Sir Ian McKellen

On this date in 1939, Ian Murray McKellen was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England. McKellen grew up in Lancashire, attending local schools in Wigan and Bolton. At 18, McKellen won a scholarship to Cambridge, where he read English and participated in student drama. He graduated in 1961, and began working as an actor shortly thereafter. Most of McKellen's early acting career took place on the stage, both in the UK and on Broadway, but he also worked in film and television in the UK. In 1980, McKellen received the Tony Award for best actor for his stage role as Salieri in "Amadeus." In the 1990s, he began to work in Hollywood films. McKellen has been nominated for two Oscars, once for Best Actor in 1999 for his role as film director James Whale in "Gods and Monsters," and once for Best Supporting Actor in 2002 for the role of the wizard Gandalf in "The Fellowship of the Ring," a role for which he won the Screen Actor's Guild Award. McKellen played Gandalf in all three "Lord of the Rings" movies and reprised the role in the "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012). He has also played the comic-book villain Magneto in the movies "X-Men" (2000), "X2" (2003), and "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006). McKellen's classical acting career includes playing many Shakespearean leads, both for stage and screen. In 1995, he famously played the lead in the film "Richard III," set in an alternate fascist England, and in 2007, he played King Lear in a stage production that toured the world and was shown on American TV.

McKellen is open about his personal atheism, but does not often speak on the subject. He has said that he only considers himself an expert in acting and in being a homosexual. McKellen came out as a gay man publicly in 1988, and became active in the gay rights community. He became a founding member of the UK LGBT advocacy group Stonewall, and meets with politicians in order to advocate against discriminatory legislation. McKellen was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1979, and knighted in 1991 for his contributions to theater. In 2008, he was made a Companion of Honor for his services to drama and equality.

Matt Lauer: There have been calls from some religious groups. They wanted a disclaimer at the beginning of this movie saying it is fiction because, again, one of the themes in the book really knocks Christianity right on its ear. . . . How would you all have felt if there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie? Would it have been okay with you?

Ian McKellen: Well, I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction. I mean, walking on water, it takes an act of faith. And I have faith in this movie. Not that it's true, not that it's factual, but that it's a jolly good story. And I think audiences are clever enough and bright enough to separate out fact and fiction, and discuss the thing after they've seen it.

—-Ian McKellen, in an interview with Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" about "The Da Vinci Code," May 17, 2006

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; Photo by Denis Makarenko,

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