Words: Will Stroude
Sir Ian McKellen says he is "so happy" for Elliot Page following the actor's announcement last month that he is transgender.
Speaking to Bridgerton actor and Attitude cover star Jonathan Bailey in the Attitude 101 February issue - out now to download and to order globally - McKellen, 81, recalls the time he spent with Page on the set of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand.
Reflecting on Page's growing self-confidence over the last few years, Sir Ian admits he's "so disappointed" with himself for not realising that the then-teenage actor was struggling with their identity when they worked together.
"Everything gets better [when you come out because you get self-confidence", begins McKellen, who played villainous comic book mutant Magneto in the X-Men franchise.
"So you get better in terms of relationships, friends of all sorts, family, if you’re lucky. And in my case, I think in every case, your acting is bound to change and improve.
"I remember Elliot Page, in one of the X-Men, sat as close as we are now. And I had to speak when they’d finished, and I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Nobody could hear what they were saying.
"So, I said, 'Look, if you can’t speak up, would you mind when you’re finished speaking, just dropping your hand so I know when you’ve finished speaking?'
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"And then they came out [as gay] years later and suddenly you couldn’t stop them talking. You heard everything."
The veteran stage and screen star adds: "And now… they’re Elliot. And I’m so happy for Elliot. And so disappointed in myself that I didn’t detect what their difficulty was with communicating."
McKellen, who became one of Britain's most high-profile gay public figures when he came out in 1988 in response to Margaret Thatcher's Section 28 legislation, also reveals that being open with the world about his sexuality improved his own acting ability.
"One of the first plays I did having come out was Uncle Vanya at the National [Theatre]," he recalls. "And I found in Act three, when Vanya is at his peak of his misery, that I started crying.
"I’ve never been able to cry, but I could now, because it was more me, the real me. And that was my contribution to the play and to the character."