Ian McKellen Reveals Why He Turned Down the Role of Dumbledore in Harry Potter

Sir Ian McKellen passed on joining the $25 billion Harry Potter franchise — with good reason.

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The Brit turned down the offer to play Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore after the role’s then-actor Richard Harris died in 2002. (Harris starred in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and its sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.)

Richard Harris Dumbledore Harry Potter
Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore. AFP/Getty Images

“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say what part,” McKellen, a.k.a. Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf, said in a recent interview with BBC’s Hardtalk. “I worked out what they were thinking and I couldn’t. I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I had known didn’t approve of me.”

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Ian McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen attends the premiere of “Mr. Holmes” at the Museum of Modern Art on July 13, 2015, in New York. Donald Traill/Invision/AP

Harris had criticized McKellen for being a supposedly passionless performer. “I’ve seen these so-called ‘nice’ actors. Very able fellows like Ian McKellen and Kenneth Branagh,” he had said. “But they’re like bank managers. So sweet and careful. Who needs them?”

With McKellen out of the picture, Michael Gambon stepped up to portray the wizard in the franchise’s remaining six films.

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Michael Gambon Dumbledore Harry Potter
Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.’ Murray Close/Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

“When I see the posters of Mike Gambon, who gloriously played Dumbledore, I think sometimes it’s me,” McKellen joked. “We get asked for each other’s autographs.”

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