It may seem impossible that Ian McKellen, one of our finest living actors, has only now given the performance of his life, at 76. But that's the takeaway from Bill Condon's Mr. Holmes, a film as beautiful for its floral motifs as its slowly unfurling narrative. If Benedict Cumberbatch is the definitive Sherlock in his youthful prime, McKellen is the embodiment of the sleuth in his 90s, when regret hangs heavy and a brilliant mind begins to cloud. Holmes's forensic-style reads of people aren't what they used to be. Meanwhile, when evaluating himself, McKellen--who's never shown more vulnerability on screen--says he "isn't as sophisticated" as his roles make him seem.
Perhaps that misconception is partly what drew McKellen to Vicious, a delectable, frothy PBS sitcom that returns for its second season this month, and stars him and fellow gay legend Derek Jacobi as an aging, bickering couple. "The old cliche is that dying is easy but comedy is hard," he tells Out. "And really, you can't do Hamlet if you can't manage some humor."
Working on Vicious was a test. "It was nice to have the studio audience, because you could tell when you were reaching people," McKellen says. "We got such a strong response that they didn't have to turn the laugh track up--they had to turn it down."
The fun-loving jolt of McKellen's new foray into TV comedy has been seen off-set as well, such as when, around February of this year, the Warwick Rowers posted a photo to Instagram of them hoisting the actor in their arms. "Oh, that was my idea," McKellen says. "They're lovely boys, and they do that great charitable calendar, which I enjoy. It was a very pleasurable experience--and you have the photo evidence to prove it."
Season 2 of Vicious premieres Aug. 23 on PBS. Mr. Holmes is in theaters July 17. Watch the trailer below: