Ian Mckellen. Words can’t possibly do justice to explaining such an incredible actor’s career. Nevertheless, I shall do my best. With a repertoire ranging from beautiful Shakespearean theatre classics to modern science fiction and fantasy, Ian McKellen really can do it all.
Ian McKellen On Stage
Beginning his professional stage career in 1961, Ian McKellen played a wide variety of roles in his time as a stage actor, culminating in his one-man show, Ian McKellen On Stage, performed throughout 2019. In 1965, he made his first appearance in the West End and became a member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company. Then, with the Prospect Theatre Company in 1969, he played the lead role in both Richard II and Edward II.
In the years that followed, Ian McKellen would cement his place as a great British theatre actor. He performed with The Royal Shakespeare Company, in some of his most widely known performances, Macbeth (as Macbeth), alongside Dame Judi Dench, and Othello (as Iago).
After many years of screen acting, he returned to the stage in 2007 to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company once again. This time, he performed as King Lear, adding another notable role to his already impressive record. 2009 saw him appear alongside Sir Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot. Furthermore, he appeared as Prospero (The Tempest) during the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics.
If you don’t have much theatre experience to boast of, such as myself, you may know Ian McKellen from another role. I would happily take a guess at that role being Gandalf the Grey, one of fantasy’s most famous wizards. His appearance in 2001 as the wise mentor was my first introduction to the legendary actor. Of course, he’s performed in a plethora of roles on screen. However, I won’t go into too great a detail as there’s an awful lot to cover.
Being only 8 when the Fellowship of the Ring was released, my exposure to the rich, expansive world of Middle Earth had an everlasting effect on me. The fantasy genre, and Tolkien’s works specifically, have been a monumental focus throughout my life. Naturally, I was more than excited for the release of The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003. As I explored my geeky interests further, I was introduced the X-Men. Once again, I was delighted to see a familiar face, only this time, he was Magneto, a villain of sorts but understandably so (it’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose).
When The Hobbit was announced I was overjoyed. I had watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy multiple times over the past decade and the thought of a new glimpse in to Middle Earth was a dream come true. I must admit, despite what some may think, I loved them; being able to return to Tolkien’s world was incredible. Not in the least because I had missed Gandalf dearly.
For those of you who enjoy different genres, you may also have seen Ian McKellen in The DaVinci Code (2006) as Sir Leigh Teabing. If you enjoy Disney, you probably recognised him in Beauty and the Beast (2017) as Cogsworth.
The Way It Ought To Be
Throughout his life, Ian McKellen has been very outspoken in his support for the LGBTQ+ community. He has approached the issue of LGBTQ+ rights with a brutal honesty that is quite frankly, inspiring. By brutal honesty, I mean, the way that he speaks about the subject is often very black and white. He points out the situation exactly as it is and follows swiftly with his solid reasoning of how things ought to be instead. For example, during his address at the Oxford Union he said “Why the f*ck do we have labels? The only label any of us needs is our name”. If you haven’t seen it then I fully recommend watching it. He manages to present the subject as a very defined path; what the goal is and how to get there. He also gives more of a glimpse in to his own experiences of being gay.
Obviously, strides have been made, especially in recent years but there is still more work to be done. Many of the changes have been legal (with a few saddening cases where laws in certain states or countries have regressed) and it is worth remembering that legal changes are often prompt once the decision has been reached. However, the more difficult change to action is a change in the morality and understanding with which people approach LGBTQ+ rights and social equality. Changing the minds of others is a hard fought battle and can take years, if not, generations. Ian McKellen has explained this more succinctly than I could; “Changing the law is relatively easy, it’s just a question of making the case, but we’re still left with the problem of changing people’s hearts and minds…and that will take much longer.”
From a personal standpoint, I’ve never really seen the reason why it needs to be argued over. It’s a fairly simple situation. Let me explain. I understand that it’s a heavily debated topic and obviously LGBTQ+ rights and equality should be argued for. But that’s the point, it’s obvious, to me and millions of others. Why shouldn’t there be equality, what difference does being gay/bi/trans actually make? It doesn’t. Human rights are exactly that, HUMAN rights. Humans are such a wonderfully varied race. No two people are exactly the same so why should certain differences matter more than others? You are either for LGBTQ+ rights or you are wrong, it really is that simple. The only reason you should care about why someone else is different to you is purely because you want to get to know them better as a person. Because you care.
LOTR Marathon, Anyone?
So, to bring everything to a close, Ian McKellen is a superb actor. He is capable of playing a huge range of roles and genres. Whilst I am very familiar with his screen performances I certainly feel as though I am missing out by never having seen him on stage (in person). However, I have seen clips and videos of his stage performances which are incredible. Few actors have had such a profound effect on me (and from such a young age).
I hope you all feel inspired to see more of his performances and support the LGBTQ+ community alongside him. Happy Birthday, Ian McKellen!
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