With a career stretching across six decades of stage and screen, Sir Ian McKellen is one of the best known and most respected actors of his generation. Now in his 80s, he is returning to the stage to play Hamlet, a role he first played on stage 50 years ago, and originally created for his parents aged 11, using a toy theatre he had received as a Christmas gift.
Ian Murray McKellen was born in 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire in the north of England. He was interested in acting from an early age and with the help and support of his parents, he developed a love of Shakespeare. To fuel this passion, McKellen attended Cambridge University studying English Literature and quickly found the first of his many stage roles.
McKellen moved from stage to screen in the late 1960s, but did not find fame until the 1990s when he worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero. His list of film credits on IMDb includes 122 films, ranging from classical Shakespeare as Richard III, to modern sci-fi as Magneto in the X-Men franchise. He is most famous for his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit movies, gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. He was also Oscar nominated as Lead Actor in 1999 for his portrayal of James Whale in Gods and Monsters.
His most recent performance was in the big screen version of Cats, and he has also appeared in The Good Liar, alongside fellow British actor, Helen Mirren, and played Cogsworth in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. The fifteen movies in which he has played a leading role have made almost $2billion.
Returning to the stage
McKellen is returning to the stage in London to reprise his role as Hamlet in 2021, telling BBC news that he doesn’t see his age as a problem. “I played Gandalf, who is over 7000years old, and no one ever said I was too young!” he joked. “When I was young playing an older character, I had no idea what that was actually like. At least I know what it is like to be younger.” Octogenarian actors have been doing well recently, with Sir Anthony Hopkins defying the best online odds in favour of Chadwick Boseman to collect the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Father.
When it comes to accolades, McKellen has won every stage award available in British theatre, along with numerous other accolades. He has seven Olivier Awards, a Tony, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe, and has been nominated for five Primetime Emmys and four BAFDTA awards. He was also recognised in the Annie animation awards, winning Best Voice Acting for his portrayal of The Toad in Flushed Away.
Sir Ian McKellen is openly gay and was one of the founders of the Stonewall gay rights movement. He has had two long term relationships, with Brian Taylor between 1964 and 1972, and with Sean Mathias between 1978 and 1988. He is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, a status which allowed him to officiate at the wedding of great friend and fellow English Shakespearean / sci-fi actor Patrick Stewart in 2013.
Sir Ian McKellen’s net worth is estimated to be around $55million. He has enjoyed the Freedom of the City of London since 2014.