Ian McKellen explains why he turned down playing Dumbledore in 'Harry Potter'

Carrie Wittmer
Ian McKellen

Getty Images

Ian McKellen, an actor known for playing some pretty powerful magical people including Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings" and Magneto from "X-Men," recently told the BBC that he was offered the role of Albus Dumbeldore in the "Harry Potter" movies, but he turned it down.

But why did he deny a role that was clearly so perfect for him? 

During the interview, the BBC's Stephen Sackur mentioned critics of McKellen's work, citing a remark actor Richard Harris once made about McKellen and actors Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh. Harris said “these guys [are] technically brilliant, but passionless.”

“Yeah,” McKellen said. “Nonsense.”

Then the British actor further explained his reasoning for turning down "Harry Potter" and what it had to do with Harris.

“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the ‘Harry Potter’ films, they didn’t say in what part,” he said. “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.”

McKellen correctly assumed that he was being offered the role of Albus Dumbledore after Harris, who played the character in "The Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Chamber of Secrets," had died.  

“Well, sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me,” McKellen said.

Things worked out for the best. Gambon was a great Dumbledore. And McKellen playing two iconic wizards from books might have been a little too confusing for everyone. 

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