Stewart’s sacrifices paid off, securing his status as one of the most prolific actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company long before his career entered warp speed as the captain of the starship Enterprise. Yet, despite his success in big-budget productions, he admits he prefers the challenge of a complex character to the grand spectacle of science fiction. “There’s a pleasure that comes out of a character of such complexity, intensity, and mystery. We don’t get to explore that kind of thing much with the principal characters of either Star Trek or X-Men.”
Nevertheless, it’s those pop culture favorites, coupled with his extraordinary talent, that have propelled Stewart to the status of an icon, and his longtime support of equality has earned him a large LGBT following along the way.
Born in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England in 1940, Stewart says his attitude toward LGBT people wasn’t something cultivated by his upbringing but always felt instinctual.
“When I look back to my early career and early experience, my ease and comfort being in the company of and intimately close with gay and lesbian colleagues and friends was always, for me, the most natural, and I might even say at times appealing aspects of the life I was living,” he says. “I think this is where the theater is such an appealing world, because it embraces everything and always has. So there was never a moment where I made an intellectual choice that I would be a supporter of gay civil rights. It was always a natural and uncomplicated choice. Then later in life, as I got to know well-known activists like Ian McKellen, I was only too happy to join campaigns, march, and support in whatever way I could because it always seemed to me to be something that much too much fuss was being made about.”
Stewart’s genuine support shines through in his real-life adventures with McKellen, whom he describes as “the dearest of friends.” His gay X-Men costar performed the wedding ceremony for Stewart and his current wife, Sunny Ozel, in 2013. But the close friendship he enjoys with McKellen has led to inaccurate assumptions about Stewart’s own sexuality on more than one occasion, including an article published by The Guardian in 2014 that misidentified the actor as a gay man after he congratulated another X-Men costar, Ellen Page, for coming out.
“Quite frankly, I was utterly flattered by that assumption," he says. “And indeed the first contact I had was from Ian McKellen, who sent me an email saying, ‘Congratulations!’ And I accepted the congratulations and said, ‘I think this is a very distinctive honor that I’ve been awarded.’”
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