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Ian McKellen's Coming Out Helped Him Grow as an Actor

McKellen

The actor discusses his legendary career, the benefits of coming out, and his latest roles.

Well-regarded for an illustrious career in various theater productions, roles in the Lord of the Rings and X-Men franchises, and his activism for LGBT rights, Ian McKellen's name has become almost synonymous with LGBT pride.

The Oscar-nominated actor came out in 1988 and has since embraced his role as an advocate and used his status to voice the concerns of the LGBT community.

During an interview with Vulture, McKellen discussed his latest roles, his relationship with director and Out 100 honoree Bill Condon, and his experience as an out actor. Here's five things we learned.

1. McKellen graciously accepts his duty as an openly gay actor, and believes coming out made him more aware of the plight of others.

"I don't know about you, but it seemed to me that coming out makes one receptive to other people's problems. You are aware that your own problems with being gay, visited on you by society, make you sympathetic to people who you'll never meet in other countries where even worse conditions prevail."

2. McKellen and Condon, his director for Mr. Holmes, have been close friends for years.

"Whenever I went out to Middle Earth -- which was a lot, over a number of years -- I would always stop, break the journey here, and stay with him here. So, we had kept in touch with each other. We both thought, "Aren't we lucky that everything is working out?" He was making the sort of varied movies he wanted to make, big movies and small movies -- and the same for me, really. But, as people, our relationship was just good pals."

3. Comedy, or at least playing comedic roles, didn't come naturally to McKellen.

"It's not easy to be funny, for me. And you can only be funny if you are absolutely truthful. So, I've learned how to do that. It was all at the service, to begin with, of me as a gay man who wasn't entirely open about being gay, in a job where your only requirement was to be truthful. I was able to express myself in my work in a way that society didn't want me to express myself in real life, and when I came out, I completed that journey."

4. McKellen's coming out completed his journey as an actor and human being.

"When there was nobody in the world I minded knowing I was gay, everything made sense. Relationships made sense, family made sense, and acting became not about disguise, but about revelation."

5. McKellen has always played older roles, and never been comfortable playing his own age.

"At university, I always played the old parts. I actually thought, If I'm going to be a professional actor, I've got to do the difficult thing, which is to play your own age. No disguise. That was hard for me when I wasn't secure about myself."

McKellen will next portray Cogsworth in Bill Condon's reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, which also stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

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