Throughout his decorated career across stage and screen, Ian McKellen has collected one of the most diverse collections of roles in film history. But for many, it’s really the actor’s turns as Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit) and Magneto (X-Men) that will be fondly remembered for years to come.
Had things panned out differently, though, McKellen could’ve added another feather to his cap that would’ve made Potterheads go weak at the knees: Albus Dumbledore. For the first two Harry Potter films, it was Richard Harris that brought the Hogwarts principal to life with remarkable kindness and grace. Sadly, it wasn’t long after the release of Chamber of the Secrets that Harris passed away, leaving the door open for Michael Gambon to take on the coveted role for the remainder of the series.
Before his untimely passing, though, Harris had some choice words for Ian McKellen along with his fellow actors Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh – “these guys [are] technically brilliant, but passionless” – that would ultimately push McKellen away from the part when he became linked with the Potter universe in ’02.
Chatting to the BBC (via Variety), Ian McKellen stressed that he “couldn’t take over the part” from an actor who didn’t approve of him in the first place.
“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,” McKellen 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.”
“You mean you could’ve been Dumbledore?” interviewer Stephen Sackur asked.
“Well, sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me,” McKellen replied with a laugh.
The core Harry Potter franchise remains in stasis over at Warner Bros. as the Powers That Be double down on the burgeoning Fantastic Beasts series, with the first sequel set to arrive in November of 2018.