Magnetic personality

British actor Ian McKellen gestures as he arrives for the British premiere of 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' at Leicester Square in London May 12, 2014.

Ian McKellen may have traversed the globe during his long career, but Singapore definitely sticks out in his mind.

"Oh, Singapore!" he exclaims, when he hears where this reporter is from.

We're in a suite full of journalists at London's Claridge's hotel,

where he's 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 - as well as shocked TV viewers by asking talk show hosts where he might find a local gay bar.

The openly homosexual actor maintains he never intended to cause a stir.

"If you speak your mind, and you're not in your own milieu, you can have quite a big impact. 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 challenges our group: "Would you rather be born a mutant or a generic? It's a valid question."

Set after 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Days of Future Past sees the return of director Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two X-Men films.

In post-apocalyptic San Francisco, mutants have been hunted to near-extinction by robot Sentinels. Magneto, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are among the handful of surviving mutants. TIME-TRAVEL To end the mutant war, Wolverine volunteers to travel to the past - the 1970s, to be exact. There, he convinces a young Professor X (James McAvoy) to unite his X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood, preventing the creation of the Sentinels.

The thrilling time-travel mash-up unites the characters of the original X-Men trilogy with their younger selves from 2011's X-Men: First Class.

It's an ambitious movie, one fans have been eagerly awaiting for because of its stellar cast.

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 enthuses. "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 you do when you're a mutant: Do you aggressively counter it, or do you placate and look for understanding?

"That's less a part of the story in this movie, but it's interesting that the two characters come together.

"You can't write off the X-Men movies, they're definitely about something. It's not just a typical fantasy, or putting on fancy costumes. And that's not true of other action films."

Though it's his fourth time taking up Magneto's mantle, McKellen is still loving it.

"It was going back home, in a good way, to old friends like Halle (Berry), Patrick (Stewart), Hugh (Jackman) and Bryan (Singer). That doesn't happen very often.

"Then again, I had that in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit too, didn't I? Well, I'm really lucky!" As he waves goodbye with a "Cheerio!", McKellen is gone as quickly as he came.

The question is, will we attract him to our shores again? Only if the Sentinels don't get him first.

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.

- English actor Ian McKellen

Great geezers

Here are our favourite movie geriatrics in descending order of kingliness.

1 Ian McKellen, 74
2 Jeff Bridges, 64
3 Patrick Stewart, 73
4 Harrison Ford, 71
5 Anthony Hopkins, 76
6 Michael Douglas, 69
7 Bill Nighy, 64

This article was published on May 14 in The New Paper.

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