Ian McKellen came out as gay during a 1988 radio appearance in England
As McKellen, 84, spoke with Variety recently about his career and his new movie The Critic, the acting icon recalled that his decision to come out as gay helped change how he approached his work and his personal life.
“Almost overnight everything in my life changed for the better — my relationships with people and my whole attitude toward acting changed,” McKellen told the outlet.
McKellen came out during a Jan. 27, 1988 appearance on a U.K. radio broadcast during which he argued against proposed laws in England that would have made it illegal for local authorities to "promote homosexuality."
McKellen has archived a transcript of that radio appearance on his personal website. "I think it's offensive to anyone who is, like myself, homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can or cannot be taught to children," he said of the law at the time, while discussing the issue with then-Sunday Telegraph editor Peregrine Worsthorne.
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The actor later recalled his decision to come out in an article he wrote for Capital Gay magazine in December 1988, also archived on his website. While he noted that many people in his private life had already known he was gay, he admitted at the time that coming out was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"On air, we debated the new law and, riled by the bland pomposity of [Worsthorne's] homophobia, and, honestly, without thinking, I mentioned to those few thousands who tune into Radio 3, that I opposed Section 28 because I was gay," he wrote at the time.
"That I had actually come out probably surprised me more than my being gay can have shocked any listener who knew my work," McKellen added in that article. "Indeed, some of them have written to say that they'd known I was gay for years and couldn't care less. When I told my step-mother, soon after, she said the same."
In McKellen's new movie The Critic, he stars as a closeted 1930s theatre critic in London who puts together an elaborate scheme to save his job in a homophobic time period. The film's director Anand Tucker addressed McKellen's personal connection to the project in the Variety article.
“I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to be gay to play a gay part,” Tucker told the outlet. “But in Ian’s case, there’s something about his own lived experience that allowed him to bring a kind of urgent truth to the role. He had a deep understanding of what it means to be an outsider who is shunned for the truth of who they are.”
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