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Ian McKellen Asked A Straight Friend To Draw A Diagram To Help Him Play A Love Scene With A Woman

936full-ian-mckellenI 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