Sir Ian McKellen is one of Hollywood‘s most respected actors, with a career dating back decades. McKellen has appeared in just about every type of movie, from Shakespeare to the X-Men series. He’s also been a leader for LGBTQ actors in Hollywood for many years.
Ian McKellen made waves when he came out
McKellen had been upfront about his sexuality with his fellow actors since the 1960s, but he didn’t speak about it publicly for many years. It wasn’t until 1988 that McKellen officially came out on a BBC Radio show.
McKellen’s decision was spurred by a controversial law that was being considered in the British Parliament. Section 28 of the Local Government Bill prohibited local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” or “promot[ing] the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
McKellen became active in fighting the proposed law, and came out as gay during a BBC Radio 3 show where he debated Section 28 with a conservative journalist. McKellen has stated that he was influenced to come out thanks to the advice and support of his friends, among them Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin.
Ian McKellen worked with Elliot Page on ‘X-Men’ movies
McKellen’s film career had a renaissance in the decade after he came out. His performance in 1995’s Richard III earned him Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations — no surprise given his extensive experience with Shakespeare productions.
At the turn of the century, McKellen pivoted to blockbuster movie franchises. He played Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, as well as Magneto in the X-Men series.
Working on the X-Men movies meant McKellen got to work with several young actors who were starting to get their break in Hollywood, including Jennifer Lawrence and Elliot Page.
Ian McKellen is thrilled for Elliot Page today
McKellen spoke with Bridgerton star Jonathan Bailey for Attitude magazine where they talked about how the industry’s acceptance of LGBTQ actors has changed and much more. In one part of the interview, McKellen recalled a moment he had with Page on the set of X-Men that spoke to the power that coming out gives someone.
“I remember Elliot Page, in one of the X-Men, sat as close as we are now,” McKellen remembered. “I had to speak when they’d finished, and I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Nobody could hear what they were saying. So, I said, ‘Look, if you can’t speak up, would you mind when you’re finished speaking, just dropping your hand so I know when you’ve finished speaking?’”
McKellen said everything changed after Page first came out as a lesbian. “They came out [as gay] years later and suddenly you couldn’t stop them talking. You heard everything,” McKellen said.
“And now… they’re Elliot. And I’m so happy for Elliot. And so disappointed in myself that I didn’t detect what their difficulty was with communicating,” he continued.
“Everything gets better [when you come out because you get self-confidence],” he told Bailey. “You get better in terms of relationships, friends of all sorts, family, if you’re lucky. And in my case, I think in every case, your acting is bound to change and improve.”