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Ian McKellen: A Biography

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In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. He made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scen In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. He made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scent of Flowers, but it was in 1980 that he took Broadway by storm when he played Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Tony-Award-winning play Amadeus. He has starred in over four hundred plays and films and he is that rare character: a celebrity whose distinguished political and social service has transcended his international fame to reach beyond the stage and screen. The breadth of his career—professional, personal and political—has been truly staggering: Macbeth (opposite Judi Dench), Iago, King Lear, Chekhov’s Sorin in The Seagull and Becket’s tramp Estragon (opposite Patrick Stewart) in Waiting for Godot. Add to all this his tireless political activism in the cause of gay equality and you have a veritable phenomenon. Garry O’Connor’s Ian McKellen: A Biography probes the heart of the actor, recreating his greatest stage roles and exploring his personal life. Ian McKellen will show readers what makes a great actor tick. His life story has been a constantly developing drama and this biography is the next chapter.


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In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. He made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scen In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. He made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scent of Flowers, but it was in 1980 that he took Broadway by storm when he played Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Tony-Award-winning play Amadeus. He has starred in over four hundred plays and films and he is that rare character: a celebrity whose distinguished political and social service has transcended his international fame to reach beyond the stage and screen. The breadth of his career—professional, personal and political—has been truly staggering: Macbeth (opposite Judi Dench), Iago, King Lear, Chekhov’s Sorin in The Seagull and Becket’s tramp Estragon (opposite Patrick Stewart) in Waiting for Godot. Add to all this his tireless political activism in the cause of gay equality and you have a veritable phenomenon. Garry O’Connor’s Ian McKellen: A Biography probes the heart of the actor, recreating his greatest stage roles and exploring his personal life. Ian McKellen will show readers what makes a great actor tick. His life story has been a constantly developing drama and this biography is the next chapter.

30 review for Ian McKellen: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mr Pink ink

    Anyone who knows me knows that I am not particularly a fan of non-fiction; I mainly read to escape the day to day and the horrors of real life. But, that being said, I'm not averse to reading non-fiction titles on subjects I really like and I really like Ian McKellan, for many reasons, and I was super happy that Jonathan Ball Publishers had sent this my way. I can honestly say that I tried... Garry's writing may be quite descriptive but it is also very heavy, and by heavy I mean Game Of Thrones hea Anyone who knows me knows that I am not particularly a fan of non-fiction; I mainly read to escape the day to day and the horrors of real life. But, that being said, I'm not averse to reading non-fiction titles on subjects I really like and I really like Ian McKellan, for many reasons, and I was super happy that Jonathan Ball Publishers had sent this my way. I can honestly say that I tried... Garry's writing may be quite descriptive but it is also very heavy, and by heavy I mean Game Of Thrones heavy - you know what I mean? Once I have to force myself to concentrate on what I'm reading in order to remember the sentence I'm currently on (nevermind the fact the I couldn't remember the rest of the paragraph), it becomes work and I don't have time for that. The author seemed more concerned over the actor's reasoning behind the choices he made, with the author pushing his opinion everywhere... in short, this book was more Garry and less Ian. I did force myself to read a significant amount of the book but, eventually, I just couldn't anymore and DNF'd this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ian Clark

    The biographer spends too much of the book prattling on about his own and other people's achievements that it clouds any true representation of his supposed main subject. A disappointing read! The biographer spends too much of the book prattling on about his own and other people's achievements that it clouds any true representation of his supposed main subject. A disappointing read!

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Biser

    This is an excellent biography of a great man. It was wonderful to experience parts of his life as a reader of the story. I was impressed by the work and friendships that he developed, as well as the accomplishments that he achieved. Ian McKellen is a unique individual that has lived his life in the public eye. He has become something and someone amazing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Ummmmm......NO!!!! I like Ian McKellen. I just didn't like this book or the author. Maybe if this had been an autobiography it wouldn't have been so annoying. I DNF'd this just past the half way point. Now since I listened to over half I feel like I can give this a rating. It's just not a good rating. Ummmmm......NO!!!! I like Ian McKellen. I just didn't like this book or the author. Maybe if this had been an autobiography it wouldn't have been so annoying. I DNF'd this just past the half way point. Now since I listened to over half I feel like I can give this a rating. It's just not a good rating.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bkrieth

    Interesting subject, uninterestingly written.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Barry Hammond

    Known the world over for his roles as Gandalf the wizard in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, or as Magneto in the X-Men films, Ian McKellen has also had a long and illustrious career as a classical stage actor playing in Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, Beckett, Pinter and many others on the British and New York Stages. His performance of Richard III was also made into a film by Richard Loncraine in 1995. He's had memorable roles in smaller but also important films such as Amos Starkadder in John Schle Known the world over for his roles as Gandalf the wizard in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, or as Magneto in the X-Men films, Ian McKellen has also had a long and illustrious career as a classical stage actor playing in Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, Beckett, Pinter and many others on the British and New York Stages. His performance of Richard III was also made into a film by Richard Loncraine in 1995. He's had memorable roles in smaller but also important films such as Amos Starkadder in John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm, the director James Whale in Gods & Monsters, and an Ex-Nazi, Dussander, in Apt Pupil, an adaptation of a Stephen King Story. In television he had a series, Vicious, with his contemporary Derek Jacobi. Besides his long career as an actor he's also been a public activist for gay rights. A chameleon and man of many contradictions, he's captured in these pages in all his complexity by Garry O'Connor, renowned biographer of such theatrical giants as Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Paul Scofield, Peggy Ashcroft, and Alec Guinness. - BH.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    I love Ian and really really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t. The author goes off on tangents about himself or other people and doesn’t really focus on Ian which should be the whole point of a biography. His writing style also frustrated me

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ray Palen

    Every actor who has ever made it in the business or is still out there trying to do so always has their personal idols who they follow closely and seek to emulate. This is because of their idols dedication to their craft and the impact that it makes on those who are watching. For myself, as a lifelong actor, one of the serious actors that has been an idol and role-model to me has been the impeccable Ian McKellen. This began for me in the year 1980 when I was privileged to see Ian in the role of Every actor who has ever made it in the business or is still out there trying to do so always has their personal idols who they follow closely and seek to emulate. This is because of their idols dedication to their craft and the impact that it makes on those who are watching. For myself, as a lifelong actor, one of the serious actors that has been an idol and role-model to me has been the impeccable Ian McKellen. This began for me in the year 1980 when I was privileged to see Ian in the role of Salieri in the play Amadeus. That role won him a Tony award and that same role garnered a Best Actor Oscar for F. Murray Abraham. Ian McKellen has yet to win a coveted Oscar trophy, even though I thought he was worthy of this honor for both his role as "Frankenstein" Director James Whale in "Gods and Monsters" as well as his classic turn as the beloved literary character Gandalf in "The Fellowship Of the Ring". But I digress... Biographer and novelist Garry O'Connor had a tough task when capturing the life of this great actor and man in the biography which is simply titled, IAN McKELLEN. In fact, Ian did not make things easy for O'Connor as he had previously balked at other biographical works and is simply a person who is not terribly comfortable talking about himself. As I read this biography about an actor I idolize, it became more apparent why he would feel that way. McKellen has always been extremely dedicated to his craft and it is nearly impossible to keep up with the constant participation in mostly stage productions which McKellen has often thrived at. Recapping a career of seemingly never-ending performances was surely an exhaustive process for O'Connor. The other part of McKellen's life, and one which actually held him back in some ways early on in his career, was the fact that he was an overt homosexual. You might be thinking --- homosexuals in the theatre, what's the big deal? --- and you would be right. It is a profession that has always been synonymous with actors who led, in many cases, a double life. Ian was not ashamed of this fact but realized back when he was starting out that the expectation was to remain closeted lest you offend the masses and, in turn, commit career suicide. McKellen stated: 'Homosexuals are thus encouraged to disguise their true feelings. Is that why so many became professional actors?' Garry O'Connor is able to dig deep in this biography and find the answers to the enigma that is Ian McKellen. It helps that he has known the man since 1958. We learn of Ian's