“Apparently she said, ‘If Ian decides to be an actor, it’s a good job, because it brings pleasure to people’,” says the star, now 77.
Mrs McKellen died when her son was just 12, but she would undoubtedly have been proud of his work.
Known by audiences of all ages for roles such as the wizard Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), and even Corrie con-man Mel Hutchwright, McKellen’s latest appearance is as himself, in an upcoming episode of BBC genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?
During the programme he learns of a creative family tree, which includes a painter, a singer and an actor. And as an activist for gay rights, he’s pleased to learn of a great-great-grandfather who campaigned for his fellow workers.
“They’re not neurotically bound up with their own lives. They’re in the society and are part of it and try and change it. If that is a family trait, I confirm that in my own life.”
Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC1, Wednesday, 8pm