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Harry Potter

Ian McKellen explains why he passed on playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter

‘I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me,’ McKellen said of the late Richard Harris

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Ian McKellen played a famed wizard from Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings films, but he could have almost been Headmaster of Hogwarts as well.

The actor made a recent appearance on BBC’s HARDtalk show, where McKellen explained how he was approached about taking over as Albus Dumbledore following the death of Richard Harris, who played the character in the first two Harry Potter films.

While discussing critics of McKellen’s, HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur brought up a quote about McKellen apparently said by Harris, calling him and a few other actors “technically brilliant but passionless.”

“Yeah,” McKellen replied to Sackur. “Nonsense.”

The actor then described being approached about joining the Harry Potter franchise after Harris’ death in 2002.

“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.”

Michael Gambon ultimately portrayed Dumbledore in the next six Harry Potter films, and McKellen seems to have no hard feelings about not taking on the role. (“I’m the real wizard,” he joked of playing Gandalf.)

“You mean you could’ve been Dumbledore?” Sackur asked him.

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