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Ten Things About... Ian McKellen

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Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf in 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

© New Line Cinema

He's been twice nominated for an Oscar, has scooped pretty much every major theatrical award going and is up there with the world's finest actors, and yet there are still many people who know him mainly as That Bloke Who Looks A Bit Like A Grumpy Santa Claus in Lord of the Rings.

Sir Ian McKellen will be reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey in upcoming blockbuster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which hits cinemas next week. But for those of you who can't wait that long, we've taken the opportunity to find out ten things we never knew about the star.

1. Ian Murray McKellen was born on 25 May, 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire into a non-orthodox Christian family. At the age of 3 his parents took him to see Peter Pan at Manchester's Opera House and later on his elder sister Jean, who was also into acting, introduced him to Shakespearean theatre. His mother died when he was 12 and he had lost both his parents by the age of 24.

2. His acting career began on stage but he got his Hollywood break when he was cast as comic book supervillain Magneto in the X-Men trilogy. During filming he was offered the role of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.

X-Men, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen


3. In the late 1980s, McKellen joined the legions of vegetarians who still eat fish and narrowly missed out on becoming the 'World's Sexiest Vegetarian'. He also gave up alcohol at the age of 70 (stable door, horse bolting, anyone?) and has become such a strict tea-totaller that even his guests aren't offered a nightcap. Presumably they have to down Ribena when playing their Lord of the Rings drinking games.

4. McKellen came out publicly in 1988 on BBC Radio 3 and lobbied the then-Home Secretary Michael Howard about a law he was putting through, forbidding the "promotion of homosexuality in schools". Howard refused to change his mind on the subject and asked for an autograph on his children's behalf. McKellen happily accepted, writing: "F**k off, I'm gay."

5. Stephen Fry gave him the nickname 'Serena' after McKellen was knighted. McKellen used it at the closing ceremony of the Gay Games in 1994, introducing himself as: "I'm Sir Ian McKellen but you can call me Serena." He is a big campaigner for gay rights and once caused a sensation in Singapore when he asked his interviewer on a morning show if they could recommend a gay bar. That was the end of that programme.


6. He thinks Dumbledore is a pretty poor Gandalf tribute act. McKellen said during a press tour for King Lear in 2009 that people call him Dumbledore in the street and he has to tell them: "No, no, that's Mike Gambon. I play the real wizard - the best wizard." In fact, he was offered the part of Dumbledore when original actor Richard Harris died but refused, partly on personal grounds as Harris had once called him a "dreadful actor".

7. While few would argue that McKellen was well suited to be in the Harry Potter films, it might take a wider stretch of the imagination to see him starring in Twilight. Imagine that - R-Patz fans would have no reason for living. Having said that, McKellen can be seen donning a pair of plastic fangs in the 1988 music video Heart by Pet Shop Boys. Admittedly the result is more Dracula than Edward Cullen but he does get to seduce and steal Neil Tennant's bride before the end of the song.

8. You know that voice before shows and films which nags you to turn your phone off? Well, at London's Royal Festival Hall that's McKellen's voice. Sadly, he says nothing about the Fellowship of the Ringtone.


9. McKellen has twice been nominated for the Teen Choice Awards in the category of - drumroll please - 'Sleazebag'. Now that's one award you wouldn't mind missing out on.

10. During filming for The Hobbit, McKellen rather lost his cool, calm, beardy poise when he threw a tantrum on set. At the end of a "miserable day", he said that he had to film in front of a green screen for a scene with Gandalf and the dwarves. The actor sobbed that being expected to talk to a bunch of sticks with pictures of dwarves stuck on top was not why he became an actor. Afterwards he said: "Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard."

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