Ian McKellen On Closeted Hollywood Stars

Ian McKellen, who has been out since he was 49, has always had a lot to say about being openly gay in Hollywood. He tells Popeater:

Ian "I don't think any gay person is going to be happy and bring joy to themselves and other people unless they can be honest about their sexuality, and if other people don't like that honestly, that's a comment on them and not on the person who is being honest. That might seem a harsh thing to say to a young actor who is being advised by an agent to stay in the closet. There are no openly gay stars in Hollywood, so someone is telling them to shut up."

He adds: "If you're going around telling a lie you may get by but you won't be half as happy as you would be if you came out. If that means you have to give up hopes of being one of the three or four young sex symbols in Hollywood so be it. You probably weren't going to be one of those anyway. That happens by chance and it doesn't last for very long. There is a difference between living a private life and being in the closet. Being in the closet means you're lying about your life but just because you come out doesn't mean you have to talk about every affair you have. You don't have to talk about what you do in bed anymore than I have to talk about the food I eat."


  1. Bobby says

    I respect Sir Ian as an actor…but where was his coming out story during his firt 49 years? Wouldn’t closeted young Hollywood be more responsive to someone under 40?

  2. Jeremy says

    Bobby: Give the man a break. He’s 71. He came out in 1988, when I was 3 years old and WAY before almost everyone else in the biz. How groundbreaking is groundbreaking enough for you?

  3. niles says

    He is correct, but please, no more preaching. Everyone (including Ian) has to choose their own time and way of coming out. The competition is fierce in Hollywood, and I would probably delay such an announcement, if it meant I could have a decent career.

  4. True Words says

    Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gays and gay people what to think about themselves. from the Celluloid Closet

  5. chrissypoo says

    The main problem is with the actor’s representation (i.e. talent agent, talent manager and their publicist). These people always encourage actors and actresses not to come out of the closet because of some archaic notions that the flyover states wouldn’t want them starring in movies or television shows.

    Of these representatives, the worst offenders of trying to keep actors in the closet are:

    openly gay talent agents.


    Because they are afraid that they will lose income. In their mind, an openly gay actor won’t work as much because studios and networks don’t want the hassle.

    Of course, this is a very 1980s – 1990s attitude.

    It is also hipocritical for them to enjoy the benefits of being out, while encouraging others to stay in the closet.

  6. neverstops says

    his analysis is concise & wise

    I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of “but but but” in response to this, when actually there is none

    at the end of the day, the real issue personal integrity – no more or less

  7. Henry Holland says

    I think it depends on what niche the actor is in. If they’re an action star or doing romantic leads, hell, I’d advise them to stay closeted. Actors are totally disposable –yes, even you Tom Cruise– and there’s always someone new to replace them. They can always come out when they transition to playing dads or police sergeants. :-)

    On the other hand, if you’re doing quirky supporting roles, why not? Nobody is going to mistake Jesse Tyler Ferguson, for example, for the next action star in waiting.

    Great post, Chrissypoo.

  8. neverstops says

    @Henry Holland

    “Actors are totally disposable”

    yeah, but personal character is not

    but then again, an individual’s mileage may vary on that opinion

  9. Charles says

    He “came out” in 1988 but had been in a glass closet since at least the 70s…

    But, to the one who said he was preaching when himself didn’t do it etc., > It is entirely different. Ian McKellen was born in 1939 (just checked), therefore was 28 when homosexuality was legalized in England! You can’t compare that kind of life and the one young gay people have nowadays. Now, yes, it really is their choice to make.

    Now do I think a young actor should come out? No. Do I think 90% of the actors who are quite well known and are glass closets anyway should come out? Yes.

  10. Robert says

    I’m glad to see Ian point out coming out does not mean you’re saying who you sleep with. The names and details of your relationships are personal, absolutely. The state of being homosexual is no more “personal” and “private” than being heterosexual. It’s just a fact.

  11. Contrarian says

    Actors who qualify as leading man “hunks” stay in the closet for many reasons, not least the fear of rejection by a largely straight female fan base. Action film heroes have a(mostly)str8 teenage male fan base.

    Then as one person has already stated, their agent or publicist (often gay) urge them to keep mum. This is confirmed by thread comments on another raunchier website frequented by industry types. Dare to start a thread suggesting that actor”X” is gay and the queens from Hollywood break into a chorus of: How Dare You spread salacious gossip. There is no proof they scream and “X” has a girlfriend (industry arranged of course). I also suspect that some Bi/Gay men have a need to idolize straight men and don’t want their illusions crushed.

  12. Rin says

    He is completely honest and just a class act! I love that man.

    The fact is that Hollyweird is worried about men buying a gay guy as an action star. Women do not care if a guy is gay. Won’t stop him from being a sex symbol to us–look at Neil Patrick Harris! Dead sexy. And the more gay athletes, soldiers, etc come out the less problem straight guys will have (I hope) with a say…Tom Cruise being a gay action hero…if he were gay, that is.

    I’m not saying he’s gay.

    Don’t sue me, Tom.

  13. Rin says


    women thought the following were gay (and still went to see their movies):

    Jude Law
    Jake G
    Keanu Reeves (during the David Geffen rumor)
    Tom Cruise (our boyfriends made us)
    Hugh Dancy
    Robert Downey Jr
    George Clooney

    Gay men could come out and it won’t change them from being a sex symbol to people of both sexes–again, Neil Patrick Harris.

