Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart have been basking in an epic Twitter bromance while promoting their two New York City plays, No Man's Land and Waiting For Godot, for the past few months. But at a BuzzFeed Brews interview on Friday, Feb. 21, McKellen, who publicly came out of the closet more than 25 years ago, talked seriously about being a gay actor, offered advice to those living in the closet, and beamed while speaking about his X-Men co-star Ellen Page's decision to come out last week.
"I was always openly gay," McKellen said, looking back on his younger days before publicly saying he was gay in 1988. "I had a series of partners and we went everywhere together and we were accepted, living in London in the '60s and '70s, but never making a fuss, never dreaming that we might get married, never dreaming we could have a civil partnership, never dreaming that, should we want to, we could serve in the military. There we certain things we weren't allowed to do and I'm afraid I rather went along with that because I was having a rather good time being an actor."
But when the British government passed an anti-gay law — one, he notes, was akin to the recent controversial law that was passed in Russia — McKellen said he realized he had to come out in a more public manner. "Anyone in public life who comes out, comes out primarily for themselves, and their life is immediately improved. That's what happened to me," he said. "The world [became] a slightly better place."
The actor who's starred as Magneto in the X-Men films also said he signed on for the films after director Bryan Singer explained to him that the mutant superheroes serve as an allegory for the gay community. "I was sold it by Bryan who said, 'Mutants are like gays. They're cast out by society for no good reason,'" he recalled. "And, as in all civil rights movements, they have to decide: Are they going to take the Xavier [Stewart's character] line — which is to somehow assimilate and stand up for yourself and be proud of what you are, but get on with everybody — or are you going to take the alternative view — which is, if necessary, use violence to stand up for your own rights. And that's true. I've come across that division within the gay rights movement."
McKellen noted that, according to Marvel, young Jewish, Black, and gay people are the biggest readers of the X-Men comics. "These are all people who, well, feel a little bit like mutants," he added.
As for those who still feel that way, and are living in the closet, McKellen said, "I feel sorry for anyone who feels the need to lie about themselves. That's not good for you. It doesn't lead to a happy life. And I've never met a gay person who came out and who regretted it. Never. So, my advice to anyone in the closet — it doesn't matter whether they're a teacher, or a politician, or a priest, or an actor — come out. Join the human race."
He cited the recent support one of his X-Men co-stars received after coming out as an example. "All this has come to a happy conclusion, hasn't it? With Ellen Page — Kitty Pryde — coming out. That gladdened my heart so much," he added with a smile.
"For people who are lonely ... reading that about someone whose career they follow is a little bit of a help and encouragement to them to think it does get better."
McKellen hopes that being an out gay actor is his lasting legacy ... that and his lead role in the Lord of the Rings franchise. "I often thought my gravestone would say, 'Here lies Gandalf. He came out,'" he said. "Those are two of the proudest achievements that I've got. I think I've been a part of the rapid sensible movement towards an understanding that gay people are the same as the rest of you and should be treated equally by the law, by society."