Why Ian McKellen Wouldn’t Play Dumbledore in the ‘Harry Potter’ Movies

In the land of what could have been, Ian McKellen is the star of many more franchises. The actor best known for portraying Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and Magneto in the X-Men series was wanted for a role in Mission: Impossible II, for instance. We learned of that two years ago and have ben imagining the alternate history ever since.

Now comes news on how he could have been in Harry Potter but had a personal reason to turn it down.

When Richard Harris died in 2002, after playing Professor Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, in two Harry Potter movies, a replacement was needed for the rest of the adaptations. On the BBC talk show HARDtalk, McKellen says he was asked to join the franchise starting with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they wouldn’t say what part but I worked out what they were thinking,” he shares on the program.

But he had to decline. Why? “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I know disapproved of me,” he reveals.

Before McKellen’s explanation, host Stephen Sackur brought up how Harris had publicly criticized McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh as being “technically brilliant, but passionless.” “Nonsense,” McKellen says of that claim, but obviously it struck a nerve with him, to where he passed on another major role as a result.

McKellen has apparently divulged interest in him playing Dumbledore in the past, though, with a quote in his IMDb bio stating the reason for him declining being that he’d had “enough trouble living up to one legend” with his role as Gandalf. In the HARDtalk interview, he does slip in a jab that he’d played “the real wizard.”

As for who did take over as Dumbledore, McKellen also admits he sometimes sees a resemblance between himself and Michael Gambon (pictured above) in posters and for a second believes he did take the role.

Watch the interview excerpt here: