The surprising reason why legendary Lancashire actor Sir Ian McKellen did not have a part in Harry Potter

Legendary Lancashire actor Sir Ian McKellen has been the star of countless television programmes and films, but something unusual stopped him taking on one well known role...
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Included in the 84-year-old’s impressive filmography is his iconic role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings series, however Burnley born Sir Ian had the chance to play yet another revered character in a legacy fantasy series – that off Professor Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter.

The role was originally played by acclaimed actor Richard Harris in the first two films – The Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and The Chamber of Secrets (2002) – however his tragic death in 2002 aged 72 meant a recasting was required.

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The answer as to who would play the Hogwarts headmaster was not clear however – the studio’s first choice actor Peter O'Toole turned down the offer because "he didn't feel it was right" to fill his best friend's shoes.

Left: Sir Ian McKellen. Right: Richard Harris as Dumbledore. (Both images: Getty)Left: Sir Ian McKellen. Right: Richard Harris as Dumbledore. (Both images: Getty)
Left: Sir Ian McKellen. Right: Richard Harris as Dumbledore. (Both images: Getty)

Other icons considered for the role included Sean Connery, Patrick McGoohan, Christopher Lee, Harry Robinson and Lancashire’s very own Sir Ian, who had a surprising reason for not taking on the part.

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Speaking to the BBC, Sir Ian revealed he could not accept the role of Dumbledore as he knew the late actor Harris did not approve of him.

Sir Ian recalled how Harris had made some disparaging comments about himself and his fellow actors, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh, calling them “technically brilliant, but passionless.”

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Although Sir Ian said this comment was “nonsense” at the time, he respected the late actor’s comments enough to spur him on to reject the Harry Potter offer years later.

Sir Ian said: “I couldn't take over the part from an actor who I'd known didn't approve of me.”

Instead the role ended up going to the late actor Michael Gambon, who passed away in September this year aged 82.

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Ian said that Gambon had played Dumbledore “gloriously” and even joked that he would mistake Gambon for himself sometime when he saw posters for the film!

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