World-famous and renowned actors Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen will be sharing the title of this year’s grand marshals for New York City Pride.
McKellen is widely known for his now iconic performance as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogy, as well as starring in the “X-Men” films at Magneto.
Metro caught up with McKellen to talk about everything from his first NYC Pride, what he thinks about the LGBTQ community going mainstream, and if Michael Fassbender is stealing all his roles.
How do you feel about being one of the grand marshals for NYC Pride?
I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never actually been to a New York Pride — I don’t know how that’s happened but this is putting it all right. It will be lovely to be with Derek, who’s never been at a Pride before anywhere. He’s a Pride virgin.
Will you be holding his hand through it all?
No, I won’t be doing that! No. He can look after himself! He’ll have his husband with him, too.
Why is Pride still important?
I think Pride is very important in countries where a lot of gay people feel very free and happy. There are other people who don’t feel like that, and I think it’s great for those people to come along and watch the show and realize that there is a large series of communities out there. It’s a good affirmation for people.
Sir Derek said you’ve always been the more political one. Is that true?
I came out at a time when there was a new law that disadvantaged gay people and I was trying to get that repealed in Parliament. I found that I enjoyed that. I was never a real leader, but I was with other people who wanted to be active and I was able to join in with them and help to start Stonewall — a lobby group in the UK that has managed to rid of all the bad laws.
The last 10 years or so have seen huge leaps of progress in the LGBT movement, but also several steps back in countries like Russia.
What has it been like to see so much progress coupled with regression?
The tide comes in and the tide goes out! We’re in a period of transition. I think events in Russia reflect the internal politics there and it’s all very regrettable. It’s very hard for local activists because they feel out of touch with what’s happening in the rest of the world, but they know they’re not alone in the end.
As things get better in the United States and elsewhere, our eyes begin to turn to less fortunate people across the world. If you’re out, you can’t really help being an internationalist because you sympathize with local conditions.
Do you think the LGBT community has become less queer as it’s integrated with the mainstream?
Some people like myself are happy to just be part of the wider community. I’m not one of those that want to live in the ghetto or say that because I’m gay, I’m superior to anyone else. I don’t regret the passing of the days when you couldn’t show affection in public, when your very sexuality made you a criminal and life was secretive. I’m delighted that they’re gone.
I know the sense that people have that, “We shouldn’t integrate. We should pronounce our differences.” It’s the sort of argument that goes actually in all civil rights movements and is reflected fictionally in the “X-Men” movies in the argument between Professor X and Magneto. Magneto prefers to be separate — I think I’m on the side of Professor X who just wants to not be separated out from society.
I think the times when people were ardently radical were forced on them by society as a whole by totally rejecting us. Of course we felt different, of course we felt we should be independent, but now the laws have changed and I think it’s all for the better.
In your show “Vicious,” you play an older gay couple with Derek Jacobi. What are your thoughts on aging in the gay community?
Well, it could be different for different people. There are some people of my age who will never come out, and I feel sorry for them. There are others who will be wondering, without a family to look after them, where they are going to be when they’re decrepit. I wish I felt there were more places that were gay-friendly for old people.
Getting old isn’t easy for anybody, but it can be particularly difficult if you’re gay.
What has it been like working on “Vicious” with Sir Derek?
It’s been a joy! We’ve known each other for a long time and not really acted together since we were undergraduates at Cambridge. It’s not just Derek; it’s the rest of the cast who are old friends as well. I’m very glad that so many people enjoy it!
Michael Fassbender seem to be snatching up your roles. First he’s taken Magneto, and now he’s playing Macbeth. Is there a conspiracy for him to take all your roles? Will we see him as Gandalf soon?
Well, I’m delighted for him. I think he’s got so much work that perhaps he could release Magneto back to the original, but maybe that’s not entirely in his script. I wish him well in Macbeth. It’s not an easy part, but he’ll be very good. I’m a big fan.
Anything to say to our readers?
I remember the first time I came to New York in 1967 to appear on Broadway: I had to declare on the visa form that I was not mad or had ever been a homosexual. I, of course, lied on that occasion. To be able to come in to New York as an openly gay man and to support all the legal changes that are rapidly occurring just underlines how much things have changed for the better!
The second season of “Vicious” returns to PBS on Sunday, Aug. 23, 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.