Ian McKellen most proud of his LGBT+ activism

Sir Ian McKellen was the Grand Marshall of the New York LGBT+ Pride Parade in 2015. Kathy Willens, AP.

Sir Ian McKellen has had a long acting career. He is considered one of the preeminent living Shakespearean actors. But he hasn’t let that box him in. In addition to performing the Bard’s work on the stage, he has been acting in movies and on television since 1964.

Perhaps his biggest screen roles have been as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and as Eric Lensherr/Magneto in several X-Men flicks.

But, at 78, that’s not what he is most proud of. McKellen came out in 1988, and has been a steady, hard-working LGBT+ activist ever since, even though the number of his acting roles is daunting.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), he talked about his activism and a documentary about his life.

“In the new documentary: McKellen: Playing the Part, director Joe Stephenson, 28, dives deep into the Academy Award nominated actor’s life, from his beginnings as a stage actor to carrying the weight of playing characters in billion-dollar franchises. Stephenson sets up his camera and lets McKellen do the talking, pulling out interesting stories from a long career,” reports THR.

“In addition to his acting success, Stephenson explores McKellen’s work as a gay rights activist. McKellen, who came out at age 49 in 1988 did so as a political act to fight Britain’s Section 28, which forbade authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality.’ He was a co-founder of the U.K.’s gay rights lobby group Stonewall and continues to fight for gay rights around the world.”

McKellen told THR that the documentary shows the real Ian McKellen, although, “under artificial circumstances, which is with a camera pointing at him, and 20 people behind the camera, and Joe pumping me with questions. It’s not a natural, authentic situation, but given that situation I’m at least in my own chair wearing my own clothes speaking in my own voice in my own home. So it’s likely I’m a bit closer to how I am off-duty than might otherwise have been the case.”

In 1988, Parliament amended Section 28 to say, “a local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

With the activism of McKellen and countless other LGBT+ advocates in the UK, the law was repealed in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in England and Wales.

On the topic of what he would most want to be remembered for, his political activism or his artistic work, McKellen said: “I do a lot of theater, and theater is just for now, it’s just for today. Tonight you know, it’s over, it’s finished, it’s not recorded. Now cinema is quite different, film is eternal as you are. But I do notice, don’t you, that when you look at old films the actors may look young but their acting is rather old-fashioned. In other words there are fashions in acting, and with very few exceptions ones work actually looks worse and worse as the years go by.

“But I’m very proud of my small contributions to changing the law in this country and changing attitudes, all for the better, and I suppose in the scheme of things that is more important and the more merit and longer lasting than any acting that I have done. But that is more for other people to judge, isn’t it?”

He concluded by saying that the upcoming documentary is “a true story, one that means a lot to me, and that Joe has managed to tease out of me. I don’t think there is actually a new set of revelations, you know, but it’s all concise and it’s beautifully done. And there are a few shots of actors playing parts in my life and very touchingly for me, is that they are all played by my friends. I didn’t know they were going to do it. It won’t have much impact on anyone else watching the film, but for me to see ex-lovers coming up and helping tell my story, or actors I’ve worked with, or good friends, that is a very lovely part of its appeal for me.”

You can read the full THR story and interview here.

Copyright The Gayly – November 6, 2017 @ 5:45 p.m. CST.