Lord Of The Rings’ Ian McKellen Jokes About How He Landed The Role Of Gandalf

Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey in Lord of the Rings
(Image credit: (New Line Cinema))

We’re seven years removed from Ian McKellen’s last performance as the great Lord of the Rings’ character Gandalf, and well… I guess a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit marathon is in order then. The 82-year-old actor recently reflected on his casting as the wizard and mentor, and it sounds like Sir McKellen has not lost his modesty about nabbing the beloved role.

Ian McKellen gained A-list Hollywood fame all at once when he was cast as X-Men villain Magneto in the early Fox/Marvel film and scored the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s revered Lord of the Rings trilogy, and later reprised the latter role in the series’ prequels. While speaking about having the opportunity to play Gandalf, he joked:

I still don't quite know how Gandalf came my way. I think because some of the actors who would have been offered it before me were rather put off by the idea of having to live in New Zealand for a year. 'Where the hell is that?' Well, more fool them.

It sounds like Ian McKellen’s sense of humor was very much intact because obviously we can not think of any other actor better suited for the role. Though, I guess there could be a morsel of truth to his claims that he jumped the line due to the franchise’s filming location. Actors including Sean Connery, Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill and the actor’s X-Men co-star and real-life bestie Patrick Stewart were reportedly in the running for Gandalf.

Ian McKellen also spoke to GQ Magazine about his understanding of the importance of getting the character just right on the big screen ahead of venturing to New Zealand to embody the wizard. In an era before Twitter discourse, he had an early finger on the pulse of the Lord of the Rings fandom because so many people cared about Gandalf in particular. In his words:

I realised the popularity of the books not because I had read them, but I just got so many messages from people who were desperately worried that they were going to see the characters exactly as they had imagined… I can't count the number of people who said to me, 'Your Gandalf was exactly as I'd always imagined him.’

It’s sweet to hear the actor had a positive response from fans about the character. Of course, his performance as Gandalf has become a cultural touchstone, especially for his “you shall not pass!” line that has become a popular meme along with being one of the most famous movie lines in recent memory.

These days, Ian McKellen continues to be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and star in more films, such as Infinitum: Subject Unknown. The Lord of the Rings franchise is moving forward with an Amazon series that will be taking place thousands of years before the timeline of Gandalf and Frodo. A release date has yet to be announced, but we’ll keep you updated!

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.