- Category : Actor
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Small (10,14,15)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 2
Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CBE (born May 25, 1939) is a veteran English stage and screen actor, the recipient of a Tony Award and two Oscar nominations. McKellen is best known to moviegoers in recent years for his roles as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and as Magneto in the X-Men trilogy. His work has spanned genres from serious Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. He was made a CBE in 1979 and knighted in 1991 for his outstanding work and contributions to the theatre. McKellen is openly gay and is a prominent campaigner for LGBT rights.
McKellen was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England, though spent most of his early life in Wigan and later attended Bolton School. Born shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the experience had some lasting impact on him. In an interview with The Advocate magazine (December 25, 2001), when an interviewer remarked that he seemed quite calm in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, he said: "Well, darling, you forget — I slept under a steel plate until I was four years old."
McKellen's father, Denis Murray McKellen, a civil engineer, was a lay preacher, and both of his grandfathers were preachers as well. At the time of Ian's birth, his parents already had a five-year-old daughter Jean. His home environment was strongly Christian, but non-orthodox. "My upbringing was of low nonconformist Christians who felt that you led the Christian life in part by behaving in a Christian manner to everybody you met." When he was 12, his mother, Margery Lois McKellen (born Sutcliffe) died; his father died when he was 24. When he came out of the closet to his stepmother, Gladys McKellen, who was a Friend (Quaker): "Not only was she not fazed, but as a member of a society which declared its indifference to people's sexuality years back, I think she was just glad for my sake that I wasn't lying any more."
Ian McKellen attended Bolton School Boys Division of which he is still a supporter, attending regularly to talk to pupils. McKellen's acting career started at Bolton Little Theatre, of which he is now the Patron. An early fascination with theatre was encouraged by his parents, who took him on a family outing to Peter Pan at the Manchester Opera House when he was three. When he was nine, his main Christmas present was a wood and bakelite, fold-away Victorian Theatre from Pollocks Toy Theatres, with cardboard scenery and wires to push on the cut-outs of Cinderella and of Olivier's Hamlet. His sister took him to his first Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, by the amateurs of Wigan's Little Theatre, shortly followed by their Macbeth and Wigan High School for Girls' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with music by Mendelssohn and Bottom by Jean McKellen. (Until her recent death, Jean still acted, directed, and produced amateur theatre.)
He won a scholarship to St. Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, when he was 18, where he developed an attraction to Derek Jacobi. He has characterized it as "a passion that was undeclared and unrequited." He and his first serious partner, Brian Taylor, a history teacher from Bolton, began their relationship in 1964. It was a relationship that was to last for eight years, ending in 1972. They lived in London, where McKellen continued to pursue his career as an actor. For over a decade he has lived in a five-story Victorian conversion in Narrow Street, Limehouse, London. In 1978 he met his second partner, Sean Mathias, at the Edinburgh Festival. According to Mathias, the ten-year love affair was tempestuous, with conflicts over McKellen's success in acting versus Mathias' somewhat less-successful career.
20 years ago McKellen lost appetite for dead meat, except for fish and became a pecto-vegetarian. (pescetarian).
McKellen made his stage début in Coventry in 1961 and his West End début in 1964. His first film role — in the unfinished The Bells of Hell Go Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling (1966) — produced a £4000 fee that helped fund his repertory work for a time, but the experience contributed to a focus on the stage, which remained the medium he was best known for well into the fourth decade of his career.
The role that made McKellen famous was his 1969 portrayal of King Edward II of England in the Prospect Theatre Company's touring production of Marlowe's Edward II. The production was controversial for its explicit torture scenes and implicit homosexuality. He later reprised the role for the BBC. In 1972, he founded the Actors' Company with his friend Edward Petherbridge, and this was the beginning of his reputation as a spokesman for actors and the British theatre in general. Between 1974 and 1978, he played leading roles in Royal Shakespeare Company productions such as Romeo and Juliet (in which he played opposite Francesca Annis); a legendary production of Macbeth (opposite Judi Dench); and Trevor Nunn's 1977 production of The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, in which he played Face.
