‘The Hobbit’ star Ian McKellen’s wizard problems
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (Photo: New Line Cinema)
Known among the residents of Hobbiton as that wizard who sets off cool fireworks, Gandalf also lights a fire under Bilbo Baggins' backside, getting him to go on an action-packed adventure with him and 13 rowdy dwarves.
So, discovering that McKellen wasn't the actor who was first approached to take on the role when director Peter Jackson was casting 2001's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" may be a tough pill for fans to swallow. It was famous James Bond actor Sean Connery who was first approached. Connery reportedly declined the role of Gandalf over script concerns -- eventually missing out on what is rumored to have been an extremely lucrative movie deal. (Connery instead chose "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which lost millions at the box office.) Connery has never officially confirmed that he turned down the role of Gandalf, but he has said this: "I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don't understand it. Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it."
But it's 90-year-old Christopher Lee who can actually claim first dibs on the wizard role. Lee, who plays Saruman in both the "Rings" and "Hobbit" trilogies, was promised the part of Gandalf by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. That was back in the sixties and, unfortunately for Lee, a film project never got off the ground until decades after Tolkein died. Still, Lee remains the only person in Peter Jackson's Tolkien films to have met the famed author and makes a point of reading the books once a year.
McKellen's wizard issues don't end there. He had reservations about reprising his "Lord of the Rings" role for "The Hobbit" trilogy. It was mainly due to the realities of his age, now 73, and knowing the amount of energy it would take to participate in another grueling round of Jackson films -- in which the director is known for his infatuation with capturing reels upon reels of extra footage. Not to mention the fact that he has to ride a horse. But McKellen has said he ultimately didn't want what happened to Dumbledore from the "Harry Potter" series to happen to him. (Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first two Potter films. The role was taken over by Michael Gambon after Harris died.) "I'd invested too much in the role for someone else to come along and take it over," McKellen said.
[Related: Bilbo Baggins vs. W.N. Bilbo: A grudge match]
Speaking of Dumbledore, McKellen was offered the role after Harris died but declined for two reasons: He thought it inappropriate to take over Harris' role because he had once called McKellen a "dreadful actor," and he felt his own Gandalf character was too similar. To add to McKellan's wizard woes, Gambon has said he gets mistaken for Gandalf a lot. And when it happens, he has joked, he signs the name "Ian McKellan" as his autograph.
Already setting box office records at the outset of the opening weekend of "The Hobbit," something tells us McKellen isn't sweating his wobbly wizard past.