When Will Smith refused to kiss another man on-screen in his first major movie role, Sir Ian McKellen was having absolutely none of it.
The two actors met in 1993 on the set of Six Degrees of Separation, a comedy-drama based on the true story of gay hustler David Hampton, who is named Paul in the film.
Smith played the lead role alongside Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland, who portrayed the wealthy gay couple he targets. Keen to hold his own alongside the veteran actors, Smith attempted to embrace method acting for the first time – but there was one line he just couldn’t cross.
When the script called for Smith to kiss co-star Anthony Michael Hall, he flatly refused, and the scene was cut around the moment to appease Smith.
“It was very immature on my part,” Smith admitted to Entertainment Weekly in December 1993.
“I was thinking, ‘How are my friends in Philly going to think about this?’ I wasn’t emotionally stable enough to artistically commit to that aspect of the film… This was a valuable lesson for me. Either you do it, or you don’t.”
At this point Smith already had two film roles and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air under his belt, but he was still best known as a rapper – a genre that’s still beset by homophobic prejudice to this day.
The news that Will Smith had drawn the line at a gay kiss didn’t go unnoted by Ian McKellen, who also starred in the movie as the South African billionaire, Geoffrey Miller.
He described the drama in an interview with Time Out London years later, revealing how he cheekily confronted Will Smith at the movie’s premiere.
“[Smith] arrived for the read-through with a huge entourage — his family, his agent, his publicity person, his acting coach, his nanny,” he recalled. “He was a charmer, and a good actor. But he did one silly thing: he refused to kiss another boy on screen, even though it was there in the script.
“Which was why, at an early preview, I met him in public outside the cinema and gave him a great big kiss on the lips.”
Sadly he didn’t reveal how Will Smith reacted to the smooch, and with the absence of any video footage we like to imagine it went something like this.