McKellen starred on Broadway in Bent, a play about gay men in Nazi death camps, starting in 1979. Despite his role in the play, which brought to public view for the first time in a widespread way the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany, McKellen was not yet out publicly. At first, he was unsure whether he dared to take the role. "As impressed as I was by it, I thought 'My God! Do I dare be in this?' And Sean read it and replied, 'Well you have to do it'." Since starring in the original Broadway production of Bent, he has been involved in two other productions of the play. In 1990 he starred in the revival at the National Theatre in London directed by Mathias, and also made a supporting appearance in the movie version, also directed by Mathias, which was released in 1997.
McKellen won more and more parts, until eventually in 1980 he won the role of Salieri in the Broadway production of Amadeus. He was awarded the Tony Award for his performance, an honor he was also nominated for in 1984 for his one-man Shakespeare recital Acting Shakespeare. His appearance as Walter, a mentally-handicapped adult adjusting to life on his own after the death of his mother, in a 1982 television play shown on the first night of Channel 4's broadcasting, won him a new following; but he was still a relative unknown to much of the U.S. public (To emphasize his research into roles, prior to production McKellen had himself made up as the character of Walter, a shambling, poorly-dressed man who was obviously mentally-handicapped and went shopping in a British town centre so he could see the reactions of people to his appearance and behaviour).
In 1994 McKellen put together a one-man show, A Knight Out. The show was very successful, and he still performs it today, considering it a perpetual "work in progress". He is a benefactor of the Rose Theatre in London and in January 2006 unveiled a blue plaque on the outside of the building. In 2004, McKellen played Widow Twanky in Aladdin, fulfilling a lifelong wish to play a woman.
In 2007 he returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in Trevor Nunn's productions of The Seagull (sharing the role of Sorin with William Gaunt) and in the title role of King Lear, to great acclaim.
McKellen had taken film roles throughout his career - beginning in 1969 with A Touch of Love, excluding the unreleased The Bells of Hell Go Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling (1966) – but it was not until the 1990s that he became more widely recognised in this medium, through several roles in blockbuster Hollywood movies.
In 1993, McKellen had a supporting role as a South African tycoon in the sleeper hit Six Degrees of Separation, in which he starred with Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and Will Smith. In the same year, he was also exposed to North American audiences in minor roles in the television miniseries Tales of the City (based on the novel by his friend Armistead Maupin) and the movie Last Action Hero, in which he played Death. Also in 1993, McKellen played a large role in the TV movie And the Band Played On, about the discovery of the AIDS virus.
In 1995, he played the title role in Richard III, a film he also co-wrote (adapting the play for the screen based on a stage production of Shakespeare's play directed by Richard Eyre for the Royal National Theatre) and co-produced. In McKellen's role as executive producer he returned his £50,000 fee in order to complete the filming of the final battle. His performance in the title role was critically acclaimed, and he was nominated for Golden Globe and BAFTA awards, and won the European Film Award for best actor.
His breakthrough role for mainstream American audiences came with the modestly acclaimed Apt Pupil, based on a story by Stephen King. McKellen portrayed an old Nazi officer, living under a false name in the U.S., who was befriended by a curious teenager (Brad Renfro) who threatened to expose him unless he told his story in detail. His casting was based partly on his performance in Cold Comfort Farm, seen by Apt Pupil-director Bryan Singer despite the BBFC's refusal to release it in cinemas. He was subsequently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, where he played James Whale, gay director of Show Boat (1936) and Frankenstein.
McKellen has become a major global star by playing leading roles in blockbuster films. He reteamed with Apt Pupil director Bryan Singer to play the comic book character Magneto in X-Men and its sequels X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand. It was while filming X-Men that he was cast as Gandalf in Peter Jackson's three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King). McKellen received honors from the Screen Actors Guild for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his work in The Fellowship of the Ring and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the same role.
