Ian McKellen Once Shared It Upset Him When Fans Confused His Gandalf for ‘the knockoff’ Dumbledore

Actor Ian McKellen is known for many roles. But perhaps one of his most well-known characters is the wizard Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. But given the resemblance between his Gandalf and Harry Potter’s Dumbledore, some have mistakenly thought he played the Hogwarts wizard. After a while, it was a mistake that McKellen quipped he was getting fed up with.

Ian McKellen was asked to replace the late Richard Harris for ‘Dumbledore’

Ian McKellen posing while wearing a green jacket.
Ian McKellen | Robbie Jack/Getty Images

There have been persistent reports that Ian McKellen turned down the role of Dumbledore. The Hogwarts professor was originally played by Richard Harris. But as some know, Michael Gambon was later cast as Harris’ replacement. Before Gambon, McKellen asserted that he was approached for the role. But he decided not to play Dumbledore because of Harris’ opinion of him.

“But when they called me up and said, ‘Would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say what part.’ I worked out what they were thinking, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I had known didn’t approve of me,” McKellen once told BBC News.

According to McKellen, the original Dumbledore wasn’t too impressed with McKellen’s acting skills.

“Before Richard Harris died he took time out to tell the world that he thought certain actors were rubbish – and my name was on this rather shortlist. With Kenneth Branagh’s. I was in good company,” McKellen said in an interview with Time Out.

Ian McKellen found it annoying when fans would confuse his Gandalf with Dumbledore

Because of their similar physical features and skills, the X-Men star would constantly be confused for the actor who played Dumbledore.

“People come up to me and say ‘My son’s seen all the Harry Potter movies’ because they think I’m Michael Gambon,” McKellen said.

According to Irish Examiner, McKellen quipped that the constant comparisons would sometimes rile him up.

“I’m a huge fan of Gandalf myself. For me, this gentle, friendly, and courageous wizard is a real role model. I don’t mind if people associate me with this film character,” McKellen explained. “I only get mad if someone mistakes me for Michael Gambon, the actor from the Harry Potter films who plays Dumbledore. When that happens I say: ‘No! I played the original by J.R.R. Tolkien, not the knockoff by Joanne K. Rowling!’”

Ian McKellen almost didn’t reprise his role as Gandalf in ‘The Hobbit’

Ian McKellen’s journey as the wizard Gandalf didn’t end with Lord of the Rings. As many know, he reprised his character for the prequel trilogy The Hobbit. However, McKellen was initially reluctant to return to the role at first.

“It was a little like going back to something that wasn’t necessarily going to be particularly challenging,” McKellen shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “Gandalf is still inside me, as it were, so the business of getting to know a new character — I was sort of going to be robbed of that.”

Eventually, it was fan anticipation that would pull McKellen back to the Lord of the Rings universe.

“You felt, how many millions of people are waiting for it?” he continued. “They wouldn’t understand if you weren’t as keen as they were.”

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