Veteran actor Ian McKellen has told Prime Minister John Key his "careless" use of the word "gay" as a criticism could damage lives.

Key is under fire for using the word "gay" to describe a red top worn by The Farming Show presenter Jamie Mackay in an interview given on the same day he reportedly called footballer David Beckham "thick as bats***". Key has sinced denied using the word.

"You're munted mate. You're never going to make it. You've got that gay red top on," he told Mackay.

Sir Ian, who plays Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings series and upcoming The Hobbit trilogy, said Key's language reflected badly on New Zealand.

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"Mr Key should watch his language," he said.

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