How We Met: Sir Ian McKellen & Jonathan Hyde

'When I saw Ian perform as Richard II, I said, "That's what I want to do, what I want to be"'


Sir Ian McKellen CBE, 70, is an award-winning actor known for his film roles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Da Vinci Code and Gods and Monsters. His extensive theatre career includes Trevor Nunn's recent productions of King Lear and The Seagull. He lives in east London

I'd always known about Jonathan because friends had worked with him at the Glasgow Citizen theatre – a 1970s powerhouse of young actors and stylish productions. But we didn't get to know each other until we were part of a company under Peter Hall's regime at the National Theatre in the 1980s. We did four plays together and got on terribly well; it's wonderful when you work with actors who you are absolutely in tune with.

I just assumed our paths would cross again, which they did a little socially. I met his wife [the Scottish opera singer Isobel Buchanan] while they were living in London. But then they moved and the chance to get to know them went with them to Devon.

It was only when Trevor Nunn was casting King Lear and The Seagull two years ago for the RSC that Jonathan's name came up again, and I was enthusiastic that he should play Kent, Lear's best friend, and Dr Dorn in The Seagull. He was hugely helpful to me in assessing our performance; he's unique in that while he's not a director, he's able to see how things could be better. So, 20 years on from our original meeting, we became firm friends.

Now he's in Peter Pan as Captain Hook, and he's been staying in my spare room. He's the perfect house guest; he cooks delicious dishes and he washes up. I normally live on my own but to know somebody's going to be there when I get back and we can have a chat before bed, well, that's pleasurable. With Jonny, I know the day will end with laughter.

I'm close to his wife, too – she's adorable and an extremely talented singer. She's been up to visit a lot and at my 70th birthday she sang an aria for us and it was absolutely beautiful. To watch Jonny when Isobel is singing is a joy; he's so proud of her.

Like me, he enjoys high theatricality; when he does his Dame Edna impersonation, it creases me up. But the funny thing about Jonny is that, while he's Australian and doesn't have any sentimentality about this country, he looks like the ultra-English gentlemen, which he likes to play on a bit.

Jonny's a more rounded person than I am; I'm just an actor. He's a gardener, a house-maker, a wonderful painter and a fantastic cook. He's a father and a husband, and I've never been either, really. He's a proper man, and Isobel got him first.

Jonathan Hyde, 61, is an Australian-born British actor, known for his film roles in Titanic, The Mummy and Jumanji. As a member of the RSC, he has appeared in productions including King Lear and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He lives in Bath with his wife

I'd just arrived in London after graduating from university in Australia in the early 1970s, on the hunt for a career, when I saw Ian perform as Richard II. I was so bowled over, I saw him again; he had this astonishing ability to convey outrage and hurt. I thought, "That's what I want to do, that's what I want to be."

We met fleetingly several years later at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East, when I was playing the wicked African magician in A Night in Old Peking, and he was in the bar afterwards. But it wasn't until I was asked to join a company he'd formed within the National Theatre in 1985 that we started to form a professional bond.

Ian led the company magnificently thanks to his poise and invention and since then I've felt such an affinity with him; we became friends and started seeing each other socially. When Ian was involved in the Clause 28 campaign [relating to the treatment of homosexuality in schools] a few years later, I wanted to support him, so both my wife and I took part in it too. I think he uses his celebrity for the very best causes, for his activism, but as a man he's pure Lancashire: straightforward and ordinary with people.

Ian loves having pals around him. His friends are his family in a sense, and my wife adores him; she sang a wonderful aria from Adriana Lecouvreur for Ian's 70th. He had 80 people – it felt like half of British Equity was there – spilling out on to his riverside terrace. The sun had come up before people stopped talking.

I said a few words, but the quotation I wish I'd used was from Henry V when he talks about "A largess universal like the sun, his liberal eye doth give to everyone," which I think sums up Ian; he's incredibly generous. In between a round-the-world tour in 2007, he took a close group of us on a sensational road trip from LA to Denver – Ian's treat. We had so many laughs.

Playing the Earl of Kent [opposite McKellen's Lear] in King Lear two years ago really cemented our friendship. I call it my year of selfless devotion, because Kent has to look after Lear, and I wouldn't have done the job if it hadn't been Ian playing him; you don't selflessly devote a year of your life to just anybody.

Hyde appears in 'Peter Pan' at Kensington Gardens Theatre, London, until 30 August (0871 386 1122, www.visitlondon.com/peterpan). McKellen is currently appearing in 'Waiting for Godot' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1 (0845 481 1870, www.waitingforgodottheplay.com)

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