Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CH, CBE (born 25 May 1939) is an English actor. He is the recipient of six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and two Critics’ Choice Awards. He has also received two Academy Award nominations, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy Award nominations. McKellen’s work spans genres ranging from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. His most well known film roles include Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and Magneto in the X-Men films.
McKellen was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1979, knighted in 1991 for services to the performing arts, and made a Companion of Honour for services to drama and to equality, in the 2008 New Year Honours. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in October 2014.
McKellen was born on 25 May 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire, the son of Margery Lois (née Sutcliffe) and Denis Murray McKellen, a civil engineer. He was their second child, with a sister, Jean, five years his senior. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, his family moved to Wigan. They lived there through the war and his early childhood. They relocated to Bolton in 1951, after his father had been promoted. The experience of living through the war as a young child had some lasting impact on him, and he later claimed that “only after peace resumed … did I realise that war wasn’t normal.” In response to an interview question, when an interviewer remarked that he seemed quite calm in the aftermath of 11 September attacks, he said: “Well, darling, you forget—I slept under a steel plate until I was four years old.”
McKellen’s father was a civil engineer and lay preacher, and was of Protestant Irish and Scottish descent. Both of McKellen’s grandfathers were preachers, and his great-great-grandfather, James McKellen, was a “strict, evangelical Protestant minister” in Ballymena, County Antrim. His home environment was strongly Christian, but non-orthodox. “My upbringing was of low nonconformist Christians who felt that you led the Christian life in part by behaving in a Christian manner to everybody you met.” When he was 12, his mother died; his father died when he was 24. Of his coming out of the closet to his stepmother, Gladys McKellen, who was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, he said, “Not only was she not fazed, but as a member of a society which declared its indifference to people’s sexuality years back, I think she was just glad for my sake that I wasn’t lying anymore.”
McKellen attended Bolton School (Boys’ Division), of which he is still a supporter, attending regularly to talk to pupils. McKellen’s acting career started at Bolton Little Theatre, of which he is now the patron. An early fascination with the theatre was encouraged by his parents, who took him on a family outing to Peter Pan at the Opera House in Manchester when he was three. When he was nine, his main Christmas present was a wood and bakelite, fold-away Victorian theatre from Pollocks Toy Theatres, with cardboard scenery and wires to push on the cut-outs of Cinderella and of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.
His sister took him to his first Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, by the amateurs of Wigan’s Little Theatre, shortly followed by their Macbeth and Wigan High School for Girls’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with music by Mendelssohn, with the role of Bottom played by Jean McKellen, who continued to act, direct, and produce amateur theatre until her death.
When he was 18 years old, McKellen won a scholarship to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he read English literature.
McKellen and his first partner, Brian Taylor, a history teacher from Bolton, began their relationship in 1964. Their relationship lasted for eight years, ending in 1972. They lived in London, where McKellen continued to pursue his career as an actor. For over a decade, he has lived in a five-storey Victorian conversion in Narrow Street, Limehouse. In 1978 he met his second partner, Sean Mathias, at the Edinburgh Festival. This relationship lasted until 1988. According to Mathias, the ten-year love affair was tempestuous, with conflicts over McKellen’s success in acting versus Mathias’s somewhat less-successful career. Mathias later directed McKellen in Waiting For Godot at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2009. The pair entered into a business partnership with Evgeny Lebedev, purchasing the lease on The Grapes public house in Narrow Street.
McKellen is an atheist.
In 2001, Ian McKellen received the Artist Citizen of the World Award (France).
In the late 1980s, McKellen lost his appetite for meat except for fish, and so mostly excludes it from his diet.
He has a tattoo of the Elvish number nine, written using Tengwar, on his shoulder in reference to his involvement in the Lord of the Rings and the fact that his character was one of the original nine companions of the Fellowship of the Ring. The other actors of “The Fellowship” (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan and Viggo Mortensen) have the same tattoo. John Rhys-Davies, whose character was also one of the original nine companions, arranged for his stunt double to get the tattoo instead.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. In 2012, McKellen stated on his blog that “There is no cause for alarm. I am examined regularly and the cancer is contained. I’ve not needed any treatment.”
He became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church in early 2013 in order to preside over the marriage of his X-Men co-star Patrick Stewart to his then fiancée Sunny Ozell. McKellen was awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge University on 18 June 2014, becoming a Doctor of Letters.
He was made a Freeman of the city of London on Thursday 30 October 2014. The ceremony took place at Guildhall in London. McKellen was nominated by London’s Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf, who said he was chosen as he was an “exceptional actor” and “tireless campaigner for equality”.