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Sir Ian McKellen portrayed Magneto in the X-Men films.
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McKellen was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England, though he spent most of his early life in Wigan. Born shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the experience had some lasting impact on him. In response to an interview question when an interviewer remarked that he seemed quite calm in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, he said: "Well, darling, you forget — I slept under a steel plate until I was four years old."
McKellen's father, Denis Murray McKellen, a civil engineer, was a lay preacher, and both of his grandfathers were preachers as well. At the time of Ian's birth, his parents already had a five-year-old daughter, Jean. His home environment was strongly Christian, but non-orthodox. "My upbringing was of low nonconformist Christians who felt that you led the Christian life in part by behaving in a Christian manner to everybody you met." When he was 12, his mother, Margery Lois (née Sutcliffe) died; his father died when he was 24. When he came out of the closet to his stepmother, Gladys McKellen, who was a Friend (Quaker): "Not only was she not fazed, but as a member of a society which declared its indifference to people's sexuality years back, I think she was just glad for my sake that I wasn't lying any more."
McKellen attended Bolton School (boys division), of which he is still a supporter, attending regularly to talk to pupils. McKellen's acting career started at Bolton Little Theatre, of which he is now the patron. An early fascination with the theatre was encouraged by his parents, who took him on a family outing to Peter Pan at the Manchester Opera House when he was three. When he was nine, his main Christmas present was a wood and bakelite, fold-away Victorian Theatre from Pollocks Toy Theatres, with cardboard scenery and wires to push on the cut-outs of Cinderella and of Olivier's Hamlet. His sister took him to his first Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, by the amateurs of Wigan's Little Theatre, shortly followed by their Macbeth and Wigan High School for Girls' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with music by Mendelssohn and with the role of Bottom played by Jean McKellen. (Jean continued to act, direct, and produce amateur theatre up to her recent death.)
He won a scholarship to St. Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, when he was eighteen, where he developed an attraction to Derek Jacobi. He has characterized it as "a passion that was undeclared and unrequited". He and his first serious partner, Brian Taylor, a history teacher from Bolton, began their relationship in 1964. It lasted for eight years, ending in 1972. They lived in London, where McKellen continued to pursue his career as an actor. For over a decade, he has lived in a five-story Victorian conversion in Narrow Street, Limehouse, London. In 1978 he met his second partner, Sean Mathias, at the Edinburgh Festival. According to Mathias, the ten-year love affair was tempestuous, with conflicts over McKellen's success in acting versus Mathias' somewhat less-successful career.
Twenty years ago, McKellen lost his appetite for meat except for fish and became a pescetarian.
McKellen had taken film roles throughout his career - beginning in 1969 with A Touch of Love, excluding the unreleased The Bells of Hell Go Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling (1966) – but it was not until the 1990s that he became more widely recognised in this medium, through several roles in blockbuster Hollywood movies.
In 1993, McKellen had a supporting role as a South African tycoon in the sleeper hit Six Degrees of Separation, in which he starred with Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, and Will Smith. In the same year, he was also exposed to North American audiences in minor roles in the television miniseries Tales of the City (based on the novel by his friend Armistead Maupin) and the movie Last Action Hero, in which he played Death. Also in 1993, McKellen played a large role in the TV movie And the Band Played On, about the discovery of the AIDS virus.
In 1995, he played the title role in Richard III, a film he also co-wrote (adapting the play for the screen based on a stage production of Shakespeare's play directed by Richard Eyre for the Royal National Theatre) and co-produced. In McKellen's role as executive producer he returned his £50,000 fee in order to complete the filming of the final battle. His performance in the title role was critically acclaimed, and he was nominated for Golden Globe and BAFTA awards, and won the European Film Award for best actor.
His breakthrough role for mainstream American audiences came with the modestly acclaimed Apt Pupil, based on a story by Stephen King. McKellen portrayed an old Nazi officer, living under a false name in the U.S., who was befriended by a curious teenager (Brad Renfro) who threatened to expose him unless he told his story in detail. His casting was based partly on his performance in Cold Comfort Farm, seen by Apt Pupil director Bryan Singer, despite the BBFC's refusal to release it in cinemas. He was subsequently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, where he played James Whale, the gay director of Show Boat (1936) and Frankenstein.
He reteamed with Apt Pupil director Bryan Singer to play the comic book character Magneto in X-Men and its sequels X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand. It was while filming X-Men that he was cast as the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson's three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King). McKellen received honors from the Screen Actors Guild for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his work in The Fellowship of the Ring and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the same role. He also voiced Gandalf in the two video game adaptions of the film trilogy. He will reprise the role for the upcoming prequel The Hobbit.
On 16 March 2002, he was the host on Saturday Night Live. In 2003, McKellen made a guest appearance as himself on the American cartoon show The Simpsons, in a special British-themed episode entitled "The Regina Monologues", along with Tony Blair and J. K. Rowling. In April and May 2005, he played the role of Mel Hutchwright in Granada Television's long running soap opera, Coronation Street, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. He is also known for his voicework, having narrated Richard Bell's Eighteen, as a grandfather who leaves his World War II memoirs on audiocassette for his teenage grandson.
McKellen has appeared in limited release films, such as Emile (which was shot in a few days during the X2 shoot), Neverwas and Asylum. He appeared as Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code. During a 17 May 2006 interview on The Today Show with the Da Vinci Code cast and director, Matt Lauer posed a question to the group about how they would have felt if the film had borne a prominent disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, as some religious groups wanted. McKellen responded, "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." He continued, "And I think audiences are clever enough and bright enough to separate out fact and fiction, and discuss the thing when they've seen it". McKellen appeared in the 2006 series of Ricky Gervais' comedy series Extras, where he played himself directing Gervais' character Andy Millman in a play about gay lovers. McKellen received a 2007 Emmy nomination for his performance.