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Here's why Ian McKellen turned down a role in the 'Harry Potter' movies

The actor was already playing a bearded wizard in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but that actually wasn't why he said "no."
/ Source: TODAY

Audiences know and love Ian McKellen's portrayal of Gandalf the Grey (and later White), the bearded wizard in the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films.

But it turns out the actor could have played a hirsute magician in yet another classic film franchise: The "Harry Potter" films!

Ian McKellen as himself, and Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films.Getty Images; Alamy Stock

Alas, he turned the role down — and the reason may surprise you.

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"Harry Potter's" beloved Dumbledore was originally played in the franchise's first two films by Richard Harris, then by Michael Gambon for the rest of the series after Harris' death in 2002.

But Harris didn't have a very high opinion of McKellen.

During a recent interview on the BBC's "HARDTalk" show, interviewer Stephen Sackur recounted a quote in which Harris said McKellen and fellow actor Derek Jacobi were "technically brilliant but passionless."

"Nonsense," McKellen said of the criticism, noting that when Harris died he had been playing Dumbledore, but then quipped, "I played the real wizard."


Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."Reuters

And yet, the criticism stuck. After Harris died, McKellen got a call to fill his shoes (presumably). "They called me up and said would I be interested in being in the 'Harry Potter' films," he said. "They didn't say in what part."

McKellen knew, though. "I worked out what they were thinking and I couldn't ... take over the part from an actor who I'd known didn't approve of me."

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"You mean you could've been Dumbledore?" the interviewer asked McKellen.

"Well sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me," McKellen joked back.

Now, that's a magic trick!

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