IAN MCKELLEN FEATURE
Good Knight Out
At the start of World AIDS Week. Sir IAN MCKELLEN comes to Edinburgh with his one-man performance, A Knight Oat. Thom Dibdin spoke to him.
ir Ian McKellen had just received a telegram when we spoke. Not that he was flaunting it. or crowing about its content: an American award for his part itt And The Band l’layed ()n. the tilm that chronicles the early years of the AIDS epidemic in America. No. he was just highly amused that Home Box Office. the senders of the telegram and producers of the lilm. had referred to it as ‘And The Bank Played 011‘.
‘You can tell where llBO's interests lie.‘ he laughs at the particularly suitable Freudian slip. And if l-IBO‘s interests lie with the money men. McKellen’s qttite clearly do not. About three years ago he took a rest from the stage after a gruelling two-year world tour with Richard III.
‘I really atn intrigued by lilm.‘ he says. His screen play for Richard III begins shooting next March and. since the tour ended. he has played small parts in several lilms as he loses his nerves about acting for the camera.
Among the small parts was that of Bill Kraus in And Tlte li’and Played ()It. The director. Roger Spottiswoode. was having difficulty getting major league Hollywood actors because they were frightened of becoming tainted by playing a gay character. So even though McKellen is the wrong age and nationality. he was delighted to have an openly gay actor for the part.
‘lt was an important story to tell. to correct the general impression that the public at large in America had. that AIDS was nothing to do with them.‘ says McKellen of the film. ‘I think this story of telling the truth was a valuable message and it was going to be seen in middle America because it was on their television screens. I think it has had a big impact there on increasing people‘s awareness.‘
llowever. McKellen is anxious not to reinforce the impression that AIDS is just a gay
problem. ‘.-\nybody in Iidinburgh who knows about it historically. knows that iii your city it has absolutely not been the case.’ he says. ‘Gays are in i: itt: erybody else. It is a genuinely national and international problem for everybody. In some areas in America if you talk about .-\ll)S they assume you are talking about being gay. which really should not be because there is not an automatic connection.
‘I hay e just been to South Africa attd AIDS is a real problem for them. It is not a gay problem there principally at all. it is one of people who are otit of touch with medical authorities and the
knowledge they have. It is just a question of
‘I think I am doing sort of missionary work. Trying to convert people, not to be gay but to be sympathetic and understanding.’
Although supposedly resting from the theatrical stage. .\chellen has not been away from the public‘s eye. He has been devoting immense amounts of time and energy to speaking out tor the gay and lesbian movement. He was particularly vocal during the debate about the equality of the age of consent.
Listening to him talk. it is obviotts why he is such valuable asset to the gay movement. Ilis
clear. strong voice complements a clarity of
thought and directness that makes you feel you are hay ing a chat with an old friend. not someone who has been knighted and bent the Prime \linister‘s ear about gay issues.
‘()ne of the things that appealed to me about acting was that l was doing other people’s words and was just at the service of the director.‘ he sa)‘.\’. 'I wasn't the sort of actor who ever wanted to delve into his own life. except to put it at the
Sir Ian McKellan service of somebody else‘s story. Now it is a great relief to feel that my gayness. if you like to call it that. is not just important to me. but is important to me as a public figure. I do feel more satisfied than I did before.
‘My contribution to gay rights is to talk through to the straight audience who probably haven‘t thought about the issues before but are prepared to listen because they are quite interested in that other side of my life, being an actor. Whether it is in an interview. or writing an article or talking to various groups it’s nice to feel that I can make very simple points from my own experience. It clicks with people and they look at the issues a bit more seriously than they might have done otherwise.
"I‘here are a lot of missionaries in my family and I think I am doing sort of missionary work. 'l‘rying to convert people. not to be gay but to be sympathetic and understanding.‘
McKellen was asked to provide a Broadway show for the cultural programme during New York‘s Gay Games las summer. What he produced was A Knight ()at. a two-hour solo performance. It encompasses his life. frotn kissing a man on stage at the Iidinburgh Festival in I969 during Iidward II to his recent career as an amateur activist.
After five sell-out performances on Broadway. he has now brought the show to the UK and is doing three performances at weekends. to keep his hand in at stage work. Bankability is still far from his mind. however. and all money raised will go aid the Stonewall project which lobbies for social change and legal equality on behalf of UK lesbians and gay men. .J
A Knight ()at is at the Royal Lyceum ’l'heatre. lidinlnn‘gh on Sun 27 Nov. lie/vets [l2 and ill. And The Band l’layed ()n will he broadcast on BBC? at 9.30pm on Sat .i’ Dee.
The List l8 November I December 100415