upbringing with his birth in 1939, mere months before the outbreak of WWII, in the town of East Lancashire. His parents were Denis, a civil engineer, and Margery, a traditional housewife. His ancestry shows Scottish, Northern Irish and English for his official nationality. Denis was also a socialist and committed Nonconformist Christian. Far different to the atheistic beliefs his son Ian would grow into. Perhaps the greatest lesson Ian took from his father Denis was the ability to keep a big secret. Denis had made it through a war without anyone knowing he was a pacifist. In much the same way that Ian would hide his homosexuality, an illegality for the early part of his acting career, even though he pretty much knew from the start of his young adulthood that he was indeed gay. Ian would lose both of his parents fairly early in his life as his mother passed from illness in 1951 and his father Denis in a car accident thirteen years later in 1964. Denis' accident would take place less then a week after he and his new wife, Gladys, would attend Ian's opening night performance in A Scent Of Flowers. Ian's acting career takes up the majority of this book and for good reason --- he's simply one of the best actors of our lifetime. Reading through this biography means the reader need be prepared for a high magnitude of name-dropping. This results in a near-dizzying amount of famous thespian names that make up many of the finest actors of the past century. McKellen fondly recalls the first director that made a lasting impression on him --- Tyrone Guthrie. Guthrie was a giant of a man who would cast a lasting spell over such classic performers as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson. Fine company to be in, and ironic as Sir Ian McKellen --- he was officially knighted in 1991 --- has been named as the successor to the late, great Olivier. Even more ironic is the fact that McKellen has won 6 Olivier Awards in his acting career. Referring back to my previous note about famous actor name-dropping, McKellen would really make a name for himself by joining the acting stable at the National Theatre that also sported a slew of British talent such as Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, Jeremy Brett and Maggie Smith. Many years later in 1992 McKellen would make a return to The National where one of his contemporaries, Antony Sher, would remark that he regarded McKellen as a better actor than Olivier. Ian would continue to act at a furious pace while also championing the cause for gay actors in the face of hurdles such as societal prejudice and the AIDS crisis. As he personally did his part to break down these walls he remarked that he 'despised the Ian McKellen of the first 49 years of my life.' IAN MCKELLEN, of course, allows readers to get the scoop on the many roles that have made him famous. The afore-mentioned Salieri as well as the role of Iago in Shakespeare's Othello brought him fame and the realization that he enjoyed playing complex, tormented characters. Following his Oscar nomination for "Gods and Monsters", Ian became world famous in two record-selling film series --- Magneto in the X-Men films and the role that would bring him his second Oscar nod, the beloved literary figure Gandalf from "The Lord Of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" series. He happily professed on an episode of the British talk show The Graham Norton show, that he was now 2 action figures! Ian has also had a nice run with film director Bill Condon, who directed him in "Gods and Monsters" and "Mr. Holmes" --- his portrayal of an aged Sherlock Holmes that was just breath-taking. Most recently, McKellen shared the bill with another beloved actor --- Oscar-winner Helen Mirren in Bill Condon's film adaptation of Nick Searle's' novel THE GOOD LIAR. It sure would be nice to see McKellen and Mirren get Oscar nods again to show the next generation of thespians that the old guard has still got it! There was a documentary from 2017 entitled "Playing the Part" where we get to enjoy McKellen's career displayed for all to see with clips of some of his famous roles. One part of McKellen's life that has not seen much coverage has been his private battle with prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 2006. Now, at age 80, McKellen realizes he may only have a few years left and in the latter part of this biography he looks back critically on his acting career. Firstly, he provided working advice on the craft as he would never let anything stand in the way in his quest to prove that stage-acting provides the only proof of whether an actor can act greatly. Sir Ian leaves us with a summary of his acting career: 'I'm only an actor. I'm not a writer. I'm not going to leave any legacy ... all I've ever done is learn the lines and say them.' Of course, those who look up to him know he has done so much more with his life then merely reciting lines from a script and indeed will leave behind a worthy legacy that author Garry O'Connor has admirably captured with this outstanding biography. Reviewed by Ray Palen for Book Reporter

