Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen’s best friendship is so rich, beautiful, and uplifting that it has probably inspired a thousand sonnets from a thousand poets. In fact, their relationship is enough to make you wonder where you and your own BFF went wrong.
But it turns out that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s friendship isn’t quite as old as you probably thought. Earlier this month I had the great fortune of attending the Hamptons International Film Festival, which included a special conversation with Patrick Stewart where he discussed his prestigious career.
During this talk Stewart was asked by moderator Steven Gaydos, the Vice President & Executive Editor of Variety, when and where he first met Ian McKellen, who would go on to officiate his wedding with Sunny Ozell in September, 2013.
“The green room at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon. Ian was a star and a celebrity from the very beginning. Even before he had left Cambridge University people in the English theatre were talking about this young man. I had seen all of his early work at the National Theatre, and admired what I saw so much. His technique was immaculate, his presentation, his speaking, his control was beautiful, and speaking of beautiful he was drop dead gorgeous.”
“When he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company I was already there. I saw him sat there at the table, and it took me several days to get up the nerve to go up and say, ‘Hello, I am Patrick Stewart.’ We did one production at the RSC together. It was a play by Tom Stoppard called ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favor.’ It is not done very often because it requires a full symphony orchestra. And they don’t come cheap. We did that. We worked very well together.”
However, after this collaboration the duo didn’t actually work or really socialize together again until September, 1999, when Stewart and McKellen were cast as Professor X and Magneto, respectively, in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.”
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“Curiously it was ‘X-Men’ that brought us together again,” Stewart recalled. “There was a row of 15 luxury trailers all at the studio in Toronto. And Ian and I happened to be side by side. In movies like that you spend more time waiting to work than actually working. So we hung out in each other’s trailers. Drank tea, drank coffee, and on some days something stronger.”
“We had so much in common. We are both northerners. Although he is a Lancastrian and I’m a Yorkist. We had the same kind of upbringings. We had the same passion for Shakespeare, and for the cinema and for the theatre. The only difference was that he had a brilliant education and I had none. He says I have too big a thing about that.”
After Gaydos asked whether it really was years between the duo seeing each other, Stewart insisted, “Yes, decades. It was [amusing],” before then noting that they both quickly felt as though kismet had brought them together again on “X-Men,” especially because their characters had a Shakespearean air about them.
“We both felt like we were in the right place with ‘X-Men’. Because both Ian and myself come from classical training, and there’s something that lends itself to science-fiction and fantasy movies. It’s not Shakespearean exactly. It’s not grandeur exactly. But you hear ‘Star Trek’ dialogue, it is slightly enhanced and heightened. So Magneto and Charles Xavier were figures of scale that we were both comfortable with.”
The rest, as they say, is history, as that kick started a best friendship for the ages that rivals Wayne & Garth, Han & Chewie, and even Woody & Buzz. But is umpteen times better because it is actually real.