Hollywood is full of what-might-have-beens — from scripts that never got produced to stars who passed on iconic roles. Now you can add David Bowie playing Gandalf in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the list. After years of rumors, the Huffington Post confirmed Bowie was asked to play Gandalf, but the rock star was far too busy to commit such a large chunk of time to the franchise. Lord of the Rings casting director Amy Hubbard explained to Huffington Post,
"He was unavailable. It was a very quick conversation with the legendary Chris Andrews at CAA. I do believe that [David Bowie] went over and played for everybody at the Millennium party. That would’ve been New Year’s Eve in the year 1999, which was when the films were being shot. He went over and entertained everybody, but he never auditioned. That’s for sure."
Jackson was reportedly keen on having Bowie play the role, but ultimately the part went to the great Sir Ian McKellen. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Gandalf after McKellen brought the wizened wizard to life with such authority for the big screen. Still, everything about the late Bowie's career points to an interpretation of Gandalf that would have been vibrant, eccentric, and a joy to watch.
In Labyrinth , Bowie was the dark-hearted Goblin King, Jareth, who kidnapped babies and could transform into an owl. All of the magnetic energy Bowie poured into his music was channeled into the character's larger-than-life persona. It was magnificent and the perfect indicator of what Bowie could do with a fantasy role.
Bowie's Gandalf would have been weirder than McKellen's, there is no doubt about that, but he also would have been even more of a mystery. Like Gandalf, Bowie was an enigma of a man. He always felt otherworldly — having him play one of literature's greatest wizards would have been a natural fit. It is impossible to say whether or not his Gandalf would have carried the same authority as McKellen's. Onstage and on film, Bowie's exuded a sense of knowing as if he knew the secret of the universe and was trying to tell the world through his art. Where McKellen's Gandalf was the ultimate protector, Bowie's would have been much harder to pin down. With Bowie in the role, there is no doubt the trilogy would have been changed.
Just imagining a world where Bowie played Gandalf is exciting. It truly would have been the role of a lifetime for the Starman, but it just was not meant to be. That is OK, though. As amazing as Bowie might have been in the role, there is no arguing against the fact McKellen made the part his own. In his hands, Gandalf became an iconic film character, as well as one of the literary world's finest. He made Gandalf the ultimate grandfather figure — strong, reliable, and full of brilliant stories while still being a total hero. Bowie's Gandalf would have been different, but not better.
In a perfect world, moviegoers would have been given a chance to see both men's version of the famed wizard. Maybe in an alternate universe somewhere, Bowie's wonderfully strange take on Gandalf exists and I am sure it is awesome.
Images: Giphy (2)