Sean Connery Was Originally Eyed to Play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images / Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Twenty years ago, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring debuted in theaters, setting off a big-budget fantasy craze that’s still going strong today. But everything could have gone very differently if producers had hired their original choices for the iconic roles.

We all know and love The Lord of the Rings cast now—Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn—but neither of them was director Peter Jackson’s first choice. “They only wanted me because the established stars said no,” McKellen recently told The Independent. “They wanted Tony Hopkins and Sean Connery.”

Producer Mark Ordesky thinks McKellen is exaggerating a bit. (“We desperately wanted him," he told the paper.) But he does admit that they made an offer to Connery: “We never got an answer until years later, but apparently he read the material and just didn’t get it.”

Viggo Mortensen felt “awkward” replacing Stuart Townsend as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings

As for Aragorn, Jackson originally hired Queen of the Damned (2002) star Stuart Townsend before replacing him with Viggo Mortensen early in the production. 

“I understood from the filmmakers that Stuart Townsend—who is a great actor, and was really perfect for the part—was too young, because he was the same age as the actors playing the Hobbits,” Mortensen explained to Yahoo! Entertainment. “They just needed someone who was a little bit older. It was just a bad luck situation.”

“I did run into Stuart briefly on the street and said hello,” Mortensen recalled. “He seemed like a very nice guy, and he’s obviously a very fine actor. It’s just one of those things that happens in our business, you know?”

Mortensen said it was nerve-racking to replace someone when production was already underway. “I felt unprepared,” Mortensen recalled. “The other actors had been there for weeks and months in some cases preparing for the arduous task of shooting the whole trilogy. I also felt awkward, because I’d never been in a position of replacing another actor.”

Next year, Amazon will try to revive Lord of the Rings fever with a new TV series set during the Second Age of Middle-earth.