Renowned actors of the stage and screen, Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen will be sharing the title of Grand Marshal for this year’s NYC Pride.
The two, who have been close friends for over 50 years, are also co-stars on the PBS series, “Vicious,” a comedy series about an elderly gay couple with a “febrile” dynamic.
Metro caught up with Jacobi for a conversation that covered everything from his coming out, his deep friendship with Ian McKellen, and his first ever Gay Pride Parade.
This is your first Pride — is that correct?
Yes! First pride anywhere ever!
How have you avoided going to Pride?
I’ve let it all to Ian! I don’t know why; I haven’t studiously avoided it. I’ve never been in the right place at the right time. It’s just never happened, and I’ve never been invited to be part of it. I’m thrilled to be a part of the American Gay Pride. I’ve heard so much about it and how fantastic it is! I’m a bit frightened, I must say. I don’t know what they expect that we do– we’ll wave a lot! Whatever it is, we will do it!
I think you might have to knight a couple of drag queens.
Oh that will be all right! I’ll polish the sword!
I don’t know if they use a sword for that knighting ceremony.So this is your first Pride and you’re also the Grand Marshal?
Yes, it’s a very grand title, isn’t it? Ian and I, when we were asked, our collective jaws dropped and it was an offer that we couldn’t possibly refuse!
Has Ian given you any tips for how to survive a Gay Pride Parade?
Not yet. We still don’t even know what we’re going to wear! We’re still figuring out whether we’ll wear the same thing, whether we contrast or just how we’ll look. I guarantee that Ian will be more exotic than me.
I just have this image of the two of you in a hotel room with a bunch of clothes on a bed trying to pick outfits.
Yes, I think you’ve got the exact picture there.
How would you describe your relationship with Ian?
Oh gosh, we’ve known each other for over 50 years. We met as undergraduates at Cambridge in 1958. I’m a year older than Ian, so when he came up to Cambridge, I had already completed my first year and I was part of the acting fraternity by then. Ian came up and was kind of wet behind the ears and we took him under our wing collectively. He and I just hit it off.
We had the same ideas about theater and acting. That proved in retrospect to be true because we both played the same parts over the years. We went in different directions, but we ended up playing the same parts in different places and at different times.
Were you two out back in ’58?
No. I hardly knew I was gay then. Oh, of course, I did know. I fell in love for the first time when I was at university.
I remember I came to London one weekend with the guy I was in love with — we were great friends, but he wasn’t gay. We had a row coming down to London and I got home and collapsed and was very tearful. My darling mother asked what’s the matter and I confessed.
Her reaction was typical of mother and typical of that time. It was, “Not to worry. All young men go through this phase and they get over it.”
It was perfectly obvious a few years went by that I hadn’t got over it, but no more was said!
Coming out publicly wasn’t on the cards then. Ian was probably one of the first people [to come out] in1989. Somebody who had a reputation, was known, had fame of a kind who decided to come out. It was a very brave thing to do.
I went, I suppose, the coward’s way — I just let people assume that I was, rather than screaming it from the rooftops.
Ian made a thing of it and became a figurehead. He’s a much more political animal than I am. But I’ll be swinging behind on his coat tails at Pride. I’ll be out there screaming with the best of them.
Can you explain the show you’re on with Ian called “Vicious?”
When Ian and I were first approached to do [“Vicious”], we had never done a sitcom before and the title of it then was “Vicious Old Queens!” We both said what a great title, but it really was too much on the nose.
It’s the story of two elderly gentlemen who have been together for nearly 50 years and their relationship. They have various friends between each episode and they have various adventures, but the main thing is their relationship, which is febrile. They do flag each other off as they say — hopefully amusingly.
Ian and I have rarely worked together so this is a wonderful opportunity. We have great trust in each other and we giggle all the time.
What are your thoughts on aging in the LGBTQ community?
A lot of the older gay people are very lonely.
Is that a product of the time they lived in?
I think they spent a lot of their time — when they could have perhaps felt fulfilled — they had to lead a closeted existence. They had to be secretive they had to be meet fellow gays in clubs and bars. It was all underhand. It seems to me there was nothing particularly joyous about it. Nothing particularly celebrated about it. Now it can be joyous; it can be celebrated. It’s an amazing journey.
The second season of Vicious returns to PBS on Sunday, August 23, 2015, at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Matt Lee is a Web producer for Metro New York. He writes about almost everything and anything. Talk to him (or yell at him) on Twitter so he doesn’t feel lonely@mattlee2669.