Would you tell your life story for a million-dollar payday?
Oscar-nominated actor Ian McKellen, 76, perhaps most famous for his turn as the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies, recently returned a $1.4 million advance on his memoir to the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, according to multiple reports. The reason? He didn't want to delve into his past or compromise his privacy.
"It was a bit painful. I didn't want to go back into my life and imagine things that I hadn't understood so far," McKellen explained to The Hollywood Reporter last weekend at the Oxford Literary Festival. "The privacy of my life I don't quite understand myself, and it has nothing to do with what I do for a living. So there you go, I'm sorry."
McKellen added that he had put nine months aside to work on the memoir. But ultimately he sent the money back when he realized he didn't want to do it.
It might seem counterintuitive that an internationally famous film actor--who has not shied away from the spotlight, especially when it comes to gay rights--would cite privacy as a reason. McKellen came out in 1988, when he was 49. Last year he told the Huffington Post that he wished he'd come out earlier:
I regret and always shall that I didn't see the significance of coming out at a much earlier date because I think I would have been a different person and a happier one. Self-confidence is the most important thing that anybody can have. You don't have that if part of you is ashamed or hiding something. I can reassure people who don't feel they're able to, the world will like you better because people like honesty and authenticity.
Indeed, McKellen's remarks echo the experiences of entrepreneur Karim Fadel, who told Inc. last year that his own coming out helped him find his most authentic voice as a leader.
Of course, the challenge of writing a memoir is that it's not just the author's privacy on the line. The privacy of anyone who's ever known the author is also fertile ground. Though McKellen didn't say this, it's certainly feasible one of his hesitations was writing about friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Likewise, it's also possible that he simply didn't want to do the work of writing a book. When it comes to writing a book, bestselling author Stephen King has stressed the importance of writing everyday--and writing for the sheer joy of the activity. If neither the diligence nor the joy was there for McKellen, then it's just another reason that returning the money was the wise thing to do.
And Gandalf is nothing if not wise: