Ian McKellen Explains Why He Turned Down The Role Of Dumbledore In Harry Potter

Ian McKellen has shared why he turned down the role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.
Credit: Alamy & Warner Bros. Pictures

The X-Men star may have been a part of two blockbuster franchises but this didn’t stop him from almost being cast in the part of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films

Ian McKellen, 84, is a stage and screen actor whose career has spanned over six decades.

Along with playing the iconic villain Magneto in the X-Men franchise, he also played Gandalf in both the Lord Of The Rings films and its prequel trilogy The Hobbit.

Throughout McKellen’s acclaimed career, he has won numerous awards, including a Tony Award, six Oliver Awards and a Golden Globe – as well as racking up nominations for two Oscars, five BAFTAs and five Emmy Awards.

And it has now been revealed that McKellen once turned down the role of playing Professor Albus Dumbledore.

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For the first two Harry Potter movies, the Hogwarts headmaster was portrayed by Richard Harris.

He sadly passed in October 2002 – just a month before Chamber Of Secrets came out.

Sir Michael Gambon then took over the role and played the character for the rest of the franchise.

Yet there was a possibility that it could’ve been McKellen taking over the role if it wasn’t for some comments that Harris had previously made about him.

Richard Harris as Dumbledore
Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Speaking to BBC’s HARDtalk, the Mr. Holmes actor revealed that Harris disliked him, and described him as a ‘technically brilliant but passionless’ performer.

McKellen explained: “When [Harris] died – he played Dumbledore the wizard [while] I played the real wizard [Gandalf], of course – [the producers] called me up and said, ‘Would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films?’.

“I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I had known didn’t approve of me.”

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However, he was full of praise for Gambon and admitted that fans have confused him with Dumbledore in the past.

The Six Degrees Of Separation actor continued: “Sometimes when I look at the posters of Michael Gambon, the actor that gloriously plays Dumbledore, I sometimes think it’s me. You know, we get asked for each other’s autographs!”

Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Ian McKellen admits that people have confused his role as Gandalf for Dumbledore in the past. Credit: New Line Cinema

This is not the first time that McKellen has addressed Harris’ criticism of him, as he quipped in a previous interview that he didn’t want to take the role of Dumbledore as he had already played the ‘original wizard’.

He said (via Vanity Fair): “Seeing as one of the last things [Harris] did publicly was say what a dreadful actor he thought I was, it would not have been appropriate for me to take over his part.

“It would have been unfair.”

While I’m sure McKellen would’ve made an excellent Dumbledore and would have added another iconic character to his filmography, Gambon became synonymous with the role and it would be difficult to picture anyone else other than him in the part.

So all in all, it probably worked out for the best that he turned it down.

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Written by Rosario Monachino

Rosario is a content editor at IGV who specialises in film, TV and entertainment news. He has a degree in English and Film from the University of Salford and a masters in Journalism from Liverpool John Moores University.