The definitive biography of Sir Ian McKellen from an acclaimed biographer
In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. He made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scent of Flowers, but it was in 1980 that he took Broadway by storm when he played Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Tony-Award-winning play Amadeus.
He has starred in over four hundred plays and films and he is that rare character: a celebrity whose distinguished political and social service has transcended his international fame to reach beyond the stage and screen. The breadth of his career—professional, personal and political—has been truly staggering: Macbeth (opposite Judi Dench), Iago, King Lear, Chekhov’s Sorin in The Seagull and Becket’s tramp Estragon (opposite Patrick Stewart) in Waiting for Godot. Add to all this his tireless political activism in the cause of gay equality and you have a veritable phenomenon. Garry O’Connor’s Ian McKellen: A Biography probes the heart of the actor, recreating his greatest stage roles and exploring his personal life. Ian McKellen will show readers what makes a great actor tick. His life story has been a constantly developing drama and this biography is the next chapter.
Novelist and biographer O'Connor (The Vagabond Lover) explores the life and work of British actor Ian McKellen, a longtime friend, in this engaging but thin biography. Starting with McKellen's Lancashire boyhood, where he lost his mother at age 12, O'Connor recounts McKellen's early years through his Cambridge education, to his London stage debut in 1964, which was marred by tragedy when McKellen's father died in a car crash on the drive home after seeing him perform. O'Connor then charts McKellen's upward trajectory in theater peaks included his 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company pairing with Judi Dench in Macbeth and Tony-winning role as Salieri in Amadeus's 1980 Broadway premiere and his reticence about revealing his sexuality before, in the late 1980s, he embraced LGBTQ advocacy in response to the AIDS crisis and homophobic British laws. O'Connor's account which closes with the stratospheric fame McKellen achieved in the X-Men and Lord of the Rings films benefits from his insider access, but is hampered by an uncertain tone sometimes conversational, sometimes formal and occasionally faulty chronology (as when O'Connor seemingly has McKellen meeting "President Reagan" in 1992). A mostly entertaining introduction to the pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen, this book never quite manages its goal of showing "this complicated and complex man in all shades and colours."