Though he famously played the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Ring films, the British actor and Patrick Stewart BFF passed on the opportunity to fill the robes belonging to that other wise wizard: Professor Albus Dumbledore.
In a radio interview with BBC's HARDtalk, McKellen revealed that Harry Potter producers reached out to him about playing the Hogwarts headmaster after the original Dumbledore, Irish actor Richard Harris, died in 2002 from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Harris played the iconic role in the first two Harry Potter films, 2001's The Sorcerer's Stone and 2002's The Chamber of Secrets.
"When [Harris] died — he played Dumbledore, the wizard [while] I played the real wizard [Gandalf], of course — they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films," McKellen, currently playing Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast alongside Harry Potter alum Emma Watson, told the BBC. "They didn’t say what part. But I worked out what they were thinking."
The issue for McKellen was his relationship with Harris, who had been a critic of his work. McKellen noted that Harris had once called him and other British actors "technically brilliant but passion-less." Clearly, the criticism stung.
"I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I know disapproved of me," the 77-year-old star, whose own role as Gandalf almost went to David Bowie, explained of his decision to turn down the part of Dumbledore.
Michael Gambon ended up playing the part in the remaining Harry Potter films. Like Gandalf, the beloved headmaster donned a long silver beard and flowing robes, causing confusion for fans and McKellen himself.
“Sometimes when I look at the posters of Michael Gambon, the actor that gloriously plays Dumbledore, I sometimes think it’s me," he admitted. "You know, we get asked for each other’s autographs!”