The Guardian

'I even loved his Twankey': Dench, Hopkins, Mirren and more on Ian McKellen at 80

Wild parties, stunning performances, silhouette erections and marrying Patrick Stewart twice … as the actor turns 80, friends including Derek Jacobi, Janet Suzman, Michael Sheen, Bill Condon and Stephen Fry pay tribute
‘What’s next, Methuselah?’ Ian McKellen, who turns 80 on Saturday. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

‘He’s a fairy godmother with a roaring engine inside’Michael Sheen

Ian has been been very important in my life, even before we became good friends. When I was a young teen I remember watching Walter on the TV and being hugely affected by it. Then at Rada in the early 90s, I finally saw him live, in Richard III at the National. I was blown away. I remember him doing the opening speech while lighting a cigarette one-handed. It was brilliant, so understated. It exemplified his mastery – and his work ethic. To do something so difficult and complicated and make it look so easy. Ian has an innate sense of theatrical audacity, something I think he shares with Olivier. They both did things that would make the audience gasp self-consciously.

For me, one of the most enjoyable phases of his life was when he went: “I don’t give a fuck any more, I’m going to do exactly what I want.” And then he did Coronation Street and panto. And loved it. I saw his Twankey and it was fantastic.

Nothing like a dame … McKellen as Widow Twankey,
Nothing like a dame … McKellen as Widow Twankey, Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

He’s not a mentor. He would never dare to tell anyone what to do. He has great humility and a very gentle way with people. He’s almost like an Alan Bennett character, though he sort of plays on that a bit because he’s very mischievous. I think it quite suits him at times to be a fairy godmother figure, knowing he’s got this roaring engine inside.

He’s extremely sure of what he believes in, so much so he doesn’t need to push it on people. He’s very open and non-dogmatic. His confidence about how good he is gives him a “fuck you” quality. People are clearly not going to take his career away from him because he speaks his mind. He’s one of the greatest actors of all time and has proved he can do anything he wants. He’s an unstoppable force.

‘It was a really, really intense sex club’Bill Condon

I first met Ian in Los Angeles in 1997 when he was 57. He was very frank about the fact he had made a mark in theatre and now intended

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