Widely considered one of the leading British actors of his generation, Ian McKellen has had a rich and varied career encompassing the stage, screen, and television. A renowned stage actor in his native Britain for decades, McKellen was not familiar to most American audiences until the '90s, when he began popping up in a number of well-received films. One of these, Gods and Monsters, elevated the actor into the international spotlight when he earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Frankenstein director James Whale.
Born May 25, 1939, in the northern English mill town of Burnley, McKellen was the son of a civil engineer. Encouraged by his parents, he developed an early fascination with the theatre. This interest continued when his family moved to the mining town of Wigan, where McKellen began acting in school plays. At the age of 13, he performed in his first Shakespeare play, as Malvolio in a production of Twelfth Night. He gained an additional appreciation for Shakespeare during his summer vacations, when he attended camp in Stratford-upon-Avon and spent the evenings watching the likes of Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud, and Paul Robeson give life to the playwright's work.