It just occurred to me that I really don’t give Sir Ian McKellen enough love. I’ve always liked the man – the first time I think I was ever aware of his acting presence was in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, where Sir Ian played James Whale, the director of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein films. Which basically means I’ve been Sir Ian’s fan for more than a decade, but at least give me credit for knowing who he was before Lord of the Rings and X-Men.
Anyway, Sir Ian has a new interview in Details Magazine. It’s a lovely, charming interview with a man who has basically seen it all and done it all. The biggest headline out of this interview is slightly unfortunate, though, and I’m afraid Sir Ian might face the wrath of a lot of Christians. Just keep this in mind – he’s gay, and he’s not ashamed of his life, and he doesn’t think much of institutionalized and codified homophobia. Details asks Sir Ian, “Is it true that when you stay at hotels you tear out the Bible page that condemns homosexuality?” Sir Ian answers: “I do, absolutely. I’m not proudly defacing the book, but it’s a choice between removing that page and throwing away the whole Bible.” Here’s the full interview:
Details: I heard you were dreading turning 70. Why?
Ian McKellen: I don’t really like being with people my own age for long periods, because all we talk about is our decrepitude, how the world is changing for the worse even though it isn’t. When you grumble about a taxi being dirty, people your own age will absolutely agree with you, whereas younger people say, “You should be so lucky to have a taxi—I walk to work!” So I have lots of young friends, who fortunately don’t treat me as a guru, a person that knows all the answers. I’m just one of the gang—trying to get through it, you know?
Details: You didn’t come out until you were 49. Did having to put on an act make it easier to do so professionally?
Ian McKellen: That’s a very good point. I think that explains why a lot of actors of my generation are gay. Acting was a means to publicly display my emotions in a way that was illegal for me to do as a private person. Outside London where I lived, there was no gay pub or bar you could go to. And even if you found one, it was “Knock three times and ask for Louis.” It was horrible living this secret life. You could feel a little bit what it was like to be a Jew in central Europe during a certain period. It was horrible.
Details: Are there any real benefits to being a “Sir?” Do you get bumped up to first class when you fly?
Ian McKellen: No, I don’t. It’s actually more of an annoyance, that title. And I don’t think I’m a saint. It’s all nonsense really, but if you live in a society where there are civilian awards, it seems a little bit churlish to say “I don’t want it.” I’m just trying to think of one advantage and I don’t think there is one.
Details: There can’t be many gay knights. Do you all ever get together or plan outings?
Ian McKellen: Well, there have been many gay knights in the past—like Sir Noël Coward, or Sir John Gielgud. But the difference between them and people like myself and Sir Tony Sher is that we are out and they weren’t. But no—no, we don’t get together. I think we all find it slightly embarrassing. We should probably have said we won’t accept it—we only need one generation to do that and the tradition would wither away. What’s a little uncomfortable is you think the Establishment wants to absorb everybody. The problem with refusing the title is, if society decides that you are qualified for knighthood, then they have to take you seriously.
Details: Have you ever wanted to get married?
Ian McKellen: It’s never crossed my mind that it’d ever be possible for me. That’s the scar that I and so many others bear—we believed ourselves to be second-rate citizens for so long, the idea of being able to say “This is my husband, these are my children” was not an option. I remember Tom Stoppard saying to me when I came out, “I feel so sorry for you, because you’ll never have children.” These days I would say, “Well, why not, Tom?” But 20 years ago I accepted his judgment.
Details: Is it true that when you stay at hotels you tear out the Bible page that condemns homosexuality?
Ian McKellen: I do, absolutely. I’m not proudly defacing the book, but it’s a choice between removing that page and throwing away the whole Bible. And I’m not really the first: I got delivered a package of 40 of those pages—Leviticus 18:22—that had been torn out by a married couple I know. They put them on a bit of string so that I could hang it up in the bathroom.
Details: So did you?
Ian McKellen: It is in the bathroom, yes, but it’s too much of a curiosity to actually put to use.
Details: Does it trouble you that after becoming one of the great Shakespearean players you’ll probably be remembered as the wizard from a CGI blockbuster?
Ian McKellen: I’m well aware that when I go, the London Evening Standard billboard is going to say GANDALF DIES. No, it’s fine. Gandalf is a great character, and I ride on the back of his popularity, not the other way around. And you could say I’ve missed out on having kids but I’ve grandfathered so many children through the role.
Details: Your film Gods and Monsters deals with seduction across a big age gap. Seeing as you’re still single, has the art of seduction changed for you?
Ian McKellen: [laughing] Well, I’ve never been good at seducing, and I’ve never wanted to be seduced. You might be surprised by how interested young people are in older people. It’s always assumed that the older person is the predator, but in fact you see young people out at the pubs approaching older people.
Details: Why do you think that is?
Ian McKellen: Because they think the old people know more and they’re wise. The huge difference in my lifetime is that you can just go up to somebody and make a pass. You couldn’t do that in the 1950s if you were gay. There were secret handshakes, a secret language. There was nowhere you could go to be romantic outside of people’s houses.
Details:It’s rumored that you have a tattoo.
Ian McKellen: I do. It’s of the number nine in elvish, because there are nine members in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Details: Did getting it hurt?
Ian McKellen: I don’t remember. But Elijah Wood was holding my hand the entire time.
Oh, please don’t boycott him, Christians. He’s a good man! And he’s not defacing the whole Bible, just the one part of it that is used to disrespect his sexuality. Also, I love when he talks about all of the “young people” who hit on the older folks. I bet Sir Ian gets all kinds of the crazy, gay LOTR fanboys with a Gandalf fetish. Oh, I bet he gets the gay X-Men fanboys too! If I was a gay fanboy, I would hit it. He’s so cute!
Here’s Sir Ian McKellen at the Breakfast at Tiffany’s press night held at The Theatre Royal Haymarket in London on September 29th. Images thanks to WENN.com .