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Ian McKellen turns 75: 8 great performances from the acting legend

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Sir Ian McKellen celebrates his 75th birthday today (May 25), and what better way to pay tribute to the great man himself than with a collection of his greatest roles.

McKellen has come a long way since starting his acting career at Bolton Little Theatre, with his roles stretching across stage, film and television. Here are eight memorable McKellen roles that are essential viewing…

Macbeth (1976)
McKellen began his career in theatre, nabbing roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre. He memorably tackled the titular role in Trevor Nunn's Macbeth, starring alongside Judi Dench in a critically-lauded production. Below you can see a clip of his brilliant delivery of "tomorrow, and tomorrow…", while here is a great analysis of the text, which Michael Fassbender watched on repeat to perfect young Magneto's voice in X-Men: Days of Future Past.


Richard III (1995)
Director Richard Loncraine teamed up with McKellen to write this adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, which moves the action to an alternative Britain ruled by a fascist government. McKellen was the driving force in getting this film made, and his enthusiasm for the Bard not only showed on-screen, but also attracted the likes of Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent and Robert Downey Jr to sign on.


Gods and Monsters (1998)
A biopic of Frankenstein director James Whale, Gods and Monsters gave McKellen his first Oscar nomination in 1999 and is probably the best film on the CV of Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon. Whale's openness about his homosexuality was unusual in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and this film tracks him in his later years as he develops a close bond with a fictional gardener named Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser).


X-Men (2000-2014)
When it came to casting Professor X and Magneto, Marvel's duelling heads of rival X-Men mutant clans, Bryan Singer turned to two British acting icons in Patrick Stewart and McKellen (who later cemented an epic bromance). The latter brought a dark complexity to the part of Erik Lehnsherr, a man who'd endured hell in Nazi concentration camps and still carries the emotional and physical marks.


The Lord of the Rings (2001-2014)
Sean Connery reportedly turned down the role of Gandalf before McKellen signed up for the career-changing part. Looking back now, it's almost impossible to comprehend anyone else but McKellen in the role. Fellowship of the Ring earned him his second Oscar nomination in 2002, and he returned to the role on five further occasions to bring class and credibility to Peter Jackson's Middle-earth.


Coronation Street (2005)
McKellen held a lifelong ambition to appear in Coronation Street, and he did just that in 2005 playing Mel Hutchwright, a con artist who poses as a novelist in order to swindle Emily, Blanche, Roy, Rita, Audrey and Norris out of some cold, hard cash.


Extras (2006)
Celebs were lining up to lampoon themselves for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's sitcom Extras, and McKellen proved himself to be a man of impeccable comic skill, twisting his own persona while also offering up a unique take on the process of acting.



King Lear (2007)
Despite a skyrocketing film career, McKellen has still made time to appear on stage. In 2007, he reunited with Trevor Nunn for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear. McKellen delivered a sensational performance in the eponymous role, playing a man quickly descending into madness. Watch the entire play below...


What are your favourite Ian McKellen roles? Leave your comments in the space below!

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