The Theatre Royal Haymarket Company’s production of Waiting for Godot took Australia by storm recently, featuring some of the UK’s most loved and respected actor… all of whom just happen to be gay.

Certain critics have even speculated that the relationship between the play’s two main characters has subtle homoerotic undertones.

Sir Ian McKellen, however, who plays Estragon alongside Roger Rees as Vladimir dismissed the idea.

“Well the two actors are gay, so maybe people assume that’s the reason we’re doing it but no,” McKellen told the Star.

“They’re very close, they do love each other, they depend on each other… but I think to imagine that Beckett was writing, in any way, a gay play was not the case.

“Male friendship can be found in a long list of places and it’s certainly found in this play.”

Since coming out publicly on BBC Radio in 1988, McKellen has been a vocal and active campaigner for LGBT rights.

He had felt it important to speak out about his sexuality at the time in the face of Section 28 — a law introduced in the UK to prevent the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ which in effect blocked education and information that portrayed homosexuality as anything other than abnormal.

McKellen went on to become a founding member of Stonewall UK, a LGBT advocacy and lobbying group.

“When I came out, my life did change — entirely for the better,” McKellen said.

“But I think some people assumed that now I’d declared myself to be gay that I would become a queer artist — that all my work would be exclusively from a gay point of view but that would cut me off from playing all sorts of straight parts and I find heterosexuality a very interesting phenomenon.”

Openly gay writer Ramin Setoodeh has faced criticism recently for suggesting in his Newsweek column that gay actors could not convincingly play straight characters, a proposition McKellen thinks is absurd.

“When I see a straight actor play gay, whether it’s Tom Hanks or Jake Gyllenhaal, I just judge the performance and equally when I see a [gay] actor — like the entire cast of this play — I just judge their performances, and I think that’s true of audiences as a whole,” he said.

“It’s all acting. It doesn’t seem to me to matter. You don’t have to be straight to imagine what it’s like to be in love with a woman. If you did, would that mean that I couldn’t play Macbeth because I’ve never murdered anyone?”

Apart from his acting, McKellen’s other passion is activism. Waiting for Godot’s national tour coincided with national rallies against the Australian Government’s ban on same-sex marriage last month and McKellen spoke passionately to 4000 people gathered at the Melbourne rally.

The two passions sometimes combine in scripts, plays and films that have an imbedded message of activism. One of McKellen’s most popular roles in recent times was as Magneto in the X-Men film series.

“The discussion in X-Men is about what do mutants do, what does this minority in society do to reconcile the rest of society to their predicament?” McKellen said.

“Do they integrate, which is the view of Professor X or do they go out into the streets and stand up for themselves and fight in the way that Magneto suggests. That is a familiar argument in any civil rights movement.”

— Amy Henderson

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