'Magneto' recalls his last trip to Singapore
IAN McKellen may have traversed the globe during his long career, but Singapore definitely sticks out in his mind.
"Oh, Singapore!" he exclaimed, when he heard where this reporter is from.
We were in a suite full of journalists at London's Claridge's hotel, where he was promoting his latest superhero blockbuster, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, opening here on May 22.
"I didn't know that I was popular in Singapore..."
The English actor last came to town in 2007, during which he played the titular role in the staging of Shakespeare's King Lear and shocked TV viewers by asking talk show hosts where he might find a local gay bar.
The openly homosexual actor maintained he never intended to cause a stir.
"I was asked a question - what I intended to do in Singapore - and I gave an honest answer. But I did end up visiting a gay bar that night, and received a wonderfully warm welcome," the 74-year-old recalled.
"Being a mutant in the X-Men universe is a metaphor for being an outcast of society; being black, Jewish or gay. That was my 'in' to the character (of Magneto), to understand how it felt to be discriminated against."
Leaning forward, he challenged our group: "Would you rather be born a mutant or a generic? It's a valid question."
McKellen's passion for the role of Magneto - shared with Michael Fassbender, who plays the younger Magneto - is palpable.
When he first played the antagonist in 1999, McKellen started a blog, Magneto's Lair, to communicate with fans.
"Magneto, or Erik Lehnsherr, is such a great character," he enthused. "Certainly, I don't think of him as evil - just someone who reacts to being unfairly ostracised.
"For me, each X-Men film is the same story, retold. The argument between Professor X and Magneto, as to what (should) you do when you're a mutant: Do you counter it aggressively, or do you placate and look for understanding?"