Sir Ian McKellen is coming in hot on this Tuesday with some insightful information and epic shade. The 77-year-old actor who became a pop culture icon with his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings franchise revealed he turned down yet another legendary wizarding role: Harry Potter's Dumbledore. Yup, apparently McKellen could've played Dumbledore. It's obvious McKellen would've rocked as Hogwarts' main man — he had the beard, the outfit, the on-screen power, and the all-knowing attitude down. But it turns out the actor had a little bit of drama with the late Richard Harris (who originally played Dumbledore), and it makes complete sense as to why he'd turn down the part as a result.
Harris passed away in fall 2002 between filming Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. However, before Michael Gambon filled the role, the HP team reportedly knocked on McKellen's door, the actor recalled in a new interview with BBC. By that time, though, he had a bad taste in his mouth, not because of the project itself, but because of conflict with Harris. In the BBC interview, McKellen confirmed that Harris had once referred to him and a few other actors as "technically brilliant, but passionless." The LOTR star called that statement "nonsense." Thus, McKellen just wasn't having it when the HP opportunity came along.
"When he died, he played Dumbledore, the wizard. I played the real wizard," McKellen explained with an expertise in shade delivery. "When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they wouldn't say what part, I worked out what they were thinking," he said. "And I couldn't. I couldn't take over the part from an actor who I'd known didn't approve of me."
The revelation of this behind-the-scenes conflict between iconic actors is a bit mind-blowing. At first, I couldn't understand why such pettiness would lead McKellen to turn down the opportunity, but after thinking about it, it actually makes sense. If he knew Harris publicly expressed his distaste for him, that would just be flat-out awkward to go in and fill his shoes. Why would he put himself in that uncomfortable situation? Especially when McKellen already had two LOTR films (Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers) under his belt at the time. Plus, it wouldn't have been the most respectful move.
Seeing McKellen in HP would've been iconic, but at that point, he and Harris already were settled in their respective roles. McKellen just wanted to stay in his lane and continue on his own legendary path, leaving Harris' alone. And hey, he often gets mistaken as Dumbledore, so it's basically like he was in the films anyway. "When I see the posters of Mike Gambon... I think sometimes it is me," McKellen told BBC. A legend at work.