The 80-year-old actor is set to star as the Danish prince in a new age-blind production at Theatre Royal Windsor later this month.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, McKellen spoke about the challenge of playing a character many decades his junior.
“When you come see me you won’t see an old man pretending to be a young man, you’ll see a man pretending to be a prince, pretending to be an intellectual, pretending to be a neurotic, pretending to love his mother, pretending to love girls and boys.”
He continued: “You didn’t know that was in Hamlet did you? It’s there, Rosencrantz to Hamlet, ‘You did love me once.’”
Despite the end of lockdown being delayed for four weeks, McKellen’s production of Hamlet will still open on 21 June with social distancing in place.
In a recent interview, the Lord of the Rings star admitted that he’d struggled during the pandemic knowing that these years would have been some of his last spent performing.
“This year has been very hard,” he said. “I think you’d get the same from Maggie Smith or Judi Dench – the thought of not working is horrifying.
“Because we’re getting to the end of our lives, to be robbed of the last few years of that capability is hard.”