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    McKellen is a remarkable man. Still going strong at 81!!! He has had so many roles and experiences that this book becomes a bit of a catalogue of those with brief explanations of his reviews and his personal reactions to them... But I did gain some insight into this man's approach to acting. McKellen is a remarkable man. Still going strong at 81!!! He has had so many roles and experiences that this book becomes a bit of a catalogue of those with brief explanations of his reviews and his personal reactions to them... But I did gain some insight into this man's approach to acting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gail O'Connor

    I absolutely adore Ian McKellen. I tried reading the first chapter and I'm sure it's chock full of interesting information. Just too dry for me I absolutely adore Ian McKellen. I tried reading the first chapter and I'm sure it's chock full of interesting information. Just too dry for me

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    Every actor who has ever made it in the business, or is still out there trying to do so, always has their personal idols who they follow closely and seek to emulate. As a lifelong actor, I have long admired the impeccable Ian McKellen. In 1980, I was privileged to see him portray Salieri in “Amadeus,” which won him a Tony Award and garnered a Best Actor Oscar for F. Murray Abraham for the film version. McKellen has yet to win an Academy Award, even though I thought he was worthy of this honor fo Every actor who has ever made it in the business, or is still out there trying to do so, always has their personal idols who they follow closely and seek to emulate. As a lifelong actor, I have long admired the impeccable Ian McKellen. In 1980, I was privileged to see him portray Salieri in “Amadeus,” which won him a Tony Award and garnered a Best Actor Oscar for F. Murray Abraham for the film version. McKellen has yet to win an Academy Award, even though I thought he was worthy of this honor for both his role as Frankenstein director James Whale in Gods and Monsters and his classic turn as the beloved literary character Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. But I digress. Garry O'Connor had a tough task in capturing the life of this great actor and man in his biography, which is simply titled IAN McKELLEN. In fact, McKellen did not make things easy for O'Connor as he previously had balked at other biographical works and is simply not terribly comfortable talking about himself. As I read this book about an actor I idolize, it became more apparent why he would feel that way. McKellen always has been extremely dedicated to his craft, and it is nearly impossible to keep up with the constant participation in mostly stage productions at which he has often thrived. Recapping a career of seemingly never-ending performances was surely an exhaustive process for O'Connor. The other major part of McKellen's life, and one that actually held him back in some ways early on in his career, is his homosexuality. You might be thinking Homosexuals in the theater? What's the big deal? and you would be right. It is a profession that has always been synonymous with actors who, in many cases, lead a double life. McKellen was not ashamed of this, but realized when he was starting out that the expectation was to remain closeted lest you offend the masses and, in turn, commit career suicide. He stated: “Homosexuals are thus encouraged to disguise their true feelings. Is that why so many became professional actors?” O'Connor is able to dig deep and find the answers to the enigma that is Ian McKellen. It helps that he has known the man since 1958. We learn of McKellen’s upbringing in the town of East Lancashire. His parents were Denis, a civil engineer, and Margery, a traditional housewife. His ancestry shows Scottish, Northern Irish and English for his official nationality. Denis was also a socialist and a committed Nonconformist Christian, which is far different from the atheistic beliefs that his son would eventually adapt. Perhaps the greatest lesson he took from his father was the ability to keep a big secret. Denis had made it through a war without anyone knowing he was a pacifist, in much the same way that McKellen would hide his homosexuality, even though he pretty much knew from the start of his young adulthood that he was gay. He would lose both of his parents fairly early in his life --- Margery passed away from an illness in 1951, and Denis died in a car accident 13 years later. The latter took place less than a week after Denis and his new wife, Gladys, attended McKellen’s opening night performance in “A Scent of Flowers.” McKellen's acting career takes up the majority of the book, and for good reason --- he's simply one of the best actors of our lifetime. Readers need be prepared for a high magnitude of name-dropping, which results in a near-dizzying amount of famous thespian names that make up many of the finest actors of the past century. McKellen fondly recalls the first director who made a lasting impression on him: Tyrone Guthrie, a giant of a man who would cast an enormous spell over such classic performers as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson. This is fine company to be in, and it is ironic as Sir Ian McKellen --- he was officially knighted in 1991 --- has been named as the successor to the late, great Olivier. Even more ironic is the fact that McKellen has won six Olivier Awards. McKellen would really make a name for himself when he joined the acting stable at the National Theatre, which also sported a slew of British talent, such as Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, Jeremy Brett and Maggie Smith. Many years later, in 1992, McKellen returned to the National Theatre where one of his contemporaries, Antony Sher, stated that he regarded McKellen as a better actor than Olivier. McKellen would continue to act at a furious pace, while also championing the cause for gay actors in the face of hurdles such as societal prejudice and the AIDS crisis. As he personally did his part to break down these walls, he remarked that he “despise[d] the Ian McKellen of the first 49 years of my life.” IAN MCKELLEN allows readers to get the scoop on the many roles that have made McKellen famous, such as the aforementioned Salieri and Iago in Othello, which led to the realization that he enjoyed playing complex, tormented characters. Following his Oscar nomination for Gods and Monsters, he became world-famous in three record-setting film series: X-Men, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. On an episode of “The Graham Norton Show,” he professed that he was now two action figures! McKellen also has had a nice run with Bill Condon, who directed him in Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes (his portrayal of an aged Sherlock Holmes was just breathtaking). Most recently, he shared the bill with another beloved actor, Oscar winner Helen Mirren, in Condon's film adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel, THE GOOD LIAR. It sure would be nice to see them get Oscar nods again to show the next generation of thespians that the old guard still has it. One part of McKellen's life that has not seen much coverage has been his private battle with prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 2006. Now, at age 80, he realizes that he may only have a few years left, and in the latter part of the book looks back critically on his acting career: “I'm only an actor. I'm not a writer. I'm not going to leave any legacy…All I've ever done is learn the lines and say them.” Of course, those who look up to him know that he has done so much more with his life than merely recite lines from a script. He indeed will leave behind a worthy legacy, which O'Connor has admirably captured in this outstanding biography. Reviewed by Ray Palen

