Sir Ian McKellen, currently starring as evil mutant leader Magneto in X-Men, says the theory that audiences won't accept an openly gay actor in a wide variety of roles is "bulls--t." And he should know.

"I think anyone who argues that is just battling the homophobia within themselves," the actor tells The Advocate. "If anything, my career has taken off since I came out [in 1988]. And of over 20 film parts that I've played since then, only three have been gay."

McKellen has never been particularly private about his sexuality ? he brought his boyfriend to the Tony Awards in 1981 ? but it took a chance interview in 1998 to lure him completely out of the closet. "I'd never discussed it in the press until I found myself facing a homophobic interviewer," he recalls, "and almost without thinking about it, I just came out.

"I know the sort of pressures young actors are under," adds McKellen of gay performers in Hollywood. "[But] no career is worth lying about yourself."

Next up, McKellen ? an Oscar nominee for his role as gay film director James Whale in 1998's Gods & Monsters ? takes on the role of Gandalf the wizard in the fantasy flick The Lord of the Rings. And don't be surprised if his interpretation of the role sets off audiences' "gaydar."

"I don't think of myself as a queer artist," he says, "but I do bring my own gay perception to anything I do."