't even realized I was carrying.
I think the point to be understood is that we're all different. I've never been a fan of theories of acting. I didn't go to drama school, so I was never put through a training that was limited by someone saying, 'This is the way you should act.'
I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying, 'This is fiction.'
There are some tremendous actors in the U.K. who have been knighted, and I've spent much of my life admiring many of them, like Laurence Olivier. So it's very flattering to be in their company.
Because I was in the business of translating the 'X-Men' from the very successful comics, and taking the most popular book of the 20th century in 'The Lord of the Rings,' and making it into three movies, I hope people realize I wouldn't get involved in anything I didn't think was really going to be worth their while.
When we'd suggested doing it, the Theatre Royal management had said, 'Nobody wants to see Waiting for Godot.' As it happened, every single ticket was booked for every single performance, and this confirmation that our judgment was right was sweet. Audiences came to us from all over the world. It was amazing.
Acting is a very personal process. It has to do with expressing your own personality, and discovering the character you're playing through your own experience – so we're all different.
I'm the sort of person who doesn't write in ink. I only write in pencil, so it can be rubbed out.
Bill Gallagher's new version of 'The Prisoner' is an enthralling commentary on modern culture. It is witty, intelligent and disturbing. I am very excited to be involved.
I used to think 'King Lear' was an analysis of insanity, but I don't really think it is. When Lear is supposed to be at his most insane, he is actually understanding the world for the first time.
Every anti-gay remark from the Church gives the thug a license to be cruel.
I am lucky, I don't have aches and pains. I do Pilates regularly, which is a series of stretching exercises, and I recommend it to anyone of my age because the temptation is not to exercise when you get older. Well, you should.
Actors don't, in fact, retire, do they? It took me a while to remember that.
There are a lot of actors – I'm probably one – who are most at home when they're on stage.
If you've been in a film that's seen by millions and millions and millions of people, you're more likely to be recognized for that than for your theater performances, which were seen by considerably less people. Why would I get upset by that?
In the U.K. there is still work to be done, particularly in schools, stopping the homophobic bullies in the playground and introducing unbiased discussion on gay issues in the classroom.
Godot is whatever it is in life that you are waiting for: 'I'm waiting to win the lottery. I'm waiting to fall in love'. For me, as a child, it was Christmas. At least that eventually came.
Until I came out, my acting was all about disguise, and thereafter it became about telling the truth.
I love the Broadway audiences, who relish live drama and don't hesitate to display their enthusiasm.
You always think that 70 is the end of the road: 'Somebody died when they were 73; good life'. You're closer to death, and you better make sure you don't waste too much of your time doing things you don't want to do. No point in saying things you don't believe in.
Gandalf's a good guy, and it's a good part. He says the right things, he believes the right things. An actor can have fun with it.
When I was playing Gandalf, I didn't think, 'Oh my dear, I'm playing a 7,000 year old wizard,' because I've never met one, and I don't know what they're like.
We're very lucky, men, that there are these fabulous parts. Women – once you've done all the parts in Shakespeare, they start running out. So you can pick and choose and find something to energise you.
I think New York audiences are some of the brightest in the world, and certainly the most enthusiastic.
I got better as an actor, and still I'm getting better. That's only been possible because there's always been work.
I don't really like being with people my own age for long periods, because all we talk about is our decrepitude, how the world is changing for the worse even though it isn't.
I certainly wouldn't define myself as a northerner. I'm not even really sure what that means. I've lived in London for 50 years. I wasn't born here, but I have spent most of my life here. So I don't make much of it, to be honest. I'm just myself.
Gandalf the Grey was always the guy I prefer. Gandalf the White was driven to do a particular job, whereas Gandalf the Grey is a bit more humane.
I know actors who have had to turn down good roles because they just don't pay enough. It's hard.
Magneto wants to cope with the difficulties thrust upon him by society and by his own nature.
One school invited me down, as two pupils had come out, and the headmaster didn't know what to do about it. I said, 'How many students here are gay?' and he said, 'Just these two.' Clearly not. 'How many gay members of staff have you got?' He had no idea. And this was a concerned man.
It's easier to go from theatre to film than the other way round. In film you're absolutely loved and cossetted and cared for. In film your director makes your performance. In theatre you're carrying it all.
You won't hear me talk about my politics, you won't hear me talk about my vegetarianism, you won't hear me comment on the Iraq war. You'll only hear me talk about being gay and being an actor. I am just public on those two issues.
