Sir Ian McKellen weighs in on gay-for-pay actors

Ian McKellen at the BFI’s 25th anniversary screening of ‘Bent’ | photo credit: Getty Images

Knighted Companion of Honour, former Magneto and all-around gay icon Ian McKellen has once again emphasized whether straight actors should play gay roles.

The topic of discussion came up often this week when McKellen was in attendance at the Holocaust drama’s 25th anniversary screening, Bent,

Adapted from a play of the same name, director Sean Mathias’ 1997 film tells the story of Max (Clive Owen), a gay man living in 1930s Berlin, whom the Gestapo called after the infamous “Night of the Long Kives”. Arrested and sent to a concentration camp. McKellen co-stars as “Uncle Freddy”, who attempts to help Max by holding papers so he can flee the country.

whereas BentThe heavy subject matter (and NC-17 rating) make it a tough watch, with the film lauded for shedding a spotlight on the oppression of the LGBTQ community during the Holocaust. Owen, who is straight, has also been praised for his authentic, tear-jerking performance as the film’s gay protagonist.

RELATED: The Nazis Came For Us Too. Bent Queer recounts the horrors of the Holocaust.

In a post-screening Q&A, McKellen praised his former co-star. “There’s nothing wrong with that performance,” the actor said of Owen. “For those of you who think that only gay people should be allowed to play gay roles.”

As McKellen reminded the audience, he once played Max in a theatrical production of the West End. Bent—at a time when he was still in the closet (though, as he notes, he was secretly dating Mathias).

This isn’t the first time the famous actor has weighed in on so-called “gay-for-pay” work. During an in-depth interview with the BBC earlier this year, McKellen spoke about the topic when journalist Amol Rajan raised the controversy surrounding Dame Helen Mirren’s casting as Israel’s former prime minister, Golda Meir.

“There are two things: is it the argument that a Gentile cannot play the role of a Jew and is it the argument that a Jew cannot play the role of a Gentile?” McKellen asked. “Is the argument that a straight man can’t play a gay role, and if so does it mean I can’t play the straight part and I’m not allowed to explore the fascinating subject of heterosexuality. macbeth,

“Not sure. We’re acting. We’re pretending,” he continued. “Now, are we able to understand what it’s like to be Jewish? Are we going to convince the Jewish audience that we are Jewish? Maybe we don’t need it because we’re just acting.”

RELATED: Ian McKellen’s viral TikTok moment with Ollie Alexander was a rallying cry for all LGBTQ people

Bent Currently streaming via Kanopy, Pluto TV, Tubi and Fubo TV. It is available to rent through Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play.

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