Ian McKellen Once Lost a Role to Ben Kingsley and Jeremy Irons Because of His Sexuality

Iconic actor and Hobbit star Ian McKellen has been very open about his sexual preferences and how that once affected him in the industry. At one point, his sexuality cost him a role he pursued that would later go on to two other fellow actors.

Ian McKellen once shared that coming out made him a better actor

Ian McKellen speaking on stage.
Ian McKellen | Kirsty Wigglesworth-WPA Pool/Getty Images

McKellen first came out publicly during a 1988 BBC Radio 3 interview. The X-Men alum would join in on a discussion about a local government bill that aimed to stop authorities from promoting homosexual material. It was a bill that McKellen didn’t approve of.

“It’s offensive to anyone who is – like myself – homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can and cannot be taught to children,” McKellen said according to BBC.

For the esteemed actor, coming out helped him on both a professional and personal level. He wasn’t only much more content after his reveal, but he also saw his acting abilities improve.

“And with the media, it was like a millstone that I didn’t know had been around my neck and that fell off. And what happened immediately, according to friends, is I became not just a happier person, but a better actor,” he said in a 2015 interview with HuffPost. “I think up to that point, I had been using acting as a disguise — somewhere where I could express my emotions, and draw attention to myself in a way that I didn’t particularly want to do in real life. Acting became not about disguise, but about telling the truth. And my emotions became much freer. I was able to act better as I think you are able to do any job. Everyone’s better if they’re being honest.”

Ian McKellen once lost a movie role because of his sexuality

Although McKellen once asserted that coming out did wonders for his career, at one point it did have a slight drawback. The Lord of the Rings actor revealed that doing so cost him a movie role once. But it was the only role he’d lost because of his sexuality in the years he’d been openly gay.

“I remember losing only one job because of my coming-out. I was supposed to play one of the lead roles in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal who were eventually given to Ben Kingsley and Jeremy Irons,” he once told the German magazine Allgemeine Zeitung (via Contact Music). “The producer Sam Spiegel dropped a sexist comment about wives during a meeting and when I replied I was fortunate to be gay I was quickly shown the door.”

But it wasn’t an ordeal that truly bothered the actor given that he expected that outcome eventually.

“I didn’t care, though. I know back then my agent strongly advised me against coming out. A lot of my friends thought it was very courageous. For me it was simply inevitable,” he said.

Ian McKellen became an actor because he was interested in meeting other like-minded professionals

Feeling alone in his younger years, McKellen figured he had a better chance meeting people who shared his preferences in theater. It was one of the veteran actor’s reasons for getting into the field.

“I’d heard that a lot of professional actors were gay. Acting seemed like a chance for me to meet like-minded people,” he said. “You know, at that time same-sex love in Britain got you into prison. Homosexuality was being completely hushed up. Gay teachers, politicians or firemen – that was something unthinkable. When I was young I thought I was the only gay Brit. That’s why I was glad to find people like me in the actors guild.”

McKellen also advised his fellow actors that coming out may have been better than the alternative.

“I’m not urging anyone to do the same, but the alternative option is horrible: lies, fear, secrecy. Every self-confessed homosexual I have met assured me his coming-out was the best decision of his life,” he added.

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