Why Ian McKellen Said No To Playing Dumbledore In The Harry Potter Movies

Richard Harris as Dumbledore

In the early 2000s, two major fantasy franchises started up, The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. Ian McKellan had an opportunity to play a major part in both of them but ultimately turned Harry Potter down. In a recent interview, McKellan said that after the death of Richard Harris the Harry Potter producers called him and offered him a role. Figuring out that they wanted him to take over as Dumbledore, McKellan turned them down, not because he didn't want to play another wizard, but because he knew that Harris didn't care for him as an actor.

When they called me up and said, 'Would I be interested 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 I'd known didn't approve of me.

In an interview with the BBC's HARDtalk, it's brought up that Richard Harris had previously made comments about Ian McKellan's skills as an actor, calling him "technically brilliant but passionless." McKellan, obviously thought such comments were off the mark, but at the same time, he obviously felt that there was something inherently wrong in taking over the role of Dumbledore from Harris if Harris thought McKellan lacked passion.

Ian McKellan wasn't the only actor that Harris apparently gave this label to. McKellan points out that Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Brannaugh were lumped in with him, putting McKellan in some pretty impressive company of "passionless" actors. One has to wonder if it was at all awkward for Richard Harris and Kenneth Branaugh to work together on the set of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. That film was the last Harry Potter film that Harris acted in. He died afterward and the role of Dumbledore was played by Michael Gambon for the rest of the franchise.

Ian McKellan, instead, remained content playing another famous wizard in the movies. He played Gandalf through both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

Ian McKellan doesn't really explain how Richard Harris' comments made him feel, beyond calling them "rubbish," and while it would be understandable for McKellan to decline the role due to not wanting to be anywhere near a part played by an actor who didn't like him, the way McKellan tells the story makes it sound like it was out of respect for Harris that he didn't take the part. As if it would be in bad taste for him to step into the part knowing how Harris felt, and in his own way he wanted to respect that, even if he didn't agree.

Would you have rather seen Ian McKellan take on the role of Dumbledore or was it good that he did not monopolize the wizard industry for an entire decade? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.