Six-time Laurence Olivier award winner and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Sir Ian McKellen has long been a voice for those who face discrimination, prejudice, and those who struggle to be heard. From his notability as both a stage and screen actor to his patronage with charities such as Stonewall and London Pride, McKellen has presented himself to the world as an actor who isn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs.
Born in Lancashire in 1939, McKellen’s childhood was impacted greatly by the struggles faced by the United Kingdom during the Second World War. McKellen’s early life was clouded by the war and in many interviews, he has explained that the experience has never really left him even 70 years on. Living under the roof of a non-orthodox Catholic family, with both grandfather’s being preachers, McKellen never discussed his sexuality until his mother sadly passed away and he finally discussed his homosexuality with his step-mother, who as a Quaker already had more progressive views due to her religious practice.
After receiving a scholarship to study English Literature at Cambridge University, McKellen became a member of the Marlowe Society. This is where McKellen’s integration into the world of theatre began, with his first performances being in a range of Shakespearean plays. In the 1970s, McKellen began to form a close relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Royal National Theatre portraying a range of notable roles over time – even still to this day. From the leading role in Romeo and Juliet (1976) to his performances in recent successes such as King Lear (2017), McKellen will forever remain an integral part of British theatre.
Although McKellen’s roots are grounded in theatre, he turned his nose to acting and has starred in a wide range of feature films since the 1980s. His most notable roles include the 1998 film Gods and Monsters for which he was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards and his appearances as supervillain Magneto in the X-Men film series. After his notability grew, McKellen was cast in the perfect role as wizard Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The film gained him another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actor. His role as Gandalf continued through the trilogy and was reprised his role in The Hobbit trilogy in 2012.
In 1989, McKellen, amongst many other political activists, founded the LBGT rights charity Stonewall. Stonewall, named after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, initially intended to lobby against specific government action however has since grown into a high-profile charity which aims to support and fight for equality amongst everyone. Over his time with the charity, McKellen has spoken out against a multitude of human rights issues and has taken part in political rallies and marches across the country. He has used his position as a notable actor to prove that celebrities can focus on what they believe in without impacting their success, as at 81 Sir Ian McKellen still strives to make a change.
Over the years, it is clear that Sir Ian McKellen has made his voice heard through his immense efforts, and through this has become a powerful icon for pride across the globe.
Stonewall is an LGBT+ rights charity based in the UK. Watch their recent advert below, narrated by Sir Ian McKellen.