  12. 5 out of 5

    Teagan Prentice

    I’m saddened to have to rate this book two stars. I love Ian but this author barely wrote about him. After getting 80 pages in, I started skim reading and only finished because I hate DNF’ing books. I don’t want to know every single play (including synopses and other actors in it) that Ian has been in. I don’t need to know the detailed reviews of random journalists etc that saw them. Too many quotes from ancient authors and lists (yes, slabs of names) of people that had barely anything to do wit I’m saddened to have to rate this book two stars. I love Ian but this author barely wrote about him. After getting 80 pages in, I started skim reading and only finished because I hate DNF’ing books. I don’t want to know every single play (including synopses and other actors in it) that Ian has been in. I don’t need to know the detailed reviews of random journalists etc that saw them. Too many quotes from ancient authors and lists (yes, slabs of names) of people that had barely anything to do with Ian were in this book. I wanted to know more about him and it was a disappointing read, I would have a more enlightening time on Wikipedia. I should have been warned when Ian said at the start that he didn’t want to be involved in any book about it and was very reluctant.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    A bit too bitchy about McKellen's career, or more exactly his motivations about the choices he made. And we get it, Mr. O'Connor. You don't like Sir Ian's lifelong significant other or Vicious, the sitcom he and Derek Jacobi did together a few years back. Books like this are why I don't read a lot of actor biographies. Needed more analysis as to how he approaches his craft and less gossip. A bit too bitchy about McKellen's career, or more exactly his motivations about the choices he made. And we get it, Mr. O'Connor. You don't like Sir Ian's lifelong significant other or Vicious, the sitcom he and Derek Jacobi did together a few years back. Books like this are why I don't read a lot of actor biographies. Needed more analysis as to how he approaches his craft and less gossip.

  14. 5 out of 5

    gemsbooknook Geramie Kate Barker

    ‘Few actors achieve in their lifetime what Sir Ian McKellen has. A repertoire of vast commercial success coupled with critically acclaimed and authoritative Shakespearian roles. A man whose gargantuan personality and varied achievements inspire both admiration and affection. McKellen has been feted and admired in every country across the globe, and has been knighted by, and received the Companionship of Honour from Queen Elizabeth II. He is an icon of, and ardent campaigner in, the cause for LGB ‘Few actors achieve in their lifetime what Sir Ian McKellen has. A repertoire of vast commercial success coupled with critically acclaimed and authoritative Shakespearian roles. A man whose gargantuan personality and varied achievements inspire both admiration and affection. McKellen has been feted and admired in every country across the globe, and has been knighted by, and received the Companionship of Honour from Queen Elizabeth II. He is an icon of, and ardent campaigner in, the cause for LGBT rights. Many of us know of McKellen through his depiction of Gandalf in LORD OF THE RINGS. Garry O’Connor’s definitive biography reveals the man behind McKellen the actor. The inside story of the person himself: a constantly developing drama and a work in progress. Yet Garry O’Connor pulls no punches: some of his revelations may be controversial to his fans, even explosive, given McKellen’s constant ability to shock and surprise.’ I didn’t love this book. I am a huge fan of Ian McKellen, so I was very excited to read this book. Unfortunately for me, I was disappointed with it. I would like to say it was because I had my hopes set too high, but I don’t believe that is the truth. I have read many biographies yet for some reason I found this one really frustrating. I felt a massive disconnect between Garry O’Connor; the author, and Ian McKellen; the subject. At times it felt like Garry O’Connor was trying to get the reader to dislike Ian McKellen. I also had issues with Garry O’Connor’s writing. I felt it was emotionless and at times boring. I had some genuine moments when it felt like I was reading an Academic Text instead of a Biography of someone I actually like and am interested in. I will admit that I learnt quite a lot about Ian McKellen that I didn’t previously know by reading this book. I was excited to go and do some of my own research on the things I found out. I also really loved the photographs in this book. They were varied and covered a lot of different time periods in Ian McKellen’s life which was wonderful to see. Overall I found this book thoroughly underwhelming. While I enjoyed the photographs and the new facts this book contained, I think as a whole it missed the mark. Ian McKellen by Garry O’Connor is out now. Geramie Kate Barker gemsbooknook.wordpress.com

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    In 2014, Sir Ian McKellen was paid £1.2 million to write his memoirs. Nine months later, he returned the advance, saying, "I don't want to go on a voyage of discovery." Fortunately, acclaimed biographer Garry O'Connor signed on for that voyage and has produced the definitive biography of the award-winning actor and tireless international gay activist. O'Connor, who befriended McKellen in 1958 at Cambridge, offers an intimate, critical and comprehensive biography that incisively evaluates his exte In 2014, Sir Ian McKellen was paid £1.2 million to write his memoirs. Nine months later, he returned the advance, saying, "I don't want to go on a voyage of discovery." Fortunately, acclaimed biographer Garry O'Connor signed on for that voyage and has produced the definitive biography of the award-winning actor and tireless international gay activist. O'Connor, who befriended McKellen in 1958 at Cambridge, offers an intimate, critical and comprehensive biography that incisively evaluates his extensive stage and screen career. He also delves into McKellen's private life, sharing his struggles, triumphs, sacrifices and foibles to create a fully drawn portrait of an actor who found his greatest rewards after he publicly came out as gay at the age of 49. O'Connor notes McKellen's 1988 coming out: "He was awake now with a rich vivid self-awareness, an almost romantic religiousness not apparent before, and a burning social purpose that went beyond a need for personal love, a stable giving relationship, the need for a family." The strong film career that had eluded him finally arrived when he was approaching 60. In 1998, he starred in Stephen King's "Apt Pupil", and earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "Gods and Monsters." The following year, he was cast as super-villain Magneto in "X-Men" and heroic Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings." Suddenly, he was headlining two mega-blockbuster film franchises. O'Connor (who has written biographies of Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and William Shakespeare) offers an entertaining, insightful, opinionated and unauthorized biography of a remarkable actor and activist. An intimate, engaging and insightful biography of Sir Ian McKellen looks at his work, private life and gay activism.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ian Banks

