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Sir Ian McKellen says straight actors should be able to play gay roles

The British acting legend also says he regrets not coming out to his late father.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: BBC

British acting royalty, Sir Ian McKellen, has weighed into the debate on who should play queer roles in film and TV, rejecting calls for gaycharacters to only be played by gay actors.

The actor, well known for his theatre work as well as roles such as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in the X-Men franchise, was speaking to the BBC’s Amol Rajan.

The 82-year-old also revealed that he regrets not telling his father that he was gay before the latter died.

“We’re acting. We’re pretending.”

Discussing the casting of minority roles in light of controversy over the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Israeli leader, Golda Meir, Sir Ian looked at it through an LGBTQ lens pondering, “Is the argument that a straight man cannot play a gay part, and if so, does that mean I can’t play straight parts and I’m not allowed to explore the fascinating subject of heterosexuality in Macbeth?

“Surely not. We’re acting. We’re pretending. Now, are we capable of understanding what it is to be Jewish? Are we going to convince a Jewish audience that we’re Jewish? Perhaps we don’t need to because we are just acting,” he continues.

The actor also revealed the he neve talked to his father about being gay telling Rajan that he “wishes he had”. 

“The idea that he couldn’t have coped with the fact that his son was gay is inconceivable to me, even though I’m not aware that we had any gay friends or that he’d ever thought about it or that it had any impact on his life,” he goes on to say

Sir Ian adds: “Therefore it might have come as some sort of surprise to him, but there would have been no moral judgement.”

The acting legend also discusses his work in schools where he discusses being gay (as well as being Gandalf) and how it was illegal for two men to be openly in love. He says the students he speaks to often think he’s talking about “a foreign, distant land.”

Amol Rajan Interviews… Sir Ian McKellen is on the BBC iPlayer now.

Attitude’s new-look March/April issue is out now.