McKellen spoke with Jon Stewart about his decision to become an actor, recalling his mother's early love of the theatre.
"My mother was dead before I became an actor, but she had said, and it’s a constant comfort that she told her sister, my aunt, 'If Ian decides to become an actor' — I was about 11 at the time — 'that would be why, because he would bring a lot of pleasure to people,'" McKellen said. "And sometimes I get a bit weepy when I think about that. So that’s basically what I do in my lifetime, to help people enjoy themselves."
McKellen, whose Broadway credits include The Promise, Amadeus, Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare, Wild Honey and Ian McKellen: A Knight Out at the Lyceum, also recalled performing in Dance of Death in 2001 during the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It was by August Strindberg, not a popular show you would think for the mainstream audience," he said. "You remember that the island of Manhattan was completely blocked off, you couldn’t get off the island, and you couldn’t get on to it. All of the long-running shows, like The Producers, had run out of audiences because all of the out-of-towners weren’t there. They were giving away tickets. We were the latest show in town, and you couldn’t get a ticket to see this very obscure, difficult play, but New Yorkers simply had to go to the theatre, and it gave them a sense that there was a future, that there was a life." The two-time Oscar nominee's film work includes "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit" and "X-Men."