Asked by Time Out‘s Phil de Semlyen if he ever lost any roles due to being openly gay, Ian McKellen recounts the following: “One. Harold Pinter wanted me to be in a film of his [1983’s Betrayal] and he took me to meet the producer, Sam Spiegel. We sat in Spiegel’s office and I happened to say that I was going to New York. He said, ‘Will you be taking the family?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a family…I’m gay.’ I think it was the first time I came out to anyone. Well, I was out of that office in two minutes. It took Pinter 25 years to apologize for not sticking up for me.”
The part that McKellen would have played, of course, was Ben Kingsley‘s — i.e., Robert, the publisher-cuckold. Kingsley was excellent — it’s my all-time second favorite of his, right after Don Logan — but McKellen would have absolutely killed. If I’d been in McKellen’s shoes that day in Spiegel’s office, I would have said “I don’t have a family” and left it at that. Then he would have delivered a great Pinter performance that would last and last forever. A shame.
McKellen came out in 1988.