On March 16, 2002, he was the host on Saturday Night Live. In 2003, McKellen made a guest appearance as himself on the American cartoon show The Simpsons, in a special British-themed episode entitled "The Regina Monologues", along with Tony Blair and J. K. Rowling. In April and May 2005, he played the role of Mel Hutchwright in Granada Television's long running soap opera, Coronation Street, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. He is also known for his voicework, having narrated Richard Bell's Eighteen, as a grandfather who leaves his WWII memoirs on audiocassette for his teenage grandson.
McKellen has also appeared in limited release films, like Emile (which was shot in a few days during the X2 shoot), Neverwas and Asylum. He appeared as Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code. During a May 17, 2006 interview on The Today Show with the Da Vinci Code cast and director, Matt Lauer posed a question to the group about how they would have felt if the film had borne a prominent disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, as some religious groups wanted. McKellen responded, "I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying 'This is fiction.' I mean, walking on water? It takes. . . an act of faith. And I have faith in this movie—not that it's true, not that it's factual, but that it's a jolly good story." He continued, "And I think audiences are clever enough and bright enough to separate out fact and fiction, and discuss the thing when they've seen it." McKellen also appeared in the 2006 series of Ricky Gervais' comedy series Extras, where he played himself directing Gervais' character Andy Millman in a play about gay lovers. McKellen received a 2007 Emmy nomination for his performance.
Gay rights work
While McKellen had made his sexuality known to his fellow actors early on in his stage career, it was not until 1988 that he came out to the general public, in a programme on BBC Radio 3. The context that prompted McKellen's decision — overriding concerns about a possible negative effect on his career — was that the controversial amendment known popularly as "Section 28" (see below) was under consideration in the United Kingdom Parliament. By this time, McKellen's ten-year relationship with Mathias had ended, removing the additional concern of what effect his coming out would have on his partner's career. McKellen has stated that he was also influenced in his decision by the advice and support of his friends, among them noted gay author Armistead Maupin.
In 2003, during an appearance on Have I Got News For You, McKellen revealed that when he visited Michael Howard, the Conservative Environment Secretary (the Environment Secretary had the brief for local government at the time), in 1988 to lobby against Section 28, Howard refused to change his position but did ask him to leave an autograph for his children. McKellen agreed, but wrote "F*** off, I'm gay."
The amendment in question, Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, proposed to prohibit local authorities from promoting homosexuality 'as a kind of pretended family relationship'. The drafting was open to several interpretations and the actual impact of the amendment was uncertain. McKellen became active in fighting the proposed law, and declared himself gay on a BBC Radio programme where he debated the subject of Section 28 with the conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne. He has said of this period: "My own participating in that campaign was a focus for people take comfort that if Ian McKellen was on board for this, perhaps it would be all right for other people to be as well, gay and straight". Section 28 was, however, enacted and remained on the statute books until 2003. In the intervening period McKellen continued to fight for its repeal and criticised British Prime Minister Tony Blair for failing to concern himself with the issue.
McKellen has continued up to the present to be very active in gay rights efforts. He is a co-founder of Stonewall, a gay rights lobby group in the United Kingdom, named after the Stonewall riots. McKellen is also Patron of LGBT History Month, and GAY-GLOS, formerly known as Gay & Lesbian 'Friend' Helpline (Gloucestershire).
In 1994, at the closing ceremony of the Gay Games, he briefly took the stage to address the crowd, saying, "I'm Sir Ian McKellen, but you can call me Serena." (This nickname, originally given to him by Stephen Fry, had been circulating within the gay community since McKellen's knighthood was conferred.) In 2002 he attended the Academy Awards with his then-boyfriend, New Zealander Nick Cuthell - possibly a first for a major nominee since Nigel Hawthorne, the first openly gay performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, who attended the ceremonies with his partner, Trevor Bentham, in 1995.
In 2006, McKellen spoke at the pre-launch of the 2007 LGBT History Month in the UK, lending his support to the organisation and its founder, Sue Sanders, a personal friend. A video of his speech is available in the external links below. On the 5th January, 2007 McKellen became a patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that provides support to young, homeless and troubled Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people.