The actor, who previously worked with the former House of Cards star during Spacey’s tenure as artistic director of the Old Vic theater in London, addressed the news during an interview Thursday on the BBC’s Today.
Asked if he thinks Spacey, 58, should act again, McKellen, 78, avoided answering the question directly.
“You’re asking me if I believe in redemption?” he said. “Yes, I believe in redemption, of course.”
Pressed to comment on Spacey directly, McKellen, who came out as gay in 1988 to lobby for gay rights in the U.K., said he couldn’t because “there have been many accusations that have not really been gone into” or been “understood.”
“The only thing I would say about Mr. Spacey was that he was a gay man, and he was pretending not to be,” said McKellen. “And I always thought it a bit distasteful that such a person would come to our country — where the National Theatre at the time was being run by a gay man, and the Royal Shakespeare by another — that we should have a closeted gay man at the center of British theater.”
“You get into problems, don’t you, if you lie, if you pretend,” he added.
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In response, Spacey issued a statement on Twitter addressing the allegations — and came out as gay.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story,” he said. “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”
“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life,” Spacey continued. “I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closes to me know, in my life, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic relationships with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
He was also fired from the final season of his Emmy-winning Netflix drama, House of Cards.