Here’s Why Ian McKellen Turned Down The Role Of Dumbledore

We narrowly missed out on having Sir Ian McKellen play not just one, but two famous literary wizards on the big screen, and now we finally know why.

McKellen, who played Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series of films, was in the running to take over the role of Professor Albus Dumbledore in 2002, the year that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was released and the year that Richard Harris (the OG Dumbledore) passed away.

During an on-air conversation with BBC HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur, McKellen revealed that he was contacted by the Harry Potter movie producers to see if he’d be interested in taking on the role of Dumbledore for the remainder of the franchise, less than a year after the knighted actor made his on-screen debut as Gandalf. We would have believed it if McKellen said he turned down the role simply to avoid being typecast, but the true reason is actually a lot more interesting.

Harris had apparently referred to McKellen, as well as Doctor Who‘s Derek Jacobi and Shakespearean actor extraordinaire Kenneth Branaugh, as “technically brilliant, but passionless” performers, and McKellen was understandably hesitant to accept a role previously helmed by an actor who didn’t enjoy his work.

“[The producers] called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say what part,” McKellen told Sackur. “But I worked out what they were thinking. I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I know disapproved of me.”

McKellen tells Sackur that Harris’ comments are “nonsense” and has insisted in past interviews that Gandalf is the “original,” “superior” wizard. However, it sounds like the whole Dumbledore debacle is now water under the bridge. “Sometimes when I look at the posters of Michael Gambon, the actor that gloriously plays Dumbledore, I sometimes think it’s me. You know, we get asked for each other’s autographs!” McKellen informs Sackur with a laugh.

We’re glad McKellen has managed to maintain a good attitude, but we’re still a little salty that he wasn’t able to monopolize the book-to-movie-wizard market. Check out an excerpt from McKellen’s interview below.