    This is not as erudite a biography as it should have been. It’s peppered with literary and filmic references but it always remembers too early that it wants to appeal to a broad audience and so doesn’t go as deeply into its subject as it could. The author, an old friend and colleague of McKellen is in as gifted and awkward a position as any biographer could possibly dream, but sometimes reads as though he doesn’t want to offend his old chum. Which is great, frankly, but it does mean that the afo This is not as erudite a biography as it should have been. It’s peppered with literary and filmic references but it always remembers too early that it wants to appeal to a broad audience and so doesn’t go as deeply into its subject as it could. The author, an old friend and colleague of McKellen is in as gifted and awkward a position as any biographer could possibly dream, but sometimes reads as though he doesn’t want to offend his old chum. Which is great, frankly, but it does mean that the aforementioned depth is sometimes jarringly missed. It’s filled to the brim with anecdotes and lore, of course, but the drives of the subject are infuriatingly sparse: the death of his mother at an early age is referenced a lot, as is the coolness of his paternal relationship. But these are often referred to as a motivator at the expense of other factors. And there are other issues, as well: O’Connor frequently refers to Kenneth Branagh (despite Branagh not having a lengthy working history with McKellen) and quotes a gag about McKellen’s egotism from Branagh’s own autobio and then proceeds to refute it as completely as anything. However, later in the book, we get repeated references to McKellen’s intense desire for an Oscar. It’s inconsistencies like this that make this a frustrating read. However, it is a pleasure to read about McKellen’s relationships with other actors and how they have borne creative fruit. The authors knowledge of acting history makes a lot of information come across as a lot less arcane than in the hands of a more starstruck writer and it is a fun, fast read that delivers a lot of information, though not as probingly as a reader might want. I also wouldn’t have minded the addition of a bibliography, just quietly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    BookTrib.com

    “I’m only an actor. I’m not a writer. I’m not going to leave any legacy … All I’ve ever done is learn the lines and say them.” In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. In Ian McKellen: A Biography (St. Martin’s Press), author Garry O’Co “I’m only an actor. I’m not a writer. I’m not going to leave any legacy … All I’ve ever done is learn the lines and say them.” In 2001, Ian McKellen put on the robe and pointed hat of a wizard named Gandalf and won a place in the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide. Though his role in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings introduced him to a new audience, McKellen had a thriving career a lifetime before his visit to Middle Earth. In Ian McKellen: A Biography (St. Martin’s Press), author Garry O’Connor writes the definitive biography of the renowned actor and activist. He probes the heart of the actor, recreating his greatest stage roles, exploring his personal life and detailing what makes a great actor tick. McKellen made his West End acting debut in 1964 in James Saunders’s A Scent of Flowers, but it was in 1980 that he took Broadway by storm when he played Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Tony-Award-winning play Amadeus. He has starred in over 400 plays and films, and is that rare character: a celebrity whose distinguished political and social service has transcended his international fame to reach beyond the stage and screen. The rest of the review: https://booktrib.com/2019/11/ian-mcke...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kyrie

