Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is probably the most famous bearded wizard in recent cinema history, rivaled only by Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series. The Hogwarts headmaster was initially played by Richard Harris before Michael Gambon took over after Harris’s death. Turns out, though, that there was a good chance that McKellen could’ve played both wizards. The only thing that stopped him from taking on the Dumbledore role was some serious wizard beef.
McKellen was a guest on BBC’s HARDtalk on Tuesday, and he explained how Warner Bros. came to offer him the role after Harris’s death in 2002. The studio figured he already had experience playing an experienced wizard, so he’d be a great fit. McKellen said no because he knew that Harris didn’t approve of his acting style.
One time in the past, Harris had referred to McKellen, along with fellow actors Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh, as being “technically brilliant but passionless.”
“When he died, he played Dumbledore, the wizard,” McKellen said on HARDtalk. “I played the real wizard.”
“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films — they didn’t say what part — I worked out what they were thinking, and I couldn’t,” McKellen recalled. “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor I’d known didn’t approve of me.”
Gambon, who ended up playing Dumbledore from The Prisoner of Azkaban on, did a great job, and McKellen was happy with how it all shook out.
“Well sometimes, sometimes when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me.”