Ian McKellen Then and Now

By / June 26, 2024

Ian McKellen Then

Ian McKellen, born on May 25, 1939, in Burnley, Lancashire, England, has become one of the most revered actors of his generation.

His early life was shaped by his family and the nurturing environment they provided. 

His father, Denis Murray McKellen, was a lay preacher and civil engineer, and his mother, Margery Lois Sutcliffe, was a homemaker. 

The McKellen household, which also included his sister Jean, was deeply religious but also known for its relative tolerance, creating a balanced upbringing that allowed McKellen to explore his interests freely.

Tragedy struck the family twice during McKellen’s formative years. 

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In 1951, when he was just 12 years old, his mother succumbed to breast cancer, a devastating loss that profoundly affected him. 

The sorrow was compounded in 1963 when his father died in a car accident, leaving McKellen to navigate his early adulthood without parental support.

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Despite these personal hardships, McKellen found solace and inspiration in the world of theater, a passion that his parents had always encouraged.

McKellen’s formal education began at Bolton School, an institution he continues to support. 

It was here that his acting career took its first steps, particularly at the Bolton Little Theatre.

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The support from his family, especially in attending numerous theatrical productions, including Shakespearean plays, played a crucial role in fostering his love for acting. 

His parents and sister’s encouragement was instrumental in nurturing his budding talent.

Academically gifted as well, McKellen excelled in his studies, and at 18, he won a scholarship to St. Catharine’s College at the University of Cambridge.

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His time at Cambridge was pivotal, as he immersed himself in the rich cultural and academic environment. 

It was here that he met fellow actor Derek Jacobi, forming a friendship that would last a lifetime. 

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Cambridge not only honed his acting skills but also provided a network of connections that would support his burgeoning career.

Ian McKellen’s early life, marked by both tragedy and triumph, laid a strong foundation for his illustrious career in theater and film. 

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His journey from a small town in Lancashire to the grandeur of international stages and screens is a testament to his resilience, talent, and the enduring support of his family and educational institutions.

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Ian McKellen Acting Career

Ian McKellen’s illustrious career began with his professional debut in Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.” 

Throughout the 1960s, McKellen consistently earned both popular and critical acclaim, especially for his performances as William Shakespeare’s Richard II and Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival.

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In 1971, he co-founded the Actors’ Company, a collective where actors had an equal say in the selection and casting of plays and the recruitment of directors. 

He departed from the group in 1974 to join the Royal Shakespeare Company at the invitation of John Barton, further cementing his reputation in the world of classical theatre.

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McKellen’s versatility as an actor allowed him to tackle a wide range of characters, from Shakespearean roles to contemporary figures, including performances in plays by Anton Chekhov and Frank Wedekind. 

His interpretations, though often controversial, showcased his immense talent and earned him several prestigious awards. 

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He received Laurence Olivier Awards for his performances in “Bent” (1979), “Wild Honey” (1984), and “Richard III” (1991).

In 1981, he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in the Broadway production of “Amadeus.” 

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McKellen also demonstrated his skills behind the scenes, directing several plays and creating and performing in a one-man show titled “Acting Shakespeare.”

McKellen’s talent extended beyond the stage to the silver screen.

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He appeared in several notable films, including a version of David Hare’s “Plenty” (1985) and “Richard III” (1995), a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play set in a fictionalized 1930s England, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. 

In 1998, he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of director James Whale in “Gods and Monsters.”

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However, his most iconic role came with the character of Gandalf in the “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003), based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy. 

His performance earned him another Oscar nomination for supporting actor in 2001, and he reprised the role in the film adaptations of “The Hobbit” (2012, 2013, 2014).

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McKellen’s filmography includes a wide array of roles that demonstrate his range and talent. 

He played the supervillain Magneto in the “X-Men” series (2000, 2003, 2006, 2014) and appeared in “The Da Vinci Code” (2006). 

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His subtle and precise acting was evident in “Mr. Holmes” (2015), where he portrayed a nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes attempting to solve a long-bedeviled case.

In 2017, he featured in the musical “Beauty and the Beast,” and in 2019, he starred alongside Helen Mirren in the thriller “The Good Liar” and appeared in “Cats,” an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.

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On television, McKellen showcased his comedic talent in “Vicious” (2013–16), playing a sniping yet loving gay couple with Derek Jacobi.

Ian McKellen’s career is a testament to his extraordinary range and enduring talent as an actor. 

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From his early days in theatre to his significant contributions to film and television, McKellen has continually captivated audiences with his powerful performances and dedication to his craft.

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Ian McKellen Movies

ian mckellen movies list
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  • The Promise (1969)
  • A Touch of Love (1969)
  • Alfred the Great (1969)
  • Thank You All Very Much (1969)
  • Hamlet (1970)
  • The Tragedy of King Richard II (1970)
  • Edward II (1970)
  • Macbeth (1970)
  • The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970)
  • The Last Romantics (1974)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)
  • Plenty (1985)
  • Zina (1985)
  • Scandal (1989)
  • The Keep (1983)
  • Last Action Hero (1993)
  • Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
  • Richard III (1995)
  • Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996)
  • Apt Pupil (1998)
  • Gods and Monsters (1998)
  • The Faculty (1998)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  • X2: X-Men United (2003)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  • Asylum (2005)
  • The Da Vinci Code (2006)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • Stardust (2007)
  • The Golden Compass (2007)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
  • Mr. Holmes (2015)
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  • The Good Liar (2019)
  • Cats (2019)
  • Infinitum: Subject Unknown (2021)
  • The Good Liar (2019)
  • The Critic (2023)
  • Animal Crackers (2023) (voice)
  • The One Note Man (2023)

Ian McKellen Now

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Ian McKellen, at the age of 85, stands as one of the most distinguished and versatile actors of his generation. 

With a career spanning over sixty years, McKellen has captivated audiences with his profound performances across a wide array of genres, from the classical works of Shakespeare to contemporary theater, as well as popular fantasy and science fiction films.

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His remarkable ability to embody a diverse range of characters has solidified his status as a beloved and influential figure in both stage and screen acting.

In 2023, McKellen starred in “The Critic,” showcasing his continued dedication to his craft and his ability to deliver compelling performances well into his eighties.

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This recent role adds to his already impressive filmography, which includes iconic characters such as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies and Magneto in the “X-Men” series. 

His portrayal of these characters has left an indelible mark on popular culture, earning him a dedicated fan base and critical acclaim.

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Beyond his on-screen success, McKellen has also made significant contributions to the theater. 

His performances in Shakespearean plays and modern theater productions have earned him numerous accolades, including Laurence Olivier Award and a Tony Award. 

His ability to seamlessly transition between stage and screen demonstrates his exceptional talent and versatility as an actor.

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Sir Ian McKellen’s extensive career has not only brought him fame and recognition but also substantial financial success. 

With a net worth of $60 million, he stands as one of the wealthiest actors in the industry. 

This financial success is a testament to his enduring popularity and the significant impact he has had on the entertainment world.

McKellen’s legacy is characterized by his profound influence on both theater and film.

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His performances have transcended generations, inspiring countless actors and captivating audiences worldwide. 

As he continues to take on new roles and projects, Ian McKellen remains a celebrated and respected figure in the arts, exemplifying the timeless appeal and enduring power of exceptional acting.

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