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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (Warner Bros.)
Sir Ian McKellen has been appearing in movies since 1964, but it’s really only in the last 15 to 20 years that he has been recognizable to most American audiences. McKellen, a classically trained actor, worked mostly on stage and in big screen adaptations of classic plays and novels until he joined two movie phenomenons: The X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises as Magneto and Gandalf, respectively. Those films made him a globally recognized treasure, but it turns out that McKellen almost missed out on both of his signature roles.
“I got offered a part in Mission: Impossible II with Tom Cruise, but they wouldn’t let me see the whole script because I might have spilled the beans,” McKellen writes in People magazine. “Well, I couldn’t judge from reading just those scenes what the script was like. So I said no. And my agent said, ‘You can’t say no to working with Tom Cruise!’ and I said, ‘I think I will.’”
The next day, Bryan Singer offered McKellen the role of Magneto in the first X-Men movie. Shortly after that, he got the call from Peter Jackson to play Gandalf. And even though production on X-Men went long, Jackson was smart enough to keep the part of the wizard open for McKellen, whenever he was able to join the LOTR team in New Zealand.
McKellen ended up starring in six Lord of the Ring/Hobbit films and four X-Men films. Meanwhile, Mission: Impossible is only on its fifth film — with few of the same cast members from its second. Obviously, McKellen made the right call.
After all, if he hadn’t done X-Men and Lord of the Rings, he probably wouldn’t have starred in the new movie Mr. Holmes, which means he wouldn’t have recorded the video below: