Ian McKellen has been interviewed by John Wilson for BBC Radio 4's Front Row, talking about his life, his career, and his decision to return to the lead role of Hamlet. During the forty-five-minute interview, he also talked about his gay activism over the years and the effects of another radio interview he gave in 1988, in which he mentioned he was gay, publicly, for the first time. And how at the time in Britain it was only him and Simon Callow.
Ian McKellen noted that his movie career took off after he came out as an actor, as it increased his fame, but also that his life experiences made him a better actor, which may also have something to do with it. "Is it any wonder that my acting got better? It did, almost overnight. Now my acting is not about disguise but about revelation." But he also mentioned a couple of roles he lost as a result of that and did not go into details. But when pressed, he mentioned, "a film Harold Pinter asked me to be in and when the producer heard I was gay, the suggestion I should be in the film was rescinded, and I was invited to leave the office. And Harold Pinter – it's an indication of how intense homophobia can be – he, the great fighter of human rights, went along with this decision. And it took him thirty years for him to come to be in a restaurant one day when he was passing by, to say "I'm sorry about the film," It had been bothering him. I won't say what it was as another actor played my part, and I don't attach blame to anybody." There are many films written by Pinter that might fit into that timeframe, including The Comfort Of Strangers, The Handmaid's Tale, The Heat Of The Day, The Trial, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Betrayal, Turtle Diary, and more.
Talking of playing an older Hamlet than he did fifty years ago, Ian McKellen talked about the art of acting and a wider view to portraying sexuality these days; "When you come to see me, you won't see an old man pretending to be a young man, you'll see a man pretending to be a prince, pretending to be an intellectual, pretending to be a neurotic, pretending to love his mother, pretending to love girls and boys. You didn't know that was in Hamlet, did you? It's there, Rosencrantz to Hamlet: 'You did love me once'."
Ian McKellen also talked about his famous genre film roles, Gandalf and Magneto, and how he wanted Magneto to have long speeches like Gandalf and blames it on coming from comic books, which were all about the pictures… clearly, he never read any of the Claremont X-Men issues. As for the future, he doesn't know anything about his IMDB listing for a modern retelling Hamlet Revenant; he can't tell us anything about it because he doesn't know anything about it. He would like to play a dame again in pantomime, of any producers are reading this. Even those who work with Harold Pinter. And he also invited young playwrights to write something brand new for him, as what he takes next may be his last role… BBC Radio 4's Front Row can be heard streaming, globally, for free, here.