TO SIR, WITH LOVE: Sir Ian McKellen Is Playing the Part of a Lifetime: His Own

By Reynolds, Daniel | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), June-July 2018 | Go to article overview

TO SIR, WITH LOVE: Sir Ian McKellen Is Playing the Part of a Lifetime: His Own


Reynolds, Daniel, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


At long last, a documentary on the life of Ian McKellen is being released. The 78-year-old actor is best known for his roles as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films and Magneto in the X-Men franchise. The doc, McKellen: Playing The Part, covers this chapter, but it also reviews a life full of accomplishments in the worlds of theater and LGBT activism,

Condensing his story into 90 minutes was hardly an easy task. Director Joe Stephenson (Chicken) interviewed the knighted gay actor for 14 hours over the course of five days. "You have to make really tough decisions," admits Stephenson, who also included archival footage, never-before-seen photographs, and even reenactments of the star's life.

"It was quite comfortable for me, because I was sitting in my own home, in my favorite chair," says McKellen, who entrusted his friend to recount his life story as he saw fit.

But the process wasn't stress-free. "I'm a rather shy person who spends his life pretending to be other people," adds McKellen, who fretted about how he would appear in a production that may become his legacy. But he was relieved to see the final product. "Ian McKellen is quite articulate. Isn't it? Very good. He can put a sentence together," he observed.

Overall, the film is a fascinating portrait of the actor's journey from a child in northern England, to his studies at Cambridge, to his rise as an internationally known star of Shakespearean stage and Hollywood screen.

Looking back at his youthful self, McKellen was first taken aback by his own appearance. "I was rather dishy!" he exclaimed. "Nobody ever told me that. So that was a surprise.

And I thought, 'My God, why didn't I take more advantage of that?'" But with age comes experience--upon reviewing his life, he observed he is a better actor and "much more relaxed" today,

There are also chapters that may surprise those who know McKellen as an out activist. In an interview promoting the 1979 original production of Bent, a play about two gay men in a Nazi concentration camp, McKellen plays down the role of sexuality in the drama--and does not mention his own.

To The Advocate, McKellen cited thenexisting sodomy laws as a reason for his silence. But he also admitted he was "a bit frightened" for his career, "If people knew when I was playing Romeo that actually I fancied Mercutio and not Juliet, that I wouldn't be very convincing in the part," he said. …

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