INTERVIEW: Sir Ian McKellen – 'I was thrown out of Taylor Swift's New York apartment!'
The Manchester Pride grand marshal talks to GSN about dragging up ('I look alarmingly like my sister!') and his thoughts on the Stonewall trailer…
Iconic actor Sir Ian McKellen thrilled crowds at today’s Manchester Pride, where he marched as grand marshal.
Shortly after completing the procession, the star sat down with GSN to discuss the third series of Vicious, partying on Canal Street with Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton, and the true meaning of pride…
Thank you for designing GSN’s 2015 pride tote bag! Are you pleased with how it turned out?
Have you always had a knack for drawing?
No, as you can tell…
Where did the idea for the design come from?
There was a comedian called Sir George Robey, he was a huge star – he always used to draw little caricatures of himself.
You’ll have to frame it and put it on your wall…
Frame it?! I shall use it for my shopping.
You were interacting a lot with the crowd during today’s Manchester Pride parade…
It was lovely. Such a variety. A lot of gay people, obviously, and straight people, people who brought their kids, dogs, people who can’t move on their own, people in wheelchairs…just people.
Are you going out tonight?
A lot of people have come up, so…what would you recommend?
An indie-pop night…
Or perhaps Cruz 101 instead?
I’m told that’s a bit dingy and dirty… But lively, is it?
Well, in an entertaining way.
Well, I met a young man yesterday, a waiter at the Richmond Tea Rooms. About six foot one. His drag name is Licorice Black. He was at Cruz last night. Maybe I’ll nip down.
Can you remember your first time on Canal Street?
It was probably after Queer As Folk. I was living in London and wasn’t really aware of what was going on. I’m usually on Canal Street on the arm of Antony Cotton, which is a dangerous place to be. He’s so recognized, so beloved.
Do you have a close knit set of gay friends?
A lot of them are gay, but not all. I do notice, when I have 10 people round for dinner or something, I look and think ‘They’re all gay!’ Or ‘There’s a straight person, how are they going to get on?’ Or I don’t have enough women. It can be difficult to balance it out. But I don’t have any friends who aren’t totally at ease with gay people. My favorite group is straight men who are gay-friendly. I find that very attractive.
How does it feel to be part of Taylor Swift’s ‘squad‘?
I’m not. When I was living in Peter Jackson’s apartment in New York, Taylor Swift bought it while I was there and I was thrown out before I wanted to leave! That hardly puts me in Taylor Swift’s team, does it? You look shocked.
We are shocked!
[Laughs] She bought it, she had every right to – I was just lodging there for free! She did ask me to appear with Patrick Stewart at her show in LA, but I had something else to do that night.
Is there any news on the third series of Vicious?
I keep being told to not take another job because it’s going to happen, but I don’t know for certain.
How do you feel about the public reaction to it?
It’s a bit like Marmite. That’s what Derek Jacobi said. People either love it or hate it. A lot of people today – particularly middle-aged, clearly heterosexual women – have shouted [puts on Mancunian accent]: ‘LOVED you in Vicious!’ As long as they’re happy! We’re not trying to change the world with Vicious.
Are you looking forward to the new Stonewall film?
I’ve heard a little bit about it. I haven’t seen it. I would like to know more about what actually happened. I’ve heard the stories and I visited the Stonewall Inn for the first time very recently. One of the barmen was there the night of the riots. But I know there’s some disagreement with the representation of the principal players. Have you seen it?
No. We’ve seen the trailer. So far, the accusations of whitewashing have been directed at the trailer rather than the film. No one has seen the film yet.
It’s a bit early to criticize then. I know enough about trailers to know they’re not necessarily representative of the film. No one is likely to have made a film about the Stonewall Riots in order to distort the story. But they may have had to do certain casting to get the film made. The Harvey Milk film [Milk, 2008] was romanticized. It was wonderful. I loved Pride , that was romanticized, fictionalized. I suppose they were more attractive looking people in the film than were there in life. Does that matter?
Has narrating the documentary Muslim Drag Queens, and learning about that part of the LGBTI community, made you connect to Pride in a different way?
Well, I’m not sure there is a gay [or LGBTI] community. There are gay communities and that’s one of them, one that I’m not privileged to be a part of. I’m gay, but I’m not Asian. Gay Asians have a series of particular problems that they’re coping with. What I like about those drag queens is they’re practicing Muslims. They’re down on the mat praying to Allah. And their Allah loves gay people. So if ever some Muslim says that Allah doesn’t like gay people – they need to talk to those Muslims. But it’s hard for them, desperately hard.
I’m afraid religion’s never been much of a friend to gay people. Except the Quakers. Quakers have never had a problem. And yet they’re the people who are most bound by the Bible. They follow its instructions. ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill.’ They’re pacifists. Why aren’t all Christians pacifists?
Did the experience of narrating the documentary teach you a lot about drag?
I’ve known about drag all my life. There’s drag in pantomime. The dame is a sort of drag. And I’ve played a dame myself – Widow Twankey. That’s one sort of drag, isn’t it. Pantomime drag is another thing all together. You’re not meant to be a convincing woman.
Would you do drag now?
It’s never really interested [me]. I’m the sort of gay man who likes to wear trousers. When I’m in drag I look too alarmingly like my sister, and I don’t think that’s fair on her!
Do you think one of the reasons the concept of pride is so important is because it advertises a community where everyone is welcome?
That’s a lovely way of looking at it. It certainly is that. Although I suppose Pride is different for every person. Some people are just gawping. For me it’s a celebration: being out and not giving a damn. Being grateful that we’re in a country where that’s possible. But it does make me think. Three hours away in Moscow, they’re not going to have another pride march for 100 years, it’s been banned. I wouldn’t like to be growing up gay in Russia.
People say it’s all over here, but in Northern Ireland it’s not. Gay people can’t get married in Northern Ireland. Southern Ireland voted [yes] in the referendum and everyone was very proud. But in the north… So I think Pride’s about realizing you can’t take your rights for granted. Coming out, for me, and for a lot of people – it does politicize you. It makes you take an active interest in politics, because you watch the way your life and other gay people’s lives can be affected by it.
Politics is really about making connections. We’re all brothers, whatever we look like, however old we are or what our gender is. Rather than a community, it’s an international movement. And there will be some people today who come out. They come in from the countryside and by the end of the evening have made friends and think ‘I’m not on my own.’