"It is very, very, very difficult for an American actor who wants a film career to be open about his sexuality," McKellen said in accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Berlin Film Festival, the BBC reported Sunday.
"And even more difficult for a woman if she's lesbian," the "Lord of the Rings" star said. "It's very distressing to me that that should be the case. The film industry is very old fashioned in California."
McKellen said he is hopeful the success of the Oscar-nominated gay cowboy film, "Brokeback Mountain," will pave the way for more mainstream films about alternative lifestyles.
But, he noted, straight actors were cast in the film to portray gay men.
McKellen, 66, declared his homosexuality in 1988.