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Sir Ian McKellen expected to return to West End stage this week after fall


By PA News

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Even a fall from the West End stage is not expected to keep 85-year-old Sir Ian McKellen from performing for long.

The British actor has shown little sign of slowing down during his esteemed career, even marking his milestone 80th year with an 80-date nationwide solo tour.

With two Oscar nominations, Sir Ian has gripped audiences both on screen and on stage and is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time.

Sir Ian McKellen in 2015 (Ian West/PA)
Sir Ian McKellen in 2015 (Ian West/PA)

Most recently, Sir Ian has been seen playing John Falstaff in Player Kings at the Noel Coward Theatre in London.

During Monday’s performance, the veteran actor fell from the stage but has since been told he will make a “speedy and full recovery” and is expected to appear in Wednesday’s matinee performance of the production.

During his career, Sir Ian’s largest mark on the big screen may be as Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The role won him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor during the 2002 ceremony.

It marked his second Oscar nod, having been nominated three years previously for his role as James Whale in Bill Condon’s period drama Gods And Monsters.

Sir Ian also found mainstream success with his performances as Magneto in the X-Men series and as the title character in the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

On the stage, Sir Ian has been nominated for 12 Olivier Awards and won six for his roles in Pillars Of The Community, The Alchemist, Bent, Wild Honey, Richard III and his one-man show Ian McKellen On Stage.

Sir Ian McKellen wins The Society Special Award, during the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2006 (Steve Parsons/PA)
Sir Ian McKellen wins The Society Special Award, during the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2006 (Steve Parsons/PA)

The actor was born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1939 and, alongside his sister Jean, was raised by his mother Margery and father Denis.

Sir Ian has often credited his parents for encouraging his interest in becoming a performer, previously claiming in a 2017 interview with the Irish Examiner: “Apparently she said, ‘If Ian decides to be an actor, it’s a good job, because it brings pleasure to people’.”

His mother died when he was just 12 and he would lose his father at the age of 22.

Sir Ian acted at all the schools he attended.

When at Bolton School he was able to take on his first Shakespeare performance at Hopefield Miniature Theatre when, as a 13-year-old Malvolio, he performed the letter scene from Twelfth Night.

He then won a scholarship to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and was soon appearing in regular productions, including appearing alongside now famous alumni such as Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir David Frost and Dame Margaret Drabble.

What happened immediately, according to friends, is I became not just a happier person, but a better actor
Sir Ian McKellen speaking in 2015

By the time Sir Ian graduated in 1961 he had decided to become an actor, and landed his first job in a production of A Man For All Seasons at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.

Since then, he has gone on to become a household name for his acclaimed performances in everything from Shakespearean tragedies to Hollywood blockbusters.

Outside of acting, Sir Ian has been active in the gay rights movement.

Very few people knew of his homosexuality at a young age, including his parents.

In 1988, he publicly came out on a BBC Radio 4 programme while discussing Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 legislation, which made the promotion of homosexuality as a family relationship by local authorities an offence.

Sir Ian McKellen (Ian West/PA)
Sir Ian McKellen (Ian West/PA)

He said of the law: “I think it’s offensive to anyone who is, like myself, homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can or cannot be taught to children.”

Section 28 was eventually fully repealed in 2003.

Sir Ian has spoken about his experiences on coming out on several occasions.

Back in July 2000, he wrote in The Independent: “The only good thing I can think to say about Section 28 is that it finally encouraged me to come out. A bit late in the day, but it remains the best thing I ever did.”

Then in 2015, he said that coming out actually made him a better performer, saying: “What happened immediately, according to friends, is I became not just a happier person, but a better actor.”

A commanding on-screen actor, Sir Ian has been widely acclaimed for roles including Bill Kraus in And The Band Played On about the AIDS epidemic, which earned him his first Emmy nod in 1994.

His role as Tsar Nicholas II in Rasputin won him a Golden Globe in 1997, as well as another Emmy nomination.

His West End stage credits include No Man’s Land, Figures Of Speech, King Lear and Mother Goose, while he also starred in Broadway shows including Amadeus – which scored him a Tony award – Wild Honey and the revival of Waiting For Godot.

In 1991, Sir Ian was knighted for his services to the performing arts.

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