As you probably already know, Sir Ian McKellen has played his fair share of iconic roles, though none are as big in the public consciousness as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies and Magneto in the X-Men franchise. He recently revealed, however, how he almost missed out on both of those roles.
Talking to People Magazine, the 76-year-old actor and activist marveled at his good fortune at getting to play two such wonderful characters, but it almost didn’t happen. McKellen was offered a part in Mission: Impossible 2, but when they wouldn’t give him the whole script, he decided to pass, against the protestations of his agent, who plead with him not to turn down the chance to work with Tom Cruise. And what happened next was like something out of a movie. He says:
The next day, Bryan Singer asked me to play Magneto and then Peter Jackson asked me to play Gandalf, and I said yes to both.
But even then, with such fortuitous timing, McKellen almost missed out on being able to play Gandalf. He was committed to playing Magneto in Singer’s X-Men, the role he agreed to first, but still, at least in theory, could do both as originally scheduled. However, when there was delay after delay, and production ran long, he actually called up Peter Jackson and said that he wouldn’t be able to play Gandalf due to the unexpectedly long production on X-Men.
And here is another instance of the stars aligning just perfectly. Jackson wanted McKellen for the part—and having seen the finished product we can all understand why—and agreed to hold it for him in the event that he became free. For his part, Bryan Singer is a Lord of the Rings fan and told McKellen that he had to play the part and that he would get the actor there in time. And he did. Just barely. McKellen made it with three days to spare.
As he says:
It's all about luck – being there at the right time and ready for it. You can't prepare for luck. I've learned that you've got to be ready for the luck when it arrives, but you're going to need the luck.
Hollywood is full of stories of actors that almost played and iconic role, or actors who almost didn’t. In retrospect, it’s damn near impossible to imagine either Gandalf or Magneto, or at least that version of him, played by another actor (even though we have seen Magneto played by Michael Fassbender, there’s a difference), but now you realize how close it came to not happening at all. And you have to thank fate or luck or divine cinematic intervention that Ian McKellen didn’t listen to his agent and passed on Mission: Impossible 2. He definitely made the right choice.