Step aside, Gandalf! On Thursday, June 11, Lord of the Rings fans celebrated one of the series’ greatest wizards, Saruman the White. British actor Christopher Lee, who played the evil sorcerer in the three blockbuster film adaptations, passed away at age 93 on Sunday, June 7, but the news of his death wasn’t announced until days later.
In the wake of the legendary screen star’s passing, die-hard Lord of the Rings fans resurfaced an interview with Lee for Cinefantastique from 2003 in which he recounted meeting J.R.R. Tolkien, the legendary author of The Lord of the Rings oohs and its prequel, The Hobbit. The interview quickly became a top trending topic on Twitter.
“[I met him] quite by chance, really,” he recalled in the interview. “I met him with a group of other people in a pub in Oxford he used to go to, The Eagle and Child. I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine, so I just said, ‘How do you do?’” Lee was the only LOTR cast member to actually meet Tolkien, who passed away in 1973, before several of the film’s stars had been born.
Lee read the books when they originally were printed in the ‘50s, and instantly became a devoted fan.
“I still think The Lord of the Rings is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime,” he said. “Like so many other people, I couldn’t wait for the second, and then the third book. Nothing like it had ever been written.”
He was so passionate about the tales of Middle-earth that he accepted acting roles that cast him as a wizard in order to make him more of a natural choice when a film adaptation of LOTR finally came around.
“The only reason I [played a wizard in The New Adventures of Robin Hood] was to show anyone who was watching that I could play a Wizard and that I would be ideal casting for The Lord of the Rings,” he admitted, adding that he also gave director Peter Jackson some nudging when it came time to cast the film.
“I sent him a picture of myself all made-up in the Wizard’s role, but it was more in the nature of a joke, really,” he recalled. “‘This is what I look like as a Wizard, don’t forget this when you cast the movie.’ It wasn’t me putting myself forward at all, because I think Peter had already made up his mind.”
Lee continued his expansive career, which encompassed 280 roles. In fact, before his passing, he was set to have completed his 281st role this fall. Director Xavier Nemo, who had cast Lee in his upcoming film The 11th, released a statement to Us Weekly about the actor’s passing.
“As the writer/director of the film The 11th starring Uma Thurman and Christopher Lee, which we had announced in Cannes, I am extremely sad right now as you can imagine,” Nemo told Us. “So is the whole production, crew and cast. Several actors in The 11th, like Uma and Michael Nyqvist, knew Christopher and liked him very much as a professional and above all a great human being. Christopher was also adamant about his participation in this film that is shooting next autumn in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was supposed to meet with him in a few days in London.”
Nemo wasn’t the only one grieving the loss of the BAFTA winner. Stars came out in droves to honor the British actor. Here’s what they said:
An extraordinary man and life lead, Sir Christopher Lee. You were an icon, and a towering human being with stories for days. We'll miss you.
— Elijah Wood (@woodelijah) June 11, 2015
I had the immense pleasure of working with Sir Christopher Lee twice in my career which I think is a huge testament to what a brilliant — 1
— Chloë Grace Moretz (@ChloeGMoretz) June 11, 2015
?? to CHRISTOPHER LEE. Saruman the White! Dracula! Great Actor! 93! Will be missed ???? https://t.co/v3ZIoR61G0
— James Franco (@JamesFrancoTV) June 11, 2015
I loved watching Christopher Lee so much. Very sad to lose him. RIP
— Kat Dennings (@OfficialKat) June 11, 2015
Saddened to hear about the passing of Christopher Lee. I was fortunate enough to briefly meet him. A true legend and wonderful story teller.
— Jamie Campbell Bower (@Jamiebower) June 11, 2015
Lee is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Birgit “Gitte” Kroencke, and their daughter Christina.
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