I thought I wouldn’t be very good at it because I hadn’t had any experience of it. Yes, I was — it was a bother to me. I also used to say to myself — not often, but I did — I can’t let people know I’m gay, otherwise they won’t be able to accept me as being straight in the play or the movie. Well, it’s not true. It doesn’t worry – I don’t care about any actor’s private life. I don’t — their sexuality is of interest, but the point is, is the character they’re playing convincing? Do I believe them? So I think it was just an excuse. And I didn’t want to cut myself off from the possibility of playing Macbeth or King Lear or many of the — Uncle Vanya — parts that are resolutely straight. And that would be, for me, cutting off my nose to spite my face.
However, the first job I took as an actor after having come out was to play as resolute a heterosexual as I could find. And that was a disgraced British politician called John Profumo, who, in the movie Scandal, his story is told about how he lied to Parliament about having had an affair with a prostitute, which he inadvertently shared with a Russian spy. So that wouldn’t do for a cabinet minister.
All right, I played this part on film. And my first job was to appear to be having sex with Joanne Whalley-Kilmer in the marital bed. Well, this would’ve been a joyful scene for any straight actor to play. She’s extremely beautiful and a lovely person, and I didn’t know what to do with her. So I went to a friend, Edward Petherbridge, the actor, who knows about these things. And I said, Edward, I’ve got to do this love scene. Can you explain to me — can you draw me a little diagram? So he did. He gave me some stick figures…Showed me what was possible. So I’m now an expert on the missionary position, and everything went well.”
— Sir Ian McKellen speaking with NPR about concerns he had playing straight love scenes when he was still a closeted actor