Happy 70th birthday to an authentic acting legend: Sir Ian McKellen. Already an accomplished and justly celebrated performer in the theatre before he achieved success on the big screen, Sir Ian has excelled in everything from Michael Mann’s underrated slab of Nazi gothic ‘The Keep’ to Bill Condon’s ‘Gods and Monsters’, in which his portrayal of director James Whale pretty much fits the description “unforgettable”.
Of his appearances as, respectively, Magneto and Gandalf in the insanely popular ‘X-Men’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogies … well, the enduring appeal of the films and the man himself speaks volumes.
And you’ve got to love someone who, at the absolute height of his cinematic popularity, fulfilled a long-held ambition by appearing in ‘Coronation Street’. But why be surprised? This is, after all, the man who single-handedly made ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – a whopping pile of fetid bum-dung whenever Sir Ian’s not onscreen – somehow watchable.
There’s a lot of reasons to admire Sir Ian McKellen, a lot of reasons why I’m raising a large glass to him tonight. One of those reasons is his support of LGBT rights. Sir Ian is co-founder of Stonewall and a patron of, amongst others, Pride London and The Lesbian and Gay Foundation. He has spoken of tearing out homophobic passages from Gideon Bibles while staying in hotel rooms and caused the plug to be pulled on a TV interview in Singapore when he asked if the host could recommend a local gay bar.
All good stuff, but it’s the political aspect to his activism that stirs the blood. When he came out in 1988, he was vocal in his opposition of Section 28 (a controversial legislation then being considered by the Conservation government that stipulated local councils should “not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”; in short, a law that would have hamstrung gay rights and consciousness-raising about gay rights). At a meeting with MP Michael Howard, the politician not only refused to change his stance on Section 28 but had the temerity to ask Sir Ian to sign an autograph … which he did, annotating it “Fuck off, I’m gay.”