Did Ian McKellen Turn Down the Role of Harry Potter’s Dumbledore? It's Complicated
Somewhere in his busy schedule of playing titular Shakespearean roles, Sir Ian McKellen has also made time to act in dozens of Hollywood blockbusters, including a couple of the biggest franchises ever to hit our screens—namely, The Lord of the Rings and X-Men.
For many fans, it’s almost impossible to watch him portray Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and more recently, The Hobbit trilogy) without thinking of another twinkling-eyed, flowing-robed wizard: Harry Potter’s Albus Dumbledore, of course.
Perhaps because of the undeniable similarities between the two characters, rumors circulated for years that McKellen had turned down the role of Dumbledore. In 2017, during an appearance on BBC’s HARDtalk with Stephen Sackur, McKellen explained how it went down. After Richard Harris, who portrayed Dumbledore in the first two films, passed away, McKellen received a phone call asking if he’d be interested in working on Harry Potter. Though the producers never actually told McKellen which part they had in mind, McKellen jumped to the conclusion that it was Dumbledore, and the casting conversation went no further. McKellen explained that Harris had once criticized him—along with fellow actors Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh—for being technically brilliant, yet passionless, and McKellen didn’t feel it was right to take over a role from an actor who didn’t approve of his work.
But CinemaBlend reports that McKellen has now complicated his verification of the rumors in a new interview. While promoting The Good Liar with co-star Helen Mirren, the actors played a rousing round of “Two Truths and a Lie” for BuzzFeed, during which McKellen named three possible lies: “The first film I ever made was never released,” “I turned down the role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies,” and “Kate Beckinsale once proposed marriage to me.”
Mirren guessed that the Dumbledore remark was the lie, and McKellen confirmed that she was correct. Though it might seem like McKellen is contradicting what he said back in 2017, he’s really just clarifying it: He really never did turn down the role of Dumbledore, because he was never actually offered it. Instead, he had pretty much shut down the possibility of appearing in the Harry Potter movies at all.
The ship may have sailed on a McKellen appearance in a Harry Potter film, but we’re still holding out hope for a Gandalf reprisal in the upcoming The Lord of the Rings television series.
For some behind-the-scenes secrets from The Good Liar, hear what the stars had to say at the London red carpet premiere here.