Two legends of acting, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, sat on a small stage under lights in front of a crowd - mostly populated by bloggers and journalists more than half their age - in the New York offices of BuzzFeed in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
It was about halfway through their interview as part of the BuzzFeed Brews series (beer was readily available, although both actors opted for water given that they had a Broadway performance in just a few hours), that the two men were asked what they’d like to be remembered for beyond their incredible work on stage and in film and television.
McKellen was the first to speak. “Well I’ve often thought my gravestone would say, ‘Here lies Gandalf, he came out.’” The crowd roared and clapped. McKellen, who is openly gay, added, “Those are two of the proudest achievements that I’ve got. And I think that I’ve been a part of the rapid, sensible movement towards an understanding that gay people are the same as the rest of you and should be treated equally by the law, by society.”
Stewart was more succinct. “Very simple. I would like - and I don’t think it’s going to happen - but I would like it to say, ‘He was funny.’ Because increasingly, as I get older, I do find that hearing laughter is far more satisfying and pleasurable than people sobbing in the audience when you’re working.”
McKellen also spoke about what it was like to be an out actor well before that became a norm. He admitted that he lost a few roles earlier in his career because of his sexual orientation, but for anyone who comes out life “immediately improves.” McKellen also said that taking the role of Magneto in the X-Men movie series was an easy choice because the character is highly relatable to him. He said that’s because, in the world of Marvel comics, mutants often feel like outcasts just as LGBT youth often do. But his advice to anyone who remains unsure about coming out of the closet was, “Come out, join the human race.”
Watching the two men interact, it was apparent that you were simultaneously in the presence of two actors at the peak of their craft and that you were in the presence of two very dear friends. They are two men who have worked together for decades, who have even shared a dressing room, and who have a shared love of acting that is contagious. They also seem to share an idea of what acting is all about.
Stewart explained, “It’s not an academic exercise, and I want you to believe this,” as McKellen shook his head in agreement. “The words are only an expression of characters we have tried to make - and this includes Waiting for Godot - as human and as recognizable as possible.”