The Good Man

8 times Sir Ian McKellen busted down closet doors

Like his co-star in The Good Liar Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen is one of a handful of actors who have conquered both the London stage and Hollywood film.

Known for popular roles in the X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises, as well as a long and prestigious stage resume, McKellen has shown no fear in accepting demanding roles, nor has he shown any hesitation in discussing life as a gay man since coming out publicly in 1988. He’s won a Tony for his work in the original Broadway production of Amadeus, two Academy Award nominations, and five Emmys.

Directed by Bill Condon, The Good Liar seduces audiences with a cat-and-mouse thrill ride of plot twists, where no one is who they seem.

In honor of McKellen’s latest cinematic outings, and the release of The Good Liar, we’ve taken a look back at the actor’s impressive history of LGBTQ advocacy. Few actors have used their celebrity to bring attention to the cause of equality as Sir Ian.

The Good Liar is in theaters November 15. Get Tickets Now.

1. Coming out against Section 28

McKellen came out in a BBC interview in 1988 at the age of 49.

McKellen timed his announcement to coincide with the debate over Section 28, British legislation that forbids government local authority to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Though Section 28 passed, McKellen’s courageous decision set the stage for repealing the law in 1993.

2. “F*ck off, I’m gay”

Sir Ian recounts with pride the story of meeting environment secretary Michael Howard, a staunch anti-gay politician, and lobbying him to drop support of Section 28. Howard refused, but had the nerve to hand a McKellen a piece of paper and request an autograph “for his children.” Sir Ian scrawled “F*ck off, I’m gay” and handed the signature to Howard without further explanation.

3. Grand Marshaling

McKellen has never shied away from attending Pride events during his long career. In 2015, he served as Grand Marshal of Manchester Pride. He looks mighty comfortable in a rainbow sash.

4. The Hope of Harvey Milk

To help kick off the 2017 Pride season, McKellen delivered “The Hope Speech,” a stirring oration written by Harvey Milk, originally delivered in San Francisco in 1977. Milk’s words called out the persecution of gay people in the name of family values. The original speech implored people to come out publicly, a cry that has relevance to this day. McKellen recreated it with the dramatic gusto for which he is famous. “Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion,” McKellen has said.

5. Knight Out

Rather than spew showbiz anecdotes in a dusty memoir, McKellen took the story of his life to the stage. Entitled A Knight Out, McKellen held little back as he recounted memories of working as a closeted and out gay man in showbiz. He toured North American and Europe and, much to the delight of his audiences, performed some of his most iconic monologues from film and stage.

6. Remembering John Gielgud

Upon the death of his friend John Gielgud, the world learned that the great English actor lived in the closet while enduring an abusive relationship. McKellen memorialized his fallen friend by reiterating the need for the world to become more accepting. He underlined his message by pointing out the lack of support services for victims of domestic violence in same-sex relationships. “What a pity that he couldn’t accept his honoured position as one of the most distinguished gay men who contributed so much to world theatre and, of late, to the film industry,” he wrote on his own website. I hope he wouldn’t mind my recalling his sexuality even though in doing so, his forecast was part-fulfilled.”

7. Senior Support

In 2019 McKellen announced he would spearhead a new charity initiative aimed at providing support services to LGBTQ people over 50 in the UK. The program will arrange housing and healthcare for elders who lack resources, support networks, and face prejudice in senior living facilities. “Waving the banner for full and total equality, and love, is something that has my total support,” he said.

The Good Liar is in theaters November 15. Get Tickets Now.