The life and career of the beloved actor.
O’Connor (The Vagabond Lover: A Father-Son Memoir, 2017, etc.) has known McKellen (b. 1939) since their student days at Cambridge in the 1950s, but when he asked his celebrated friend to help write this book, McKellen declined, saying “I’ve only got a few years left,” and “I’d be wasting your time, my time, correcting and disputing things.” The resulting book demonstrates how much McKellen has done with his years and plans to do with his remaining allotment. Born in Burnley, England, to a civil engineer father and “traditional Lancashire housewife,” McKellen was devastated at age 12 when his mother died from breast cancer, a tragedy that “became a driver towards endless achievement and ambition.” O’Connor chronicles the highs and lows of that ambition, from McKellen’s work in Cambridge plays to his long career in the theater to his late-in-life success in films, most remuneratively his roles as Magneto in the X-Men series and as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings series. The author also charts the trajectory of McKellen’s personal life, including his early realization that he was gay, his many years of keeping it hidden from everyone but close theater friends, and his decades as a vocal champion of gay rights. O’Connor inserts himself into the narrative more than he should: the conversations he has had with other theater people, the plays he has directed, and so on. He often digresses with tangential stories, such as the three pages of anecdotes about Laurence Olivier, whom McKellen idolizes. However, there’s enough backstage insight to entertain McKellen fans. The book is packed with anecdotes, as when McKellen, after his Lord of the Rings success, takes guests to a restaurant, “rises to his feet, looks around benignly grinning at everyone, and addresses the company with the words, ‘Gandalf pays!’ ”
A chatty biography of one of the era’s greatest actors.