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'Harry Potter': Ian McKellen Reveals the Personal Reason He Turned Down Dumbledore Role

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Ian McKellen is a beloved pop-culture figure known for playing Gandalf and Magneto, but he almost had a three-peat with the role of Harry Potter headmaster, Dumbledore.

On BBC2’s HardTalk, he explained he was offered the part for the third film, after the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, died in 2002.

Original Dumbledore Richard Harris.
Original Dumbledore Richard Harris arrives at New York City’s Ziegfeld Theatre for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. (Photo: AP/Darla Khazei)

The famously outspoken Harris had once criticized McKellen and a few fellow actors, saying, “[They are] technically brilliant, like Omega watches, but underneath they are hollow, because their lives are hollow.”

McKellen told HardTalk host Stephen Sackur he thought the criticism was “nonsense.” Nevertheless, he turned down the role. “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.”

Ian McKellen at a Hollywood event in 2015.
Ian McKellen at a Hollywood event in 2015. (Photo: John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

Irish actor Michael Gambon ended up filling the wizard’s hat instead, and went on to enjoy success in the six remaining franchise installments. “Sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me,” McKellen said.

Ian McKellen doesn’t need to feel too bad, though: he’ll always be the only wizard to fight the Balrog and return to tell the tale.

Watch more: Ian McKellen Nearly Missed Out on His X-Men and Lord of the Rings Roles

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