English actor Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CH, CBE was born 25 May 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, his family moved to Wigan. They lived there until Ian was twelve years old, before relocating to Bolton in 1951, after his father had been promoted. McKellen’s father was a civil engineer and lay preacher, and was of Protestant Irish and Scottish descent. Both of McKellen’s grandfathers were preachers, and his great-great-grandfather, James McKellen, was a “strict, evangelical Protestant minister” in Ballymena, County Antrim. His home environment was strongly Christian, but non-orthodox. When he was 12, his mother died of breast cancer; his father died when he was 24. His great-great-grandfather Robert J. Lowes was an activist and campaigner in the ultimately successful campaign for a Saturday half-holiday in Manchester, the forerunner to the modern five-day work week, thus making Lowes a “grandfather of the modern weekend. McKellen attended Bolton School (Boys’ Division), and his 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 Opera House in Manchester 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 Laurence 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, with the role of Bottom played by Jean McKellen. In 1958, McKellen won a scholarship to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he read English literature.While at Cambridge, McKellen was a member of the Marlowe Society, where he appeared in 23 plays over the course of 3 years. At that young age he was already giving performances that have since become legendary such as his Justice Shallow in Henry IV alongside Trevor Nunn and Derek Jacobi, Cymbeline (as Posthumus, opposite Margaret Drabble as Imogen) and Doctor Faustus.
McKellen made his first professional appearance in 1961 at the Belgrade Theatre, as Roper in A Man for All Seasons. After four years in regional repertory theatres he made his first West End appearance, in A Scent of Flowers. In 1965 he was a member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic, which led to roles at the Chichester Festival. With the Prospect Theatre Company, McKellen made his breakthrough performances of Richard II and Marlowe’s Edward II at the Edinburgh festival in 1969. During the 1970s and 1980s McKellen performed frequently at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, portraying several leading Shakespearean characters including Macbeth and Iago in Othello. In 2007 he appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company, productions of King Lear and The Seagull. In 2009 he appeared in Waiting for Godot at London’s Haymarket Theatre, opposite Patrick Stewart. He is Patron of English Touring Theatre and also President and Patron of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain, an association of amateur theatre organisations throughout the UK. In late August 2012, he took part in the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics, portraying Prospero from The Tempest.
McKellen’s career spans genres ranging from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction and He started his professional career in 1961 at the Belgrade Theatre as a member of their highly regarded repertory company. In 1965 McKellen made his first West End appearance. In 1969 he was invited to join the Prospect Theatre Company to play the lead parts in Shakespeare’s Richard II and Marlowe’s Edward II, firmly establishing himself as one of the country’s foremost classical actors. In the 1970s McKellen became a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Great Britain. He achieved worldwide fame for his notable film roles, which include Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and Magneto in the X-Men films, both of which introduced McKellen to a new generation.
McKellen is the recipient of six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and two Critics’ Choice Awards. He has also received two Oscar nominations, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy Award nomination. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1979 Birthday Honours, was knighted in the 1991 New Year Honours for services to the performing arts, and made a Companion of Honour for services to drama and to equality in the 2008 New Year Honours. He has been openly gay since 1988, and continues to be a champion for LGBT social movements worldwide. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in October 2014.