Sage advice

Ian McKellen has a message for closeted actors

Anxious actors, unknit those brows: Sir Ian McKellen has just floated into the room to urge all of you not to fret about coming out of the closet.

A segment in the new documentary McKellen: Playing the Part features the revered actor waxing philosophical on his own trials and travails as an openly gay actor, and the 78-year-old has some sage advice for anyone who might be worrying about how their sexuality might hinder their career.

“I think any gay person who does come out will tell you that that is the best thing that they have ever done in their life because they stop lying,” he says. “They tell the truth about themselves.”

“They become altogether a more attractive person, a more confident person. Everything in your life improves, including, in my case, my acting.

I was able to use my work to tell the truth about human nature rather than using it to disguise it. It is not easy to come out for some people. Everyone’s worried that they’ll lose their jobs. Actors think, oh I won’t get jobs anymore. None of it’s true. My career as a film actor took off very shortly after I was honest and came out. So that’s my message to other actors who are having a problem: don’t.”

He also reveals he’d much rather be remembered for his activism than his acting:

“I do a lot of theatre, and theatre is just for now, it’s just for today. Tonight you know, it’s over, it’s finished, it’s not recorded.”

Now cinema is quite different, film is eternal as you are. But I do notice… that when you look at old films the actors may look young but their acting is rather old-fashioned. In other words, there are fashions in acting, and with very few exceptions ones work actually looks worse and worse as the years go by.

But I’m very proud of my small contributions to changing the law in this country and changing attitudes, all for the better, and I suppose in the scheme of things that is more important and the more merit and longer lasting than any acting that I have done. But that is more for other people to judge, isn’t it?”