Sir Ian McKellen Fights Back After ‘Fruity’ Remark From ‘Homeland’ Star Damian Lewis

LewisSir Ian McKellen, one of the finest British actors of the past several decades, and an openly gay man, was recently the butt of Homeland star Damian Lewis's (right) unpleasant commentary. Lewis mentioned that after getting his start in theater, he was glad to get out early on. Otherwise, he would run the risk of becoming "one of these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn't start getting any kind of film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards.”

Though McKellen is not mentioned by name, Gandalf the Grey took it upon himself to offer a series of pointed and rather enlightened retorts.

The Independent reports:

The X-Men actor went on to describe Lewis’ statement as “a fair comment”, before adding: “To rebut it: I wouldn't like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on and expected it to continue and was stuck doing scripts that I didn't particularly like just to keep the income up.

“I've always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better. You've only got to see my early work to see that.

“As for a fruity voice? Well, it may be a voice that is trained like an opera singer's voice: to fill a large space. It is unnatural. Actors have to be heard and their voice may therefore develop a sonorous quality that they can't quite get rid of, so you think actors are as pompous as their voice is large. I suppose Damian was thinking of that a little bit, too.”

SiriansmilesMcKellen (right) also took the time to point out the conflicted and deeply closeted position of many gay artists, and attempted to assuage their fears.

“It's true of A-lists all over the world – A-list priests, A-list politicians. What will other people think? Will people still vote for me? Will people come and see me act?

“They're warned by the people who surround them – agents and managers, who have a living to make and are worried that the actor will get pigeonholed.”

“I don't think the audience gives a damn,” he added. “You don't have to be straight to play Gandalf. Anyway, who says that Gandalf isn't gay? I loved it when JK Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay.”

And in his final deconstruction of Lewis's remarks, Sir Ian took a stance on Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws, and made sure to mention the artists whose work he will always regard highly. 

“That's why I can't go to Russia… They couldn't protect me from those laws. Two and a half hours from London! In the land of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, Rudolf Nureyev – gay artists whose sexuality informed their work,” he said.

Check out Sir Ian McKellen, now on Broadway in Waiting for Godot and No Man's Land, and soon to be back in theaters as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.


  1. Dave says

    Sorry to see his comment in reference to Sir Ian McKellen. I would ask: which is the most demanding type of acting? stage or film. I would suggest that a long, varied, and strong background in stage acting would help Damien endure as both a stage AND screen actor. That was an unfortunate comment that, I think, reflects poorly on Damien’s understanding of acting, and suggests that he thinks the most significant form of acting is the type that makes lots of money and creates fame through film work only.

  2. Zlick says

    Hmmm, I was getting really tired of Homeland this season. I think this might put me over the edge in deciding to quit after the next two episodes conclude this 3rd and worst season.

    I like to think i’m the kind of person who doesn’t judge’s an artist’s work by their personal life … but I notice it’s been a long long time since I’ve seen any Mel Gibson movies. Sorry, Damian, you may be next on my list.

  3. Leo says

    Homeland was halfway decent in season 1 but now Claire Dane’s performances are the only thing propping it up from cliched mediocrity.

    I’ve always found Lewis’ entire career to be vastly overrated. He strikes me as incredibly narcissistic in interviews as well. Once the show is finished his career will hopefully be too. One thing for sure is he’ll never come remotely close to McKellen’s performances, film catalog, or legacy.

  4. Mark says

    Messing with an old queen it’s like fooling with a cobra “just to see if it bites”, Damian Lewis is a basic man, and decided to show his misery in a tw@t comment, poor choice

  5. Chaz says

    A gracious answer to a rude comment. If it had been Michael Gambon, he’s have kicked his skinny little ginger arse for him.

    Stage actors are athletes. TV actors are nothing by comparison. Any fool can be on TV these days.

  6. Chaz says

    I’d like to see Lewis get up in front of an audience and act non-stop without a cut or a retake and without making one tiny error in three hours. Not one swallowed vowel, not one missed cue, not one fluffed or forgotten word or gesture.

