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Maybe Michael Gambon has talked about this before and I’ve just missed it, but it’s always interesting to take a look at how actors approach the challenge of playing characters adapted from a wildly popular, well-known literary work like Harry Potter. It would seem Michael Gambon’s approach, and indeed the approach of many in the Harry Potter’s cast, has been to ignore the books entirely.
The LA Times caught up with Gambon, presumably out promoting the upcoming Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and he confessed that not only has he never read any of the books but neither have Ralph Fiennes (who plays Voldemort) or Alan Rickman (who plays Severous Snape). If you think about it, Gambon’s reason for avoiding the novels makes a lot of sense. He says, “You’d get upset about all the scenes it's missing from the book, wouldn‘t you? No point in reading the books because you’re playing with [screenwriter] Steve Kloves’ words.”
Though some fans have been disappointed in Gambon’s portrayal of the elder wizard, lack of familiarity with the books doesn’t seem to have hurt Alan Rickman. He’s almost universally praised as one of the strongest parts of all the Harry Potter films. As someone who’s never read the books though, I have to wonder if maybe that’s wrong with Voldemort whom, friends tell me is a scary, scary villain in the books but as played by Ralph Fiennes has always seemed like a silly fish.
Gambon’s approach is quite a contrast to the one taken by other notable on screen wizards. Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in Lord of the Rings infamously reads Tolkien’s original works annually and Ian McKellan, who played Gandalf, is a huge fan of the books his character is taken from as well. It’s worked for Rickman but perhaps Michael Gambon could have benefited from a little light reading. I like his Dumbledore well enough, but he’s no Gandalf.