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26 Jan 2016 12:06
British actor Ian McKellen, who found global fame through the "Lord of the Rings" movies, says Gay Actors Are 'Disregarded' by Hollywood. (Reuters)
Ian McKellen, the veteran British actor who found global fame through the Lord of the Rings movies, has cautioned that homophobia is as
much of an issue among Academy voters as racism. Commenting on Monday on the
current row over the lack of diversity among both Oscar voters and this year’s
nominees, McKellen suggested prejudice was the reason no openly gay man had
ever received an Academy award for best actor.
He expressed sympathy with black actors angry that they were
“being ill-treated and underestimated,” but said the issue was a
“No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if
that is prejudice or chance,” he said, with the implication that he felt
it tended towards the former.
Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn have all won
best actor Oscars for playing gay men.
“How clever, how clever,” said
“My speech has been in two jackets… ‘I’m proud to be
the first openly gay man to win the Oscar.’ I’ve had to put it back in my
McKellen was first nominated for the best actor award in
1998, missing out to Roberto Benigni for
Life is Beautiful; and for best
supporting actor as Gandalf in the first
Lord of the Rings film (Jim Broadbent
Iris). He had been felt by many to be a potential contender this year
for his acclaimed role as an ageing Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon’s
Mr Holmes; but he missed nominations from most major awards bodies.
As it stood, said McKellen, the Oscars voting system was not
fit for purpose. “If you are trying to have a career, as a black or
Hispanic actor in a state – California – where white people are now the
minority, and you are being judged by an Academy where the vast majority are
white, male, middle-aged and old… well, perhaps that is the wrong
This year is the second in succession that the Oscars have
produced all-white acting shortlist. The growing row prompted the Academy to
announce on Friday a “sweeping series of substantive change” with the
number of “women and diverse members” of the Academy doubled by 2020.
That is too late for some, however, with Will Smith joining
his wife Jada Pinkett Smith in vowing not to attend this year’s ceremony. Host
Chris Rock over the weekend restated his commitment to the event, but producers
have suggested he will be tackling the issue in his opening monologue.
McKellen was speaking at the London launch of a BFI
Shakespeare season which will include his 1995 film of
Richard III, in which
he starred and adapted the text. He also had a big say in who starred alongside him, turning
down a 12-year-old Eddie Redmayne for a part as one of the princes in the
“Eddie Redmayne is a bloody good actor even though I
had the privilege of denying him his first film part,” said McKellen.
“I didn’t think he was good enough… I can’t remember why. We turned down
this little Eton boy.”
McKellen did, however, give another Eton-educated actor his
first film role: Dominic West, who played the Earl of Richmond. McKellen said Eton alumni had an in-built advantage in that
their school had a theatre which would “satisfy the needs of somewhere
It was concerning, he said, if working-class people could
not afford to study acting. “It would be dreadful if only the privately
educated could get to Rada.”
The BFI will screen Richard III and re-release it on DVD. On
the suggestion of McKellen, it will also organise a bus tour of the film’s
London locations including Hackney gas towers, Battersea power station and what
is now Tate Modern.
McKellen himself will be the tour guide, although probably
only on one occasion. BFI head curator Robin Baker said it was likely to be the
most oversubscribed event the BFI had ever organised.
The Shakespeare season in April and May, marking the 400th
anniversary of his death, will include many screenings as well as an
international tour of 18 British Shakespeare films visiting 110 countries
including Cuba, Iraq and Russia. –
(c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2016
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