Playing two of the most iconic wizards in fiction would be a tall order for any actor but if anyone could have pulled off, it’s Ian McKellen. The veteran actor won the hearts of many a fanboy and girl with his portrayal of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, but he very nearly played the Headmaster of Hogwarts as well.
McKellen recently appeared on BBC’s HARDtalk show, where he revealed how he was approached to play Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise following the death of Richard Harris, who played the famed wizard in the first two Potter films. McKellen then went on to explain why he passed on the part and it turns out that it actually had nothing to do with the fact that he was already known for playing another famous wizard.
Amid their discussion, HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur brought up a quote about McKellen that was apparently said by Harris, calling him and a few other actors “technically brilliant but passionless.”
“Yeah,” McKellen replied to Sackur. “Nonsense.”
McKellen then went on to explain that it was Harris’ apparent disapproval of his acting abilities that influenced his decision to not take the part.
“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say in what part,” he said. “I worked out what they were thinking, and I couldn’t … I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.”
The role of Dumbledore ultimately went to Micheal Gambon, who portrayed the character in the next six Harry Potter films. For his part, McKellen seems to have no hard feelings about turning down the role, jokingly claiming “I’m the real wizard,” in reference to his portrayal of Gandalf. Still, McKellen admits that he sometimes has to do a double take when he sees posters of Dumbledore.
“You mean you could’ve been Dumbledore?” Sackur asked him.
“Well, sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me,” McKellen replied, laughing.
In related news, Ian McKellen remains the coolest person alive.