What's upsetting about an autobiography is that the final chapter is always missing. I mean, you want the death, don't you?
Gandalf is in Middle-earth to keep an eye on everybody, and that can be a rather serious matter.
When I've been asked what should be on my gravestone, I've said: 'Here lies Gandalf. He came out.' Two big achievements.
In the past, kids didn't tell their parents they were gay, so there were never the bust-ups. Some parents react so strongly to the news that their children are gay that the reaction is, 'Get out of our house.' There's a residue of old prejudices that are going to die hard.
I've always felt that 'X-Men' was about something serious. It wasn't just fantasy.
I always walk up the escalator on the Tube, and I live in a house with a lot of stairs, and that's good exercise, but you need more than that.
When I left Cambridge, I applied to regional repertory theaters in the U.K. and got accepted by one of them… And here I am, still at it.
'Lord of the Rings' was about saving the world, big time, big duties.
If you get criticized, good – I don't think people get criticized enough. People talk behind your back and they criticize you, but they don't often come up and say it to you.
The thing you notice here after America is how refreshingly ordinary people look because they haven't had their chin wrapped around the back of their ears.
On the whole, actors shout when they don't know what they're doing, trying to make an impact.
It is really, really wonderful that in your old age you are protected by specialists who understand your problems and sort them out for you. Well, isn't that what we all need?
I love musicals; I love the ballet, opera, the circus. It's all performance to me.
I can't take on all the worries of the world, you know. I can only talk about being gay and being an actor. I'll have to leave those other battles to somebody else.
I used to comfort myself when I became an actor that it was a useful job, entertaining people. And it was important to do it as well as you possibly can.
I don't make much distinction between being a stand-up comic and acting Shakespeare – in fact, unless you're a good comedian, you're never going to be able to play Hamlet properly.
Most actors are not rich – they are very poor indeed. What keeps them going is that they just love the job.
You see people in Hollywood trying to make blockbuster after blockbuster, but it's not possible. There's some god up there saying, 'You will fail now.' But I suppose that's true of us all.
What's nice for me, having identified myself for years as being rather shy, is now, wherever I am, in public, there tends to be a friendly face who's pleased to see me, and I like that.
People on television have trouble with fame because audiences think they're their mates.
I'd never read 'Lord of the Rings' until I was asked to play Gandalf, so I didn't really know it was a frightfully famous book.
If we just made one movie, 'The Hobbit,' the fact is that all the fans, the eight-, nine- and 10-year-old boys, they would watch it 1,000 times. Now, they've got three films they can watch 1,000 times.
I quite like it when I'm on the Tube and people offer me their seat. Sometimes I take it. The other day I was offered a seat by a pregnant lady. I thought, 'That's going a bit far.'
Will I miss Gandalf? Well, I don't miss him, because people are constantly coming up to me mentioning him and talking about him, so I don't feel that I've lost contact.
Every time you work is a challenge. There's a constant worry about it, and it's a side of acting I don't like.
People who are truly horrible are often the most interesting people in the room. You look at them and just say, 'Why?'
The spirit of the four hobbits in 'Lord of the Rings,' I suppose I miss that.
It's my impression that I've done every job that I've been asked to do.
Some relationships get easier as you get older, depending on what sort of person you are. I don't think I've got any better at them.
There are some tremendous actors in the U.K. who have been knighted, and I've spent much of my life admiring many of them, like Laurence Olivier. So it's very flattering to be in their company. But you also end up in the company of people you don't admire, including some rather dodgy politicians.
I was brought up in industrial south Lancashire, down the cobbled road from where LS Lowry (1887 – 1976) lived and painted.
I certainly don't disparage someone whose attitude towards their work is utterly different from mine – that's up to them.
How do I act so well? What I do is I pretend to be the person I'm portraying in the film or play.
So it's joyful to me, in my 71st year, to be able to be in a play that is absolutely right for my age and my experience, and that is a popular success. What more could you ask as an actor?
If I was a star, it would be difficult to go off and do 'Coronation Street.' So I guess I'm not a star.
When I appeared in 'Coronation Street,' I lived in Manchester and enjoyed it very much.
I have got prostate cancer, and I have to keep monitoring that. It's no problem, it's under control and I'm very cool about it, but other people are dying from it.
The most likely explanation is the most practical. 'Macbeth' is a very popular play with audiences. If you want to sell out a theater, just mount a production of 'Macbeth'. It's a short play, it's an exciting play, it's easy to understand, and it attracts great acting.