    At the beginning of the book, McKellen tells the author, "I don't want to sound unkind, but it would be impossible. I couldn't work with you. I would interfere with everything you wrote." I should have stopped there. Since McKellen didn't get involved or "interfere", the book consists largely of the author's and others' reviews of plays and films McKellen has done. The bits on his gay activism come from articles and media interviews. At least in the chapter on Gandalf it's apparent the author is At the beginning of the book, McKellen tells the author, "I don't want to sound unkind, but it would be impossible. I couldn't work with you. I would interfere with everything you wrote." I should have stopped there. Since McKellen didn't get involved or "interfere", the book consists largely of the author's and others' reviews of plays and films McKellen has done. The bits on his gay activism come from articles and media interviews. At least in the chapter on Gandalf it's apparent the author is not familiar with the movie, or someone needed to do some fact checking. It made me wonder just how accurate other parts were. There is a great deal made of Cambridge days and how important the Cambridge influence is in British theater. To somone not of that era or from that area, it just seems strange. Is it the author's sole claim to why he should write about McKellen? He was at school with him? I read through the whole thing so it's not a total waste, but oh, I wish McKellen had interfered!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    This work is a bio written like a theater review. Just as well, as Sir Ian McKellen spent the bulk of his acting career on the stage. This work, which was not entirely endorsed by the subject, follows the life of McKellen, from his upbringing to his time on the stage to the success later in life on the big screen. Most would know him as either Gandalf or Magneto, but there was so, so much more to his career. I am always a fan of his work in the mid-1990s film version of Richard III. Yet, the the This work is a bio written like a theater review. Just as well, as Sir Ian McKellen spent the bulk of his acting career on the stage. This work, which was not entirely endorsed by the subject, follows the life of McKellen, from his upbringing to his time on the stage to the success later in life on the big screen. Most would know him as either Gandalf or Magneto, but there was so, so much more to his career. I am always a fan of his work in the mid-1990s film version of Richard III. Yet, the theater is his natural home. The work also addresses his now well-documented sexuality and the struggle he had before he “came out” in the 1990s. He is known gay rights activist and that is discussed in the work. Overall, a decent overview of the life of the man. Not sure I am a fan of the writing style, but I was never much of a theater man myself. I am a fan of McKellen’s though, and he takes is place in the pantheon of great British actors, even like Olivier, who inspired McKellen. Not sure what McKellen’s opinion of the work is, but it was informative.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Peter Riddell

    When I read that Sir Ian didn't really want a biography done and gave little, to no, contribution to the book, that should have been a warning. Possible one of the worst, most boring biographies I've ever suffered through for a man whom I've followed for years and love his work. I was so looking forward to this book. The author wasn't writing for us, he was writing to show off his intimate knowledge of the British Theatre and he obviously had a laundry list of what Sir Ian had done over his caree When I read that Sir Ian didn't really want a biography done and gave little, to no, contribution to the book, that should have been a warning. Possible one of the worst, most boring biographies I've ever suffered through for a man whom I've followed for years and love his work. I was so looking forward to this book. The author wasn't writing for us, he was writing to show off his intimate knowledge of the British Theatre and he obviously had a laundry list of what Sir Ian had done over his career so he was going to cover that. What about the man, I felt he simply skimmed the surface but having sxaid that, in turn made such a huge deal about Sir Ian's sexualty. Add to that the dropped names, the side references to goodness knows who or what without any context or reference and it was a struggle. Many was the night this book was thrown to the floor in exasperation until finally I just had to admit defeat and the book was relegated to a shelf. Never to be touched again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    WY

    I honestly did really want to like this book as I appreciate Ian McKellen's work (read: LOTR), and was curious to learn the back story and driving forces behind his stellar acting career both on and off the big screen. Unfortunately, with age, you realise that there are books that you just have to let go and not push through forcefully because time could be better spent reading something else. This was unfortunately one of those books. The writing style put me off so much that I couldn't bring m I honestly did really want to like this book as I appreciate Ian McKellen's work (read: LOTR), and was curious to learn the back story and driving forces behind his stellar acting career both on and off the big screen. Unfortunately, with age, you realise that there are books that you just have to let go and not push through forcefully because time could be better spent reading something else. This was unfortunately one of those books. The writing style put me off so much that I couldn't bring myself to get through the first few chapters, and it became so difficult to truly read into the story of who Ian McKellen is when the voice of the author was overbearing and borderline brash. Maybe something I couldn't appreciate but I probably will have preferred a more thoughtful, quieter introspection on the person and his craft. This book didn't quite resonate with me but it might for others - one of my more disappointing DNFs

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sunshine Biskaps

    I’ve had Ian McKellen’s face staging at me for a whole month before I picked this book up and read it. Having no idea who this person is, I had no connection at all while reading about him and his acting career. The author Garry O’Connor wrote as though I probably had written in sixth grade, with not much creativity or ability to make the reader compelled to continue reading. I mostly skimmed through this book and I just didn’t feel any interest. This was a book club read, but we didn’t even end I’ve had Ian McKellen’s face staging at me for a whole month before I picked this book up and read it. Having no idea who this person is, I had no connection at all while reading about him and his acting career. The author Garry O’Connor wrote as though I probably had written in sixth grade, with not much creativity or ability to make the reader compelled to continue reading. I mostly skimmed through this book and I just didn’t feel any interest. This was a book club read, but we didn’t even end up meeting to discuss due to the current COVID-19 situation. I wanted to tell my club members how I thought it was quite disappointing. The other two books recommended were “Devil’s Grip” (which was very good) and “Deal with the Devil” (which was also very good). This was part of my gay and friends of gay people book club in New Farm, BRISBANE.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I thought this was 'The Biography' the cover photo is beautiful and I thought - this is it! This is not it. In the very first page it pretty much says he didn't have Ian's blessing, he went to ask, but was turned down. From there it was no longer a book about Ian McKellan, with Ian's input, personal touches and anecdotes. It was a book about all the theatre Ian's been in, because that must be what the author could research (extensively) and write about. If you want to know the history of his act I thought this was 'The Biography' the cover photo is beautiful and I thought - this is it! This is not it. In the very first page it pretty much says he didn't have Ian's blessing, he went to ask, but was turned down. From there it was no longer a book about Ian McKellan, with Ian's input, personal touches and anecdotes. It was a book about all the theatre Ian's been in, because that must be what the author could research (extensively) and write about. If you want to know the history of his acting career from his school days on, this is for you. If you want to know ANYTHING about Ian himself - this is not it. Disappointing, could not finish - if you live in the Melbourne area it is on a free community bookshelf for the taking.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark Barrett

