Ian McKellen was born on 25 May 1939 in Burnley, England. He acted in school plays, for instance playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night and each summer he attended his school's camp at Stratford-upon-Avon, where he saw performances by Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Charles Laughton, Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud and Paul Robeson. He won an exhibition to read English at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, where he appeared in many undergraduate productions. After graduation in 1961 he went on to appear as Roper in A Man for All Seasons at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. As well as a long career acting on stage, television, radio and film he has also directed several productions as well as co-writing and co-producing the film of Richard III .
He has played many of the leading Shakespearean roles including Henry V, Henry VI, Richard II, Richard III, King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo, Macbeth and Coriolanus as well as in works by Christopher Marlowe, Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw and August Strindberg. He has worked many leading contemporary writers and directors such as Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare, Iris Murdoch, Harold Pinter, Mark Ravenhill, Tom Stoppard, Richard Eyre, Sir Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn and Franco Zeffirelli. In 1971 he founded the Actors Company with Edward Petherbridge. He has performed in fifteen plays at the National Theatre and was appointed to the board in 1998. He was the Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University in 1991.
In 1981 he played the lead role in the film Walter which was first shown on the launch night of Channel 4 on 2 November 1982. In 1998 he appeared as James Whale in Gods and Monsters and amongst other film roles has played Magneto in three X-Men films and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has also appeared in the television programmes Coronation Street and Tales of the City as well as playing himself in Extras and The Simpsons . Amongst many awards he has received a Tony Award, four Olivier Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award, as well as twice being nominated for an Academy Award and also for an Emmy.
In 1988 he publicly came out as a gay man during a BBC Radio 3 discussion about Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which made illegal the public 'promotion of homosexuality.' He helped to found Stonewall, a UK lobby group for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. He was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979 and knighted in 1990. In 2007 he was appointed Companion of Honour (CH) for services to Drama and Equality.
From the guide to the Sir Ian McKellen, actor: papers, 1967-2007, (V&A Department of Theatre and Performance)