Sir Ian McKellen weighs in on straight actors playing gay roles debate and reveals his regret at never coming out to his dad

Sir Ian McKellen. Image: BBC

Actor, LGBT+ activist and queer icon Sir Ian McKellen opened up about his life in a new BBC interview


The legendary 82-year-old out actor was being interviewed for BBC Two program Amol Rajan Interviews, where he discussed a range of topics from his life story to wider LGBT+ representation in media. 


Beginning the interview with his signature down to earth style, he responds to his introduction to camera with: “Oh now don’t call me sir,” he says, before adding “I don’t want to be separated from other people. I don’t really like titles.”


During the feature, McKellen – who grew up in a Christian household – heartbreakingly revealed his regret that he never got to come out to his father before his dad died, but that his Dad did get to see him perform in 1964 in the play A Scent of Flowers


When Rajan asked him if he had had “the conversation you needed to have with your father Dennis before he died.” McKellen replied, “No, I didn’t talk about being gay.”


“He’d been to see me in my first show in the West End, I’m always glad of that,” McKellen said. “And three weeks later in a car crash, he’d died.”


McKellen then went on to say, “The idea that he couldn’t have coped with the fact that his son was gay is inconceivable to me, even though I’m not aware that he had any gay friends or that he’d ever thought about it or that it had any impact on his life. Therefore, it might have come as some sort of surprise to him, but there would have been no moral judgment.”


“When I came out to my sister, she said, ‘Oh I wish you’d told me years ago because I always wanted to talk to you about it.’”

Sir Ian also spoke on the ongoing debate in TV/Film about straight actors adopting queer roles, which has become a hot topic of conversation, with many straight actors subsequently expressing regret at taking breakthrough roles playing LGBT+.


‘What do you think of the idea that you should have Jewish people play Jewish characters?’ Rajan asked, referencing Dame Hellen Mirren, who faced backlash earlier this year for being cast as Israel’s former Prime Minister, Golda Meir, despite not being Jewish. Then also adding a second question over whether only gay actors should play gay characters.


“There are two things: is the argument that a gentile cannot play a Jew and is the argument therefore that a Jew cannot play a gentile?” he said.

“Is the argument that a straight man cannot play a gay part, and if so does that mean I can’t play straight parts and I’m not allowed to explore the fascinating subject of heterosexuality in Macbeth?

“Surely not. We’re acting. We’re pretending. Now, are we capable of understanding what it is to be Jewish? Are we going to convince a Jewish audience that we’re Jewish? Perhaps we don’t need to because we are just acting.”


Later in the interview, he was asked about the lack of Academy Award-winning gay actors, to which the 82-year-old  responded: “There aren’t very many of them, I mean openly gay.”


In April 2021, actress Kate Winslet said in an interview that she knows ‘at least 4’ LGBTQ actors terrified of coming out.


Watch the full interview feature with Sir Ian Mckellen here (geographical restrictions may apply).