    All we get is the glitzy front that Ian puts out for all yo see. Not a single insight or revelation that is anything more than poor speculation on the part of the author. Worse still, it is poorly written to the point of often losing meaning, and some of Ian’s greatest anecdotes are reduced to a lacklustre, directionless story. Go and listen to the great man in one of his one man shows, see him perform on stage, watch him in one of his celebrated movie roles. You will get so much more out of that All we get is the glitzy front that Ian puts out for all yo see. Not a single insight or revelation that is anything more than poor speculation on the part of the author. Worse still, it is poorly written to the point of often losing meaning, and some of Ian’s greatest anecdotes are reduced to a lacklustre, directionless story. Go and listen to the great man in one of his one man shows, see him perform on stage, watch him in one of his celebrated movie roles. You will get so much more out of that than you will out of this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    Very overwritten. I skimmed through and found some interesting parts, but the author goes off on tangents about other people who crossed paths with Ian, about his personal feelings about Ian, and about every role in every theater that Ian ever played, along with his approach to the role, his reviews, and other minuscule details. While about 25% of the book was very interesting and enjoyable, the remaining 75% were a bore.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Deborah D.

    I listened to this book and I am SO thankful. Author & Reader O'Connor's ability with voice changes and the detail of the impressive lifetime of Sir Ian McKellen is worth a higher score, but I began to wonder if the publisher paid by the word! I got tired of the repetitive mentions of Oliver, Gielgud, and other idols \ monuments of stage and screen became tiresome. I enjoyed learning about the road traveled as a child and education, professionally as well as personal discovery. I listened to this book and I am SO thankful. Author & Reader O'Connor's ability with voice changes and the detail of the impressive lifetime of Sir Ian McKellen is worth a higher score, but I began to wonder if the publisher paid by the word! I got tired of the repetitive mentions of Oliver, Gielgud, and other idols \ monuments of stage and screen became tiresome. I enjoyed learning about the road traveled as a child and education, professionally as well as personal discovery.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert Andres

    One for the theatre geeks who know and care about names like Olivier, Jacobi, & Dench and plays like Henry that, Richard this, Lear that, Shakespeare whatnot (I know Judi Dench. She's M). Not for people like me with just barely a passing interest in live performance. The things I wanted to read about such as Gandalf, Magneto, and gay rights advocacy, and Patrick Stewart are mentioned, but not too much. Still passing interesting. One for the theatre geeks who know and care about names like Olivier, Jacobi, & Dench and plays like Henry that, Richard this, Lear that, Shakespeare whatnot (I know Judi Dench. She's M). Not for people like me with just barely a passing interest in live performance. The things I wanted to read about such as Gandalf, Magneto, and gay rights advocacy, and Patrick Stewart are mentioned, but not too much. Still passing interesting.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Taylor

    2 1/2 technically. Ian Mckellen is one of the most charming actors and you get glints of the man, especially when talking about Section 28 and Lord of the Rings. But it all feels really distant and far away, it opens up with quoting Mckellen, ‘they can write a biography when I’m dead’ and it almost feels like this charming enigma is keeping himself an enigma whilst with us. The book reads like a list of things he’s done rather than an exploration into the man himself.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen Keane

    As a fan of Ian McKellen I was really disappointed with this, I have certainly read a lot better biographies. It got quite boring at times and I learnt a bit about the actor but nothing about the man, perhaps it was the fact that it was a biography and not an autobiography. I also thought it was quite badly written.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Holly Kenyon

    What a fascinating and wonderful subject. How dire the writing. I can honestly say that I am utterly exhausted at the end of reading it. It was one hell of a slog; every paragraph like wading through thick molasses. I greatly admire McKellen and his body of work and this could have been so much better. A wasted opportunity.

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