Throwback Thursday: Ian McKellen Was Magnetic in 'Macbeth' in 1976


This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Decades before Ian McKellen had heard of the villain Magneto, he was Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company production that has become a theatrical legend. McKellen, then 37, starred with Judi Dench. The two veteran London stage actors, who had done some British TV and small films, were directed by McKellen’s Cambridge classmate Trevor Nunn, who decided the play should run uninterrupted for 135 minutes and focus on the characters’ psychological dynamics.

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The minimalist production got rave reviews, and McKellen’s performance was compared to the great Olivier’s. “Macbeth was a very lucky play for me,” McKellen once said. While his career has been primarily in British theater (he was pushing 50 before Hollywood began using him), he often said, “the money in movies is very nice,” which led him to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series and Magneto in X-Men, which was a hit in 2000 ($296.3 million worldwide) and spawned five more films. McKellen, who turned 75 on May 25, reprises his role in the sixth iteration, X-Men: Days of Future Past, in theaters now.

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