I don't any longer make any quality judgement between theater and cinema. They are different experiences for the audience, and they also are for the actors – although they have a lot in common.
If you are playing King Lear you are the centre of attention anyway. You don't need to draw attention to yourself. It's all laid out for you.
It's an interesting but useless bit of information that every single character in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' wears a wig, and many of them wears a prosthetic – false ears, feet, hands. In my case, nose.
If you've got Mystique as your girlfriend the fun you could have in bed – I've just imagined X-Men 3 might open with me in bed with Patrick Stewart.
I just followed my parents' example and advice on living, which was to leave the world a better place than you found it. They were professional do-gooders, ministers of the church, social workers, teachers, and missionaries, that sort of thing.
Before I ever acted as an amateur – which I did a great deal at school and at university – I used to go to the theater with my parents in the north of England, where I was born and brought up… Theater of all sorts.
I'm fortunate to be famous for two rather imposing characters like Magneto and Gandalf.
The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle years know what they're doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.
I think with Shakespeare you can be required to do absolutely anything at the turn of a sixpence – suddenly you go into a battle, suddenly you utter something passionate.
I increasingly see organized religion as actually my enemy. They treat me as their enemy. Not all Christians, of course. Not all Jews, not all Muslims.
I can't make up my mind whether I want to dance like Josef Brown or dance with Josef Brown.
The wonderful thing about modern medicine is that so many of these complaints that used to signify old age and decline can be coped with.
I tend to discourage people from calling me 'Sir Ian,' because I don't like being separated out from the rest of the population. Of course, it can be useful if you're writing an official letter, like trying to get a visa or something passed through Parliament. They're impressed by these things.
The first film role I deliberately chose to play after I came out was a raging heterosexual, John Profumo.
Even now, there are young actors who want careers as romantic leading men, and the best thing is not to reveal you're gay.
Why do you act? You act for an audience. In the theatre, you're in their presence. Film stars don't know what it is to have an audience.
The one thing you can ask, I think, is that actors get paid a living wage. I would like it if all the repertory theatres that currently exist could do that. It would make a huge difference.
If I say often enough that I'm going to be in 'King Kong,' I'm hoping that Peter Jackson will take the hint.
The whole atmosphere of the book, the tone of 'The Hobbit,' is of a kid's adventure story, told in the first person by Tolkien, who is introducing young people to the notion of Middle-earth. A lot of it is very light-hearted.
To be allowed for the first time in your later career to play leading parts in extremely popular movies is not a situation to worry about.
Try and understand what part you have to play in the world in which you live. There's more to life than you know and it's all happening out there. Discover what part you can play and then go for it.
I'm not someone who wears shades all the time and ducks into a darkened car in case I'm recognized – that would be absolute misery.
The battle going on over gay marriage in America reveals an awful lot. The Bible belt – people hate gay people. Because the Bible tells them? No, the Bible tells them an awful lot of things that they ignore.
Establishing the rights for gay people to be married would cost the Australian government nothing financially and would gain for you worldwide respect from people like us and, of course, would change lives enormously – the lives of gay people and of their friends and of their families and therefore of Australia as a whole.
When I went to lobby Nelson Mandela while the post-apartheid constitution was being drafted, I asked him to endorse making it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexuality. I'd been warned that he might giggle if I mentioned homosexuality.
That was the big effect Lord of the Rings had on me. It was discovering New Zealand. And even more precious were the people- not at all like the Australians.
The press like to talk to actors. They mustn't be surprised when actors talk back to them.
'King Lear,' I've been seeing all my life. I mean, the great actors of my lifetime… to join their company, as it were, by playing a part that's challenged them, is one of the great joys of being an actor who does the classics.
Eventually, before I die, I hope to have written about every part I've played.
I remember Tom Stoppard saying to me when I came out, 'I feel so sorry for you, because you'll never have children.' These days I would say, 'Well, why not, Tom?'
I had never come across the 'X-Men' comics till I was asked to play Magneto, so I just jumped into that job.
When you were on stage, you could be absolutely open about your emotions and indulge them and express yourself in a way that – in real life – I wasn't doing.
I'm brilliant at cooking my stepmother's scrambled egg recipe. The secret is to put eggs, butter, milk, and seasoning together in the saucepan, and to keep stirring with a wooden spoon under a low heat until the preferred consistency is reached.
Doing some of the 'Lord Of The Rings' press junkets got a bit claustrophobic.
Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces around him rather than artistic integrity doesn't know the guy or the body of his work.