A portrait of his work and life – from early childhood to life in the public eye, this new documentary explores and celebrates this icon’s rich stage, film and life legacy.

He’s most famously known around the world for his role as the bearded and long-haired wizard Gandalf in blockbuster The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Sir Ian McKellen is a true wizard in the world of entertainment.

Reflecting on life

McKellen: Playing the Part is a life-changing and enriching experience – like listening to your flamboyant favourite uncle, with a twinkle in his eye, fondly recounting the very best and most moving parts of his life and sharing his unique and magical journey.

The documentary includes dramatised scenes of Ian’s childhood and in his 14-hour sit-down interview, Ian opens up about everything: from being gay when homosexuality was illegal and his eventual coming out story, to his mother’s passing away when he was 12, as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes gossip and insights about his varied and illustrious career spanning across many decades.

“Try and understand what part you have to play in the world in which you live. There’s more to life than you know and it’s all happening out there. Discover what part you can play and then go for it.” – Sir Ian McKellen

From stage legend to film veteran

As a British cultural icon, most people will recognise him as Gandalf and then Magneto in the X-Men films – a role he turned down until he saw the “cool” suit. He was even asked to play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise but decided to say no to that one.

Yet for every popular fantasy or science fiction character he’s portrayed, he’s been on stage in multiple leading Shakespearean roles since the 1960s. For every Macbeth, Prospero or Iago, Ian McKellen has played everything in TV miniseries and blockbuster films from Death (1993’s Last Action Hero) to a fugitive Nazi (1998’s Apt Pupil), and even a South African tycoon (1993’s Six Degrees of Separation). Yep, he even hosted Saturday Night Live once in 2002.

It’s long become clear that “Sir” Ian (although he doesn’t like to be called that – his secret nickname is “Serena”) is a classical actor who is thoroughly in touch with popular culture, embracing both worlds with equal acclaim. Don’t tell grandma, but he once stripped down to reveal his Lord of the Rings underwear on stage.

Later this month he will appear as Gus The Theatre Cat on the big screen in the film remake of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famed Cats fantasy musical.

Watch McKellen: Playing the Part on Thursday, 19 December at 19:25 on Sundance (108)

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