In a world where Ian McKellen could have been both Gandalf and Dumbledore, why did he choose to pass on the role of Hogwarts’ revered headmaster? The answer lies in a story filled with respect, slight pettiness, and a dash of wizardly rivalry.
Sir Ian McKellen, the tour de force in acting, almost donned the robes of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. The role was initially portrayed by Richard Harris, who passed away after the first two films. Harris had previously criticized McKellen, calling him “technically brilliant, but passionless.” Out of respect—and a touch of self-regard—McKellen chose to decline the offer.
Instead, Michael Gambon took the wizard’s wand and hat, embodying Dumbledore in a way that won over audiences. He walked the fine line between whimsy and wisdom, setting the gold standard for the role. Peter O’Toole, Sean Connery, and other acting greats were also considered, but it was Gambon who ultimately claimed the throne (or should we say, the headmaster’s office).
McKellen, meanwhile, continued to enchant audiences as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, a role that solidified his reputation as one of the greatest actors of our time. Knighted, awarded, and celebrated, McKellen is no stranger to iconic roles. He’s not only Gandalf but also Magneto in the X-Men series, not to mention his advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights and a host of awards that decorate his storied career.
When asked about his decision to turn down Dumbledore, McKellen responded with grace, stating that he couldn’t accept a role from an actor who disapproved of him. While some might view it as an act of pettiness, it’s also one of immense respect. It’s like refusing to take the last piece of cake at a party because you know the birthday boy wanted it—even if he said he didn’t like your gift.
And what about Michael Gambon? He stepped into Dumbledore’s robes in the third movie, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and never looked back. McKellen himself gave Gambon kudos, noting that he did the role “gloriously.” For many fans, Gambon remains the definitive Dumbledore, mastering both the character’s lighter and darker moments.
Later, Jude Law took up the mantle of a younger Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts series, offering yet another angle on the complex wizard. While these films didn’t quite capture the magic of the original series, they provided additional layers to the Dumbledore legacy.
So, while McKellen may have given up the chance to be the wizard of two different worlds, his decision tells us more about the man than any role ever could. It was a choice founded in respect for a fellow actor, regardless of criticisms thrown his way, proving that sometimes, the real magic lies in the choices we make and the respect we give to others.