The Lord Of The Rings star, 74, admitted that his performance in this year’s critically panned sitcom Vicious was “over the top”.
However, McKellen said “no-one needs to feel sorry for me” after Lewis, 42, described one of the reasons why he wanted to break out of the theatre.
While not naming names, British actor Lewis, who shot to fame as Winters in Second World War series Band of Brothers, said that, in his 20s, he worried that if he didn’t get out of the theatre in time “I would be one of these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn’t start getting any kind of film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards”.
McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit films, responded: “So he feels sorry for me, does he? Well I’m very happy, he needn’t worry about me.”
The X-Men star, whose screen success came relatively late, said the remark was “a fair comment”.
However, he added: “To rebut it: I wouldn’t like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on and expected it to continue and was stuck doing scripts that I didn’t particularly like just to keep the income up.
“I’ve always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better. You’ve only got to see my early work to see that.
“As for a fruity voice? Well, it may be a voice that is trained like an opera singer’s voice: To fill a large space. It is unnatural.
“Actors have to be heard and their voice may therefore develop a sonorous quality that they can’t quite get rid of, so you think actors are as pompous as their voice is large. I suppose Damian was thinking of that a little bit, too.
“To be allowed for the first time in your later career to play leading parts in extremely popular movies is not a situation to worry about. No-one needs to feel sorry for me or Michael Gambon [Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies] or anyone else who has fallen victim to success.”
McKellen, who is starring in two plays on Broadway, Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, said he was not happy with his performance in the first series of this year’s drama Vicious.
He starred with Derek Jacobi as a sharp-tongued gay couple in the series, which is returning for a second instalment despite the negative reviews.
“If people thought it was a rather over-the-top performance, they were right,” he said, saying he was acting too much for the live studio audience, and that things would be different in series two.
McKellen said: “If I look at my early films, I’m using what seems to me now to be a ridiculous voice. Over the years, I’ve relaxed and let my own accent come back in.”