Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CH, CBE (born 25 May 1939), is an English stage and screen actor, the recipient of the Tony Award and two Academy Award nominations. His work has spanned genres from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. He is known to many for roles such as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and as Magneto in the X-Men films.
He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979, and knighted in the 1991 New Year Honours for his outstanding work and contributions to the theatre. In the 2008 New Year Honours he was made a Companion of Honour (CH) for services to drama and to equality.
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 (née 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."
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 the 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 play, 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 with the role of Bottom played by Jean McKellen. (Jean continued to act, direct, and produce amateur theatre up to her recent death.)
He won a scholarship to St. Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, when he was eighteen, 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 lasted 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.
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, the 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 the wizard 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. He also voiced Gandalf in the two video game adaptions of the film trilogy. He will reprise the role for the upcoming prequel The Hobbit.
On 16 March 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 World War II memoirs on audiocassette for his teenage grandson. McKellen has also appeared in limited release films, such as 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 17 May 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.
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 claimed 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 "Fuck 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 [to] 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 to be very active in LGBT rights efforts. Indeed, in a statement on his website on his activism, the actor comments that
I have been reluctant to lobby on other issues I most care about - nuclear weapons (against), religion (atheist), capital punishment (anti), AIDS (fund-raiser) because I never want to be forever spouting, diluting the impact of addressing my most urgent concern; legal and social equality for gay people worldwide.
McKellen is a co-founder of Stonewall, a LGBT rights lobby group in the United Kingdom, named after the Stonewall riots. McKellen is also Patron of LGBT History Month, Pride London, GAY-GLOS and The Lesbian & Gay Foundation.
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 5 January, 2007, McKellen became a patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that provides support to young, homeless and troubled gay, lesbian and transgender people.
In 2006, McKellen became a Patron of Oxford Pride. At the time he said:
I have been to many Pride occasions across the World, from being Grand Marshall in San Francisco to the first ever gay march in Johannesburg in post-apartheid South Africa. Wherever gay people gather publicly to celebrate their sense of community, there are two important results. First, onlookers can be impressed by our confidence and determination to be ourselves and, second, gay people, of whatever age, can be comforted by the occasion to take first steps towards coming out and leaving the closet forever behind. I send my love to all member of Oxford Pride, their sponsors and supporters, of which I am proud to be one.
McKellen has also taken his activism internationally, where it caused a major stir in Singapore. Invited to do an interview on a morning show, he shocked the interviewer by asking if they could recommend him a gay bar. The program immediately ended. Homosexuality is illegal in Singapore.
|Alfred the Great||Roger|
|A Touch of Love||George Matthews|
|1981||Priest of Love||Lawrence|
|1982||The Scarlet Pimpernel||Paul Chauvelin|
|1983||The Keep||Dr. Theodore Cuza|
|1985||Plenty||Sir Andrew Charleson|
|Zina||Kronfeld () () ()|
|1993||Six Degrees of Separation||Geoffrey Miller|
|The Ballad of Little Jo||Percy Corcoran|
|Last Action Hero||Death|
|And the Band Played On||Bill Kraus|
|1994||To Die For||Quilt Documentary Narrator (voice)|
|The Shadow||Dr. Reinhardt Lane|
|I'll Do Anything||John Earl McAlpine|
|Richard III||Richard III|
|Jack and Sarah||William|
|1997||Swept from the Sea||Dr. James Kennedy|
|1998||Apt Pupil||Kurt Dussander|
|Gods and Monsters||James Whale||Academy Award nominated|
|2000||X-Men||Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto|
|Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man||Narrator|
|2001||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||Gandalf the Grey||Academy Award nominated|
|2002||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||Gandalf the White||also voiced the video game|
|Tusker||Tusker||animated voice over|
|2003||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||Gandalf the White||also voiced the video game|
|X2||Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto|
|Asylum||Dr. Peter Cleave|
|The Magic Roundabout||Zebedee (voice)|
|Flushed Away||The Toad (voice)|
|X-Men: The Last Stand||Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto|
|The Da Vinci Code||Sir Leigh Teabing|
|The Golden Compass||Iorek Byrnison (voice)|