Like Judi Dench, Ian McKellen has reached a mass audience through his superb performances on film, for instance as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.
McKellen was well received in repertory theatres soon after he graduated from Cambridge University in 1961. He made his breakthrough as a classical actor in 1969 playing Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II for the touring Prospect Theatre Company. These drew rave reviews from many, including Irving Wardle of The Times: 'Beyond sheer animal magnetism, he also raises acting from a secondary thing, a reflection of life, into a primary position'.
In 1971 he co-founded, with Edward Petherbridge, the Actors' Company, a collective of actors who had equal say in the choosing and casting of plays and in the recruiting of directors. He went on to star at the RSC in an award-winning Macbeth. His roles since have been many and varied, but they have all benefited from his characteristic emotional power, meticulous detail, and intelligent subtlety.