Ian McKellen has sworn he’ll never write a memoir, but the 78-year-old out icon is starring in the new documentary McKellen: Playing the Part, which chronicles his life from his start on the stage to being part of some of the biggest movie franchise of all time—as well as an integral part of the LGBT rights movement in the UK and abroad.
At the Rome Film Fest, The Hollywood Reporter asked McKellen if he wanted to be remembered more for his acting or his activism.
“I do a lot of theater, and theater is just for now, it’s just for today. Tonight you know, it’s over, it’s finished, it’s not recorded,” he mused.
“Now cinema is quite different, film is eternal as you are. But I do notice… that when you look at old films the actors may look young but their acting is rather old-fashioned. In other words, there are fashions in acting, and with very few exceptions ones work actually looks worse and worse as the years go by.”
But McKellen’s work helping to get Section 28 repealed, bringing marriage equality to the UK and addressing anti-LGBT laws in former British colonies will never go out of fashion.
“I’m very proud of my small contributions to changing the law in this country and changing attitudes, all for the better,” he says. “And I suppose in the scheme of things that is more important and the more merit and longer lasting than any acting that I have done.”
“But,” McKellen adds, “that is more for other people to judge, isn’t it?”
He also teased that he wouldn’t say no to returning to the role of mutant antihero Magneto. “With the first X-Men movies, I’d like nothing better for them to write me back into X-Men, but I think Michael Fassbender needs the work!”
Below, Sir Ian reads aloud Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech. originally delivered by the late activist on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in 1978.