Don’t count me out yet, sez McKellen

Brit thesp, helmer Wajda pick up Golden Bears

One of the nice things about being Dieter Kosslick is that not only do you get to hang out with all the people you admire in cinema, you also get to invite them over and give them an award.

This time around, the Berlin fest topper is bestowing a brace of honorary Golden Bears on two very diverse personalities, British actor Ian McKellen and Polish director Andrzej Wajda.

But if one were to try and come up with a common thread between them, aside from the sheer volume of accomplishments, it might be the passion with which their private lives are reflected in their work.

While Wajda considered his secondary, though not insignificant, career in the theater to be a complement to his impressive film work, Ian McKellen, has been a major force in the theater his whole life. His perfs range from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Broadway and beyond, and he is often called “the new Olivier.”

However, when asked what he considered to be his biggest achievement, McKellen replied, “Coming out.”

And since having done so, he’s been quick to lend his name, and efforts, to various gay causes and has played a number of gay-themed roles, as in the Armistead Maupin series, “Tales of the City” (1993), and most notably as James Whale in “Gods and Monsters” (1998).

Upon receiving the award Saturday night, McKellen mused: “I’m very grateful but at the same time I think maybe they’re doing it because they think I’m getting to be so decrepit that I may not be able to make it back in the future. But a lifetime achievement award — I hope I still have a lot of life left, so I’m absolutely delighted.”

Thesp revealed that the latest addition to his list of upcoming projects is playing Cecil Rhodes in “Colossus.”

How does McKellen feel about getting his Bear in the year that the Teddy Awards (the kudo for best gay or lesbian pic in the Berlinale) turns 20, McKellen confided: “It was never pointed out to me but I wouldn’t mind if there were a connection. It’s a very happy confluence. Armistead Maupin, who is going to be introducing me tonight, is someone who I think of as a big Teddy Bear.”

“And,” he went on, “sometimes big gay men, the older rather chunky ones with hairy chests, refer to themselves as bears and Armistead sent me an email and said ‘I had no idea you were a bear.’ So I will be tonight, or at least I’ll have one in my arms.”

McKellen’s award ceremony was followed by a showing of “Richard III” (1995).

At Wajda’s request, his presentation Wednesday will include a screening of his film, “Pilate and Others” (1972).

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