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Sir Ian McKellen on Gay Rights, Being Truthful, & Portraying Old Age in Mr. Holmes

Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen, who portrays the titular detective in Mr. Holmes, had some words of wisdom to offer about truthfulness and acting in a recent Vulture interview. As an aged-up portrayal of a late-in-life Holmes, McKellen is playing an even older version of himself, a practice with which he has a lot of experience:

[I am] always playing older. At university, I always played the old parts. I actually thought, If I’m going to be a professional actor, I’ve got to do the difficult thing, which is to play your own age. No disguise. That was hard for me when I wasn’t secure about myself.

McKellen also shared his thoughts about how coming out of the closet had impacted his own thoughts on acting and truthfulness:

I think when I decided to become professional, my only aim, really, was to get better as an actor … It’s not easy to be funny, for me. And you can only be funny if you are absolutely truthful. So, I’ve learned how to do that. It was all at the service, to begin with, of me as a gay man who wasn’t entirely open about being gay, in a job where your only requirement was to be truthful. I was able to express myself in my work in a way that society didn’t want me to express myself in real life, and when I came out, I completed that journey.

The interviewer asked McKellen if any other actors had thanked him for his outspokenness about gay rights, to which McKellen replied,

Well, younger actors, yes. I think actors of my generation just think, “Oh, McKellen is bellyaching on again about gay rights. Shut up!” What they don’t realize is that there are people who need to hear that message. I don’t know about you, but it seemed to me that coming out makes one receptive to other people’s problems. You are aware that your own problems with being gay, visited on you by society, make you sympathetic to people who you’ll never meet in other countries where even worse conditions prevail. I mean, I’ve just had to turn down a lifetime achievement award at the Dubai Film Festival because it is the law of the land that you must not be gay. And a visiting gay person who makes a fuss—and by “fuss” I mean,be themselves—will be thrown in jail or deported. That’s not the happy environment in which you want to receive a present.

Much of the interview focuses on McKellen’s own quest towards getting closer to the truthfulness of himself in his craft and in his own life, which is a beautiful message—and also a delightful one when taken in turn with his comedic chops in this scene from Extras, from whence the gif above hails. McKellen certainly seems to have a handle on the honesty required for both comedy and drama—as well as the honesty required when discussing social issues. Bravo as usual, Sir Ian!

(via The Nerdy Bird, image via Imgur)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (