McKellen was given the role of Gandalf soon after X-Men and spent over a year filming in New Zealand, which he fondly regards as a 'home from home'.
'It's easy to grasp Kiwi society and they've got their priorities sorted,' he says. 'They've made so many social advances, with women at the top in government for a long time, and they got rid of their gay laws long before us.'
McKellen has been a high-profile campaigner for gay rights since he came out, at 49, during a BBC radio interview. He was in the vanguard of openly gay artists and in November 1990, Margaret Thatcher recommended him for a knighthood.
'It was the last thing she did as Prime Minister,' recalls McKellen. 'I was in Paris doing Richard III and was watching TV over breakfast. They had a camera on the door in Downing Street waiting for her to come out for the final time, and at that moment the phone rang and it was No 10 saying you have a knighthood. I took that as a sign things were changing for the better.'
But one of his greatest regrets was never having the chance to tell his parents. His father died in a car crash when he was 24, a week after seeing his son's West End debut.
'When I came out, I told my stepmother Gladys, and she just said she had known for years and was glad I wasn't lying any more,' he says. 'Before that, I presumed it would be bad for my career.
'In the Fifties and Sixties, the life of a gay man was a secret. Being gay was illegal, so you didn't draw attention to yourself. But coming out is the best thing I ever did and I've never met a gay person who didn't think the same.
'Even now there are young actors who want careers as romantic leading men and the best thing is not to reveal you're gay. I suppose I used to wonder if I'd be allowed to play Romeo if I came out.
'Eventually, I thought if you compromise to the extent of lying about yourself, is there any job in the world that's worth that? I don't think there is. It's still a sensitive issue in Hollywood, though.'
Congrats to him for being brave enough to admit he’s gay. We can name plenty of Hollyweird actors *cough* Travolta *cough* Cruise who wouldn’t be able to do it.