Ian McKellen

'King Lear' play, Press Night, London, UK 26 Jul 2018

'King Lear' play, Press Night, London, UK 26 Jul 2018

Ian McKellen was born on 25 May 1939 in Burnley. He first acted at Bolton School (as Prince Hal) and with amateur groups in the north of England, where he was born and brought up. He studied English at Cambridge University, playing Justice Shallow in John Barton’s undergraduate production of Henry 4th part 2 (1961).

For over 60 years, he has worked non-stop in the British theatre. He has been leading man and produced plays, modern and classic, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre of Great Britain and in the West End of London, winning six Olivier Awards, amongst 60 other international accolades.

He was in the first production of Martin Sherman’s sensational Bent (1979) and in world premières by Alexei Arbuzov, John Arden, Alan Ayckbourn, Michael Frayn,  Sean Mathias, Iris Murdoch, Mark Ravenhill, James Saunders, Peter Shaffer, Tom Stoppard, Peter Ustinov, Arnold Wesker and recently Ben Wetherill (Frank and Percy). Of late, he has also starred in Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land (with Patrick Stewart) and as Mother Goose in Jonathan Harvey’s pantomime in London and throughout the UK. As Salieri in Amadeus (1981), he won every available award on Broadway.

In Shakespeare he has triumphed  as Richard II, Romeo (with Francesca Annis), Macbeth (with Judi Dench), Toby Belch, Coriolanus, Iago, Prospero, Richard III (also on film) and most recently as King Lear (twice) and as an 80-year old Hamlet in Sean Mathias’ 2024 film. For over a decade, he toured his one-man show, Acting Shakespeare, at home and abroad, still available on video.

McKellen is recognised worldwide as Magneto in the X-Men movies and as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbittrilogies. He received his first Academy Award® nomination, for Best Actor, in 1998, as the gay film director James Whale, in Bill Condon’s classic Gods and Monsters. He has also starred in The Keep, Priest of Love, Apt Pupil, And the Band Played On, Jack and Sarah, Six Degrees of Separation, The Da Vinci Code, Mr Holmes, Beauty and the Beast, All is True, The Good Liarand this year, in Patrick Marber’s The Critic.

McKellen’s varied television work stretches from Scarlet Pimpernel to The Simpsons; from Rasputin (Golden Globe Award)  to Coronation Street; from Edward 11 to Saturday  Night Live; from Extras with Ricky Gervais to Vicious with Derek Jacobi and The Dresser with Anthony Hopkins. On the first-ever Film On Four, he was Stephen Frears’ Walter (Royal Television Society Award).

In 2019 McKellen became the first actor to top The Stage 100 list of most influential people in British theatre, following his triumphant solo UK Tour and West End run of Ian McKellen on Stage which raised over £5 million to support over 80 regional theatres.

Sir Ian was knighted in 1991. He was a co-founder of Stonewall UK, which lobbies for legal and social equality for gay people. In 2008,  he was appointed Companion of Honour, “for services to drama and to equality’.

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