Why Sir Ian McKellen turned down the role of Dumbledore in Harry Potter

Sir Ian McKellen during a portrait session in New York on Dec. 5, 2012.Xxx Hobbit Rd143 Jpg Usa Ny
Sir Ian McKellen during a portrait session in New York on Dec. 5, 2012.Xxx Hobbit Rd143 Jpg Usa Ny /

There is a part of me that always assumed Sir Ian McKellen took over the role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies following the death of Richard Harris, who played the Hogwarts headmaster in the first two films. Of course, McKellen didn’t take over — the role went to Michael Gambon — but it just makes sense, doesn’t it? He’s a wizard at playing wizards, after all. The 82-year old grew his fanbase by a million-fold when he joined The Lord of the Rings films as Gandalf back in the early 2000s. He had the perfect look for this sort of role, so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that he was indeed approached to play Dumbledore after Harris passed away.

Why didn’t he accept? There’s an interesting story behind that. In an interview with the BBC, McKellen said that there was some drama with the late Harris that prevented him from playing Harry’s mentor.

Drama, you say?

Why Sir Ian McKellen turned down the role of Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter

In 2002, Harris passed away in between the filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. McKellen opted not to replace him because apparently Harris had been critical of McKellen’s work, calling him “technically brilliant, but passionless.” Because of that “nonsense” statement, McKellen was turned off by the idea of taking over for the role.

“When he died, he played Dumbledore, the wizard. I played the real wizard,” McKellen said. “When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they wouldn’t say what part, 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.”

Apart from the shade about playing a “real” wizard, I respect McKellen’s decision to ultimately not take on the role. He knew Harris wasn’t a huge fan of his, and stepping into his shoes just didn’t feel right. Plus, did he really need Harry Potter when he had The Lord of the Rings?

McKellen made the decision out of respect rather than bitterness or anger, and I doff my cap to him. That said, I’m sure him playing Dumbledore would have been instantly iconic.

And even though McKellen didn’t actually play Dumbledore, I’m one of those people who always assumed he and Michael Gambon were one and the same. And it turns out, McKellen feels the same. “When I see the posters of Mike Gambon… I think sometimes it is me.”

Same, sir, same.

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h/t Bustle