Sir Ian McKellen, one of the most influential openly gay actors in Hollywood, is supporting his former “X-Men” co-star Elliot Page after Page came out as transgender in December.
In a conversation with Attitude Magazine, McKellen said that in his experience as an actor who’s been openly gay since the 1980s, “Everything gets better [when you come out because you get self-confidence]. 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.”
McKellen and Page met on the set of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which debuted in theaters in 2006 and saw McKellen reprising his role as the super villain Magneto. Page joined that film as Kitty Pryde (also known as Shadowcat), and continued the role in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
McKellen told Attitude that when he first started working with Page, it was difficult for him to hear Page’s remarks in between take, and had to ask the younger actor to speak up.
“I remember Elliot Page, in one of the ‘X-Men’ [movies], 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?'”
McKellen went on to say that it now occurs to him that Page might have intentionally been hiding himself or having a difficult time communicating because of his yet-to-be-public queer and transgender identity. “Then they came out [as gay] years later and suddenly you couldn’t stop them talking. You heard everything,” McKellen said, referencing Page’s speech at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Time to THRIVE conference in February 2014.
As one of the U.K.’s (and the globe’s) most well-known gay actors and an outspoken advocate for queer and transgender rights, McKellen said he was disapointed in himself that he didn’t recognize Page’s struggles on set sooner and help him on his journey to coming out. McKellen, who came out as gay in 1988 after then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed a controversial law that prohibited the U.K.’s councils from funding art that showed same-sex relationships and forbade teachers from informing students about LGBTQ topics in schools. The legislation was rescinded in 2003, but McKellen was one of the first of the U.K.’s acting stars to vehemently oppose the issue.
McKellen said he’s glad that Page is now fully out as transgender.
“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 said.