Words by Ian McKellen
Martin Sherman's play is precious to me, professionally and personally. I was the first actor to play Max, its hero (1979) on the strong advice of my then lover Sean Mathias, who directed the revival for the Royal National Theatre (1990). From the outset, I was excited about the possibility of filming the play, whose story deserved the widest possible international audience. The varying locations of Max's progress from Berlin in the mid-1930s, en route to his suffering and moral awakening in the labour camp at Dachau, had obvious cinematic potential. Although in 1979 I was not completely out as a gay man, I would have had no hesitation about repeating my stage performance on film.
My views were shared by Richard Gere who was in the Broadway production. His theatre contract gave him first refusal of the part on film, the rights to which were held by the New York producer. By the time the rights reverted to Martin Sherman, both Richard and I were too old to play Max. Our loss was Clive Owen's gain.
It was fitting that Sean Mathias, one of the play's earliest champions, should make his film director's debut with "Bent". He accepted the constraints of a small budget and turned them into an asset. In the play's opening scene, the audience can think they are watching an exposť of contemporary gay life until the SS arrive at Max's apartment. Sean took this hint and played up the parallels between the hedonism of pre-war Berlin and some modern excesses. There are moments in the film which sway between the past and the present, aided by the highly recognizable presence of Mick Jagger. The audience is thereby reminded that Sherman's characters are still around today, from the the camp dancer to the closeted uncle and the sadistic representatives of the law.
I was very happy to be invited to play Uncle Freddie. — Ian McKellen, June 2000