Sir Ian McKellen has responded in his customary gracious, generous and genial style to comments by Damian Lewis that he has ended up playing wizards. Sir Ian is not only glad to be Gandalf, he appreciates having leading parts in “extremely popular movies.”
In an interview in October, Lewis, now best known for his role as Sergeant Brodie in Homeland, said that he did not want to “end up” as one of those “slightly over the top, fruity actors” who have great stage careers, and then nothing in film until they turn 50 and “start playing wizards.” It was pretty obvious to whom he was referring.
The thespian knight, who is now 74, retorted to the Radio Times, that if Lewis felt sorry for him, he need not. Far from reacting with hostility, he said the comments were “fair” but that he was very happy. He feels his acting prowess has progressed throughout his illustrious career. “I’ve always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better.”
No-one ought to feel sorry for him, or for Michael Gambon, who plays Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, said McKellen; nor for anyone who has “fallen victim to success.”
As for the “fruity voice” which is somewhat the trademark of the star of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, as well as the X Men franchise, he puts this down to training. He was taught, like an opera singer, to fill a large space and to amplify his voice.
Sir Ian came out as gay when he was 50 and likes to think that Gandalf might be gay. There is no reason to suppose he may not be. “I don’t think the audience gives a damn” McKellen believes. He is the one who feels sorry for young actors, if they are afraid to reveal their sexuality. He said he loved it when JK Rowling said Dumbledore was gay.
On that note however, the septuagenarian actor has recently been advised not to travel to Russia. Although he is currently on Broadway appearing in Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land at the Cort Theatre, with old friend Sir Patrick Stewart, he is disappointed to have been warned by the UK Government not to plan a trip.
Sir Ian would love to visit the land of “Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, Rudolf Nureyev” only two and a half hours from London; but laws that came into effect in June inhibit gay rights in Russia. It is forbidden to pass on information about homosexuality to those under 18, but the fears are that this specific offence can be open to all sorts of loose interpretation. Foreign Office officials have said to Sir Ian, it is not safe for him there.
Meantime, he is relishing his time back on the Broadway boards, 46 years after hid debut performance there. That was with Judi (now Dame Judi) Dench in The Promise. Later, he won a Tony for Amadeus. He has described the audiences as “some of the brightest in the world, and certainly some of the most enthusiastic.” He has been getting rave reviews which is great, as he plans to make this his final appearance and hopes “to go out with a bang.” ABC News called McKellen and Stewart “theatre gods” and theatre critic David Rooney swooned about, “The gravitas, penetrating intelligence and mercurial wit” that the veteran actors bring to the Beckett plays.
Sir Ian McKellen may be typecast as Gandalf to a younger generation, but he has a long and distinguished record in his art. He is glad to be gay, glad to be Gandalf, and glad to still be gathering plaudits at the age of 74.
By Kate Henderson