By Ellie G
After his recent appearance in Mr. Holmes, I was prompted to take a closer look at Ian McKellen over the years. I learnt a lot.
Much of his most controversial personal life and rise to fame happened before I can remember or in many cases before I was even born (ah the ignorance of youth!) Even seeing “Born: 1939” had my eyes out of my sockets (“Before WW2!!!”) Of course it’s incredibly hard to encompass the entirety of someone’s life in a short blog post; but I’m going to give it go.
The son of a engineer, McKellen was born in Burnley but the family relocated quickly to Wigan and later on to Bolton. McKellen was always interested in acting, especially in theatre, he often notes “I wasn’t fit for anything else!”
Although, he didn’t attend drama school McKellen launched himself into theatre with gusto. Over the years he would come to be a member of f Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company, Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre among others.
McKellen’s first leading role was in D.H Lawrence’s Priest of Love; but he cites his title role appearance in 1995’s, Richard III as the turning point in his career- stating that people began to take notice that he was “more than just a theatre actor”.
He appeared in director Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in 1998 film Gods and Monsters. But, it was his appearance in 2000’s X Men playing supervillain Magneto that shot him into Hollywood notoriety.
His subsequent role as Gandalf has proven to be possibly his most iconic role to date. Although he claims he nearly didn’t take the role due to the time requirements of filming the X Men franchise at the same time. Apparently Peter Jackson convinced him by saying he would sort it out. Famously he almost didn’t reprise the role for the new Hobbit films as he thought he was too old but when he heard William Hurt was rumoured to take the role he decided he couldn’t do that to the fans. Since then he’s had many roles in films such as: The Da Vinci Code, The Prisoner and further X Men titles. In 2005, he also appeared in soap opera Coronation Street stating that it fulfilled a life-long ambition.
Of course you can’t talk about Ian McKellen and not take notice of his relentless gay rights advocacy. McKellen himself came out as gay to the public in 1988 on a BBC radio show. And amazingly he regrets not coming out sooner which is testament to his bravery. At the time he was campaigning against Thatcher’s controversial ‘Section 28’ which prohibited local authorities from promoting homosexuality. Unfortunately, the Section was brought into law and stayed there until 2003 in England and Wales. Since, McKellen has appeared at numerous Pride events and in his closing speech at the Gay Games stated “I’m Sir Ian McKellen, but you can call me Serena” – the nickname given to him by fellow advocate Stephen Fry.
Ian McKellen is without a doubt a national treasure and looks set to continue his career for many years to come. He is a shining example of how celebrity can be used to better ends and also a surprisingly witty, amusing character with one of the most distinctive voices in film today.
What do you think is McKellen most iconic performance? Feel free to comment below.