    For three hours, under mass constant observation. You slip once, you die.

  7. Chaz says

    I’d like to see Lewis get up in front of an audience and act non-stop without a cut or a retake and without making one tiny error in three hours. Not one swallowed vowel, not one missed cue, not one fluffed or forgotten word or gesture.

    For three hours, under mass constant observation. You slip once, you die.

  8. keating says

    Before he made his silly, career-damaging comments, Damian Lewis obviously hadn’t seen “Vicious,” an atrocious recent sitcom in which McKellen plays a mean old queen. If Lewis had seen it, he would have known not to mess with…a mean old queen.

  9. Dastius Krazitauc says

    Does “fruity” mean something else in Britain? I didn’t think he was referring to voice quality, as McKellen seems to think. I think it was more anti-gay than that.

  10. Nick says

    Wow. That just ruined Homeland for me, and I liked the show very much. It’d be tough to watch it now though. Why does everything have to get tainted with homophobia, can’t we have any escape?

  11. simon says

    Are you serious? According to most biographers, Nureyev was never a womanizer. He was in relations with at least 3 men more or less openly . He also had lots of anonymous gay sex in public places. That probably was the reason he died of Aids. On the other hand, Nijinsky was a closeted family man.

  12. pete n sfo says

    I remember way back when, Joan Rivers had a talk show. Vanilla Ice was the guest but no-showed b/c he was hung or tired or both.

    Joan went to his hotel suite w/ cameras to tell him personally, that you just don’t do that and that in about 5 minutes he would officially be a has-been. It’s really the only thing I remember about Vanilla Ice.

    Tenacious beats pretty in that industry, every time.

  13. simon says

    Moreover, Ian McKellen probably knows more about Nuyerev than any anonymous commentators here. They were in the same generation and quite likely to have mutual friends in the Arts circle..

  14. oncemorewithfeeling says

    Never heard of this guy before, but now I know to not support his work in the future — if, indeed, he has any.

    Seriously, he thinks he’s better, in any way, than Sir Ian? What a moron.

  15. gregorybrown says

    @Dastius: yes, “fruity” means “queer” in the UK, and also here in the US. Holden Caulfield, the nasty little git lead character in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, refers to one of his teachers as a “fruit”. And too few folks seem to know that Liberace won a libel suit in England against a reporter who used “fruity” to describe the famous one. I suppose the Brits still believe Liberace was hetero.

  16. Dastius Krazitauc says

    I see, gregorybrown. I guess Ian McKellen was just taking the high road.

    But I won’t. Death to Brody! Let the beautiful Rupert Friend become the star and lover of Carrie next season.

  17. Sean says

    Damian Lewis is Showtime’s newest one-note johnny. I didn’t like him before and this sealed the deal. I tried three times to watch Homeland, can’t get into it. If it was new territory, or if the actors did amazing work that’d be one thing, but that is sooo not the case with that show. It’s just taking a spy show treatment and exploiting america’s latest mania…fear. Lewis couldn’t hold McKellan’s opera length gloves.

  18. James says

    I suppose it’s possible Lewis was not using “fruity” to suggest gay, but rather, as we Americans would say, “hammy,” which is how Sir Ian seems to have interpreted the comment.

    That said, the best part of “Homeland” this season have been the episodes in which he is absent.

  19. Alan says

    I’m excited to see both the Pinter and Beckett plays this coming weekend.

    @Pete – “Vanilla Ice was the guest but no-showed b/c he was hung or tired or both.” Hung men don’t come to see Joan Rivers? He couldn’t be hung and tired? I’m confused.

  20. G McGinnis says

    Terry, Damon Lewis is that annoying Brodie guy they didn’t kill off at the end of the first season of Homeland and has been bringing the quality of the script down for three seasons now. If they don’t kill off his character soon I think the series will tank. It helps not to come off as a conceded ass in front of the respected actors and directors if he ever hopes to land another successful acting gig.

