In an interview this week, Ian McKellen, the openly gay actor who has played such iconic roles as Gandalf and Magneto, unloaded on Hollywood for what he describes as its refusal to acknowledge the existence of gay people and minorities.
McKellen, 78, came out as gay in 1988 and has since become, as the Guardian puts it, “the most famous openly gay movie star.”
Speaking with Time Out, McKellen, who was once approached to play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, faulted the filmmakers’ decision not to show young Dumbledore as “explicitly gay” for the upcoming sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Hollywood has consistently failed to admit “that there were gay people knocking around, even though half of Hollywood is gay,” he said.
“The younger Dumbledore isn’t explicitly gay in the new ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movie,” the interviewer said. “Why do you think there are so few gay characters in blockbusters?”
“Isn’t he?” McKellen responded. “That’s a pity. Well, nobody looks to Hollywood for social commentary, do they?”
McKellen then slammed Hollywood for its handling of minorities, women and gay people.
“They only recently discovered that there were black people in the world,” he said. “Hollywood has mistreated women in every possible way throughout its history. Gay men don’t exist. ‘Gods and Monsters,’ I think, was the beginning of Hollywood admitting that there were gay people knocking around, even though half of Hollywood is gay.”
In “Gods and Monsters” (1998), McKellen played the role of James Whale, a homosexual director whose work included “Frankenstein.”
Asked if being openly gay ever cost him any roles, McKellen said, “One.”
“Harold Pinter wanted me to be in a film of his [1983’s ‘Betrayal’], and he took me to meet the producer, Sam Spiegel,” said McKellen. “We sat in Spiegel’s office and I happened to say that I was going to New York. He said, ‘Will you be taking the family?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a family, I’m gay.’ I think it was the first time I came out to anyone. Well, I was out of that office in two minutes. It took Pinter 25 years to apologize for not sticking up for me. But young actors in London now have all been out for years. That’s the future.”
McKellen also addressed why he never ended up playing Dumbledore. When the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, was ill, McKellen says he was asked if he’d consider being his replacement. He said “Absolutely,” but never heard anything about it again. “Before Richard Harris died he took time out to tell the world that he thought certain actors were rubbish – and my name was on this rather short list. With Kenneth Branagh’s. I was in good company,” he said.
The Guardian notes that LGBT advocacy group GLAAD is calling for Hollywood to include gay characters in 50% of their mainstream films by 2024. According to the group, the current percentage is 12.8%. According to recent Gallup surveys, around 4% of Americans identify as gay.