  14. TANK says

    Hey, this topic isn’t a booooring cliche…

    I just like to out people over 18–it’s fun…especially when they don’t want it…regardless of whether or not they’re actively working against gay rights, etc…just out them all, and let dog sort ’em. Good times. Betcha no one posted anything like that.

  15. TANK says

    And here’s a tip if you out ADULTS who are closeted for whatever generic reason. Instead of having to go through that tedious and insipid, “Oh, I’m sorry…wife left ya, took kids, family not talking to you..blah blah blah, wah wah wah…I did this for you” who gives a fuck routine…record it ahead of time…and when they come up to you, just play it for them so you can do more interesting things like huck cupcakes or go out. Or just text them that generic response, but dont’ forget to include their name.

  16. says

    No offense to Sir Ian, but, how many ‘lead’ actors/actresses in film are openly gay (Sir Ian is a noted character actor)? Hollywood, politically is pro-gay, but business wise, they are anti-gay. You can mention actors such as NPH, Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Chris Coffer, etc., but they are considered ‘character actors’ and primarily television. In the U.S. there is a puritan stronghold, which we just saw in the most recent election. Anti-gay mentality prevails (as noted by the ousting of 3 pro-gay marriage judges). In Sir Ian’s homeland, maybe they will accept openly gay lead actors, but not yet in the heartland of the U.S.

  17. Theo says

    Can’t remember which part of bible the phrase was written, but i thought it was simply true, relevant and powerful…you shall seek the true, for the true shall make you free.

  18. TANK says

    Kind of ironic considering the source, huh? No, not really…considering it’s a meaningless statement…one that is neither true nor false…which is also kinda ironic.

  19. ratbastard says

    Mr. McKellen should realize we are all individuals with unique personalities. He doesn’t know what every gay or bi male is thinking or how they’d react to any given situation. It’s nice when a well known guy or girl, especially one thought to be str8 or who could easily pass, comes out of the closet. But there are many reasons why they wouldn’t want to publicly discuss their sexuality, not the least of which may be a multi million dollar livelihood. How many would voluntarily put that in jeopardy? The truth is a lot of entertainers in music, movies,tv,etc., rely especially heavily on female fans and most athletes rely on their marketability with male fans.

  20. TANK says

    And don’t get me wrong…money’s important. Anyone says otherwise doesn’t understand living (expensive to be alive, slick). But it doesn’t do it for me. Call it buyer’s remorse…no fun in consumption.

  21. SFGreek says

    His point was about being happy, and he’s probably right. I prefer to take his “no openly gay actors in Hollywood” as referring to men, not women (arguably, there are several female leads who are out). The public has a harder time, so the story goes, with gay men as straight romantic leads. Rupert Everett definitely lost business for coming out. But that was a long time ago, and he’s not as Hollywood as Sir Ian is talking about, I guess. Wrong for overlooking NPH. Otherwise, I like what he’s saying.

  22. TANK says

    “not the least of which may be a multi million dollar livelihood. How many would voluntarily put that in jeopardy?”

    Me. I’m not motivated by money, and I would rather die than have any other way. LOL! but as I’ve said, I’m grateful that a lot of people are…it really makes most things predictable, and I like that.

  23. EM says

    He’s right, of course. And those people verbally busting him for coming out when he did, well, he is just saying in his own way, ‘don’t do what I did and leave it that long’. He never condemns anyone, he knows the score. He just doesn’t want to see people unhappy. He says it because he cares.

    He is right. One cannot be oneself if one has to lie. And Chrissypoo made an excellent point about it being gay agents/managers who keep their clients in. They are fine with the gay per se, just not that that gay should ‘ruin’ an actor’s image – which benefits a manager/agent reliant on cash injections from such a ‘straight’ image. How actors have not wised up to this manipulation seems amazing. But they seem happy to be less about individuality than toeing the line ($$$$$$) in Hollywood.


  24. John says

    He’s poking the bee hive with a stick and he’s going to get stung.

    Sir Ian should know by now that any criticism of Hollywood will instantly result in a defensive, reactionary campaign to discredit him from various interest groups (fan boys, agents, publicists, studio public relations, etc.)

    They are worse than the politicians with this stuff.

  25. Justin says

    So, he didn’t publicly say “I am gay” until the age of 49? So what?..

    He never made an effort to pretend to be straight previously. That’s the difference between him and a number of TRULY closeted celebrities.

    Same as Jodie Foster. She may never have even said “I am gay”, but she’s never attended premieres with a beard, or conjured up imaginary boyfriends in interviews during her adulthood.

    It’s the closet-cases whom maintain an act of heterosexuality whom are the hypocrites, not those whom choose to stay silent until they’re ready.

  26. Justin says

    Being private isn’t the same as being closeted.

    To me, being in the closet is maintaining a façade of heteronormativity by lying to yourself and the world. Simply remaining silent until you’re ready isn’t the same.

    Why don’t some people understand this?

  27. says

    Coming out when you are 49 years old really isn’t that groundbreaking, no? Several years ago, I remember when Sir Ian tried to out Jimmy Fallon on SNL. That was very uncomfortable. Why should people deprived of outing themselves? Very tacky. That’s Perez Hilton territory.

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