  21. woodroad34 says

    @ Topol

    I met Nureyev in Lansing Michigan when he was dancing with the National Ballet of Canada. I was 17 at the time and it was interesting to listen to him talk to people he didn’t want to talk to–crisp, non-Russian accented English, but when he talked to me, it was low, deep and extremely Russian accented–Yeah, he was trying to pick me up and my dance teacher tried to get me away from him. Nureyev’s boyfriend was famously known as Eric Bruhn the Danish Ballet super star. While Nureyev may have had dalliances with women, he was definitely gay. Nijinsky was the one who ended up taking a wife after his affair with Diagliev.

  22. woodroad34 says

    Oh, and I love McKellen’s fatherly approach to a surly and insolent teenage acting younger actor.

    it’s very much: “Yes, dear, but my approach made me a better actor, enabling me to act longer and keep to the style I’ve become accustomed. While you, poor laddie, are going to stumble and fall and eventually come to my way of doing things; regretting, immensely, your immature ramblings and attitudes.” *sigh* children today…tsk, tsk, tsk.

  23. James says

    Always amazes me how some gay people — as evidenced on this board — respond to bigots by calling them gay. Talk about self-hating.

    And don’t feed me the line about closet queens being the nastiest. Mostly it’s just the hetero bigots who cause the problems.

  24. Derek Pearce says

    A bit let down to here this. I thought Lewis was perfect, brilliant, in the original Band of Brothers. Perhaps he really did mean “hammy” rather than being homophobic when he said “fruity”, too bad if not.

    And yes, Topol you are thinking of Baryshnikov being the ladies man, because Nureyev was gay to the gay gay gay…

  25. emjayay says

    Dastius: Hadn’t thought of that. Could be. His reponse does seem way too nice. Another thing, besides sonorous, is that British people in general of course just enunciate and stress etc. differently than Americans.

  26. Alfred says

    Gosh, was Damien really high from Brody’s addiction on Homeland? That was so rude – just because he won an Emmy doesn’t mean he can be rude to a treasure who has been in the top box-office movies (X-Men, LOTR and The Hobbits) in the past decade. And where has Damien been? I mean no disrespect to TV actors (I love TV more than movies) but how dared he! If it wasn’t for Quinn and Saul, I would not have watched Homeland – yes, it wasn’t you I wanted to watch, Damien!

  27. says

    I like Lewis (I’m a sucker for gingers) and I also like McKellan. Lewis made a rookie mistake. Actors and musicians should NEVER criticize their colleagues! You risk alienating your own fans who may also like the person you belittled. There’s absolutely NOTHING to be gained from it. So don’t do it!

  28. Borscht says

    Damian Lewis? Dude…you’re: 1) British, and 2) an actor. All you need is a lisp and you’d be fruitier than a x-mas pudding. The biggest butch queens are always the last to know.

    As for queer Russians? Rachmaninov! Richter! Brezhnev was known to suck on a pickle or two in his day as well. And Pooty-Poot! The truth is JUST BEGINNING to come out about ol’ Vladimir. So give it a restsky already.

  29. db says

    Keating and Mark, what was “mean” or “queeny” about McKellen’s response?

    And Topol, no he meant Nureyev who had sex with way more men than women and was pretty active in gay circles and died of AIDS in 1993 which he did not contract from heterosexual sex or IV drug use.

  30. Daniel says

    I’m dissappointed in Lewis. I really liked him in Band of Brothers, and some other things.

    He should mostly be concerned that TV and movie actors tend to get lazy–which I sometimes think his performance in Homeland is.

    He should only hope for a career as long and distinguished as McKellen’s.

  31. Dave W says

    Damian’s problem is that he is stuck in a 2 dimensional role that brings in the big bucks – whether he’s the problem, or the scripts are, Homeland ceased to be interesting other than as a network frranchise after the first season. Had they made it a one season arc, he and it would have been tolerable. As it is, he’s now relegated to a single look and cadence that is boring in the extreme – and certainly not great acting.

  32. kamran says

    daniel is a prick and i think a racist also
    i saw him in oxford street went up with my 1 year old daughter to get an autograph he was rude acting all important well ur just an actor jerk.

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