"Does that mean I can't play straight parts and I'm not allowed to explore the fascinating subject of heterosexuality in Macbeth?"

Sir Ian McKellen refuses to be put in a box — and he doesn't want anyone else put in one either. The X-Men and Lord of the Rings actor recently addressed the controversy surrounding the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Golda Mier, Israel's Prime Minister, in a lengthy interview with BBC2.

"There are two things: Is the argument that a gentile cannot play a Jew, and is the argument therefore that a Jew cannot play a gentile?" McKellen replied when asked about the backlash over the fact that Mirren is not Jewish. He then took his answer one step farther, touching on his own feelings as a gay man in Hollywood.

"Is the argument that a straight man cannot play a gay part, and, if so, does that mean I can't play straight parts and I'm not allowed to explore the fascinating subject of heterosexuality in Macbeth?" McKellen asked incredulously. "Surely not. We're acting. We're pretending."

Sir Ian McKellen
Ian McKellen
| Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images

The subject of straight actors playing LGBTQ characters and vice versa has long been a debate in Hollywood, with many performers recently weighing in on the matter.

In January 2021, Neil Patrick Harris told The Times he wasn't someone who "jumped on to labeling," adding, "as an actor you certainly hope you can be a visible option for all kinds of different roles. I played a character (in How I Met Your Mother) for nine years who was nothing like me."

Meanwhile, stars like Wentworth Miller, who came out later in life, are adamant about playing only roles with which they identify. Back in November, the actor stated he wouldn't participate in a Prison Break revival because he no longer felt comfortable portraying his character.

"I just don't want to play straight characters. Their stories have been told (and told). So. No more Michael," he wrote in an Instagram post. He then addressed the reaction to his decision in a follow-up post, explaining, "At this point in my life/career, it's what feels interesting, inspiring, right? That said, do I want to see more gay parts played by gay actors? Yes. It makes a difference performance-wise (IMO), but also bec straight actors playing 'gay' centers straightness. Doesn't matter if they're 'acting' — I still know what I'm looking at."

Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart, who starred in Hulu's 2020 lesbian rom-com Happiest Season, told NBC at the time that she "would never want to tell a story that really should be told by somebody who's lived that experience."

"Having said that, it's a slippery slope conversation because that means I could never play another straight character if I'm going to hold everyone to the letter of this particular law," continued Stewart. "I think it's such a gray area."

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