Sir Ian McKellen has found lifelong success, but it could have turned out very differently. In a PSA released last night, the actor portrays himself as a homeless man sleeping on the street and being cruelly tormented. Could this have been reality for the knighted actor?
Yes, according to the U.K. charity Albert Kennedy Trust, which found that 85% of young people in Britain faced some level of rejection from their families upon coming out. McKellen told London’s Evening Standard that he believes teen
homelessness is on the rise because more young people are coming out. The PSAs, which were created by TBWA London on behalf of the charity, show the grimmest possible alternate realities for McKellen and a few other gay British celebs. Actor Kieron Richardson is shown as a homeless heroin addict, for example. The spot is set to Radiohead’s “Creep,” the Scala choir version (familiar to those who have seen The Social Network).
The edgy nature of the spot reflects a hard truth, says TBWA executive creative director Dedé Laurentino. “Some of the now homeless people were actually leading a regular life when they came out. It was that turning point in their lives that led some families to react so strongly to the point of rejecting them. One single night on the streets can change a life forever. This is quite shocking to learn. And we wanted to create empathy and understanding of their situation.”
The shoot itself was no holiday for McKellen, apparently.
“We shot this commercial on a very cold January day,” says Laurentino. “The last shots of the day were Sir Ian’s scene and the temperature must have dropped to about 5 degrees, but being the pro he is, he took cider bottle after cider bottle of ice cold liquid thrown on him without so much as grumble. If he hadn’t earned his knighthood before he certainly did that night.”
In the U.S., the issue of homophobic violence came to the fore in the past two years with a spate of suicides in the wake of anti-gay bullying. Last month, Google used Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” initiative as the basis for a spot in a major new Chrome campaign.