Details: I heard you were dreading turning 70. Why?
Ian McKellen: I don't really like being with people my own age for long periods, because all we talk about is our decrepitude, how the world is changing for the worse even though it isn't. When you grumble about a taxi being dirty, people your own age will absolutely agree with you, whereas younger people say, "You should be so lucky to have a taxi—I walk to work!" So I have lots of young friends, who fortunately don't treat me as a guru, a person that knows all the answers. I'm just one of the gang—trying to get through it, you know?
Details: You didn't come out until you were 49. Did having to put on an act make it easier to do so professionally?
Ian McKellen: That's a very good point. I think that explains why a lot of actors of my generation are gay. Acting was a means to publicly display my emotions in a way that was illegal for me to do as a private person. Outside London where I lived, there was no gay pub or bar you could go to. And even if you found one, it was "Knock three times and ask for Louis." It was horrible living this secret life. You could feel a little bit what it was like to be a Jew in central Europe during a certain period. It was horrible.
Details: Are there any real benefits to being a "Sir?" Do you get bumped up to first class when you fly?
Ian McKellen: No, I don't. It's actually more of an annoyance, that title. And I don't think I'm a saint. It's all nonsense really, but if you live in a society where there are civilian awards, it seems a little bit churlish to say "I don't want it." I'm just trying to think of one advantage and I don't think there is one.
Details: There can't be many gay knights. Do you all ever get together or plan outings?
Ian McKellen: Well, there have been many gay knights in the past—like Sir NoŽl Coward, or Sir John Gielgud. But the difference between them and people like myself and Sir Tony Sher is that we are out and they weren't. But no—no, we don't get together. I think we all find it slightly embarrassing. We should probably have said we won't accept it—we only need one generation to do that and the tradition would wither away. What's a little uncomfortable is you think the Establishment wants to absorb everybody. The problem with refusing the title is, if society decides that you are qualified for knighthood, then they have to take you seriously.
Details: Have you ever wanted to get married?
Ian McKellen: It's never crossed my mind that it'd ever be possible for me. That's the scar that I and so many others bear—we believed ourselves to be second-rate citizens for so long, the idea of being able to say "This is my husband, these are my children" was not an option. I remember Tom Stoppard saying to me when I came out, "I feel so sorry for you, because you'll never have children." These days I would say, "Well, why not, Tom?" But 20 years ago I accepted his judgment.