Ian McKellen was nearly our dream Dumbledore, but bad blood got in the way

Life is full of ‘what-ifs?’ What if Spider-Man leaves the MCU after Homecoming? What if a certain villain dies in Game of Thrones season 7? What if Ian McKellen – best known for playing another wizard – had played Dumbledore in Harry Potter? Well, as it turns out, we were oh-so-close to seeing McKellen don the robes of Hogwarts’ Headmaster, but the original Dumbledore wasn’t a fan of Ian McKellen...

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Speaking on BBC’s HARDtalk (which you can handily see above), Ian McKellen revealed the circumstances surrounding just how close he came to portraying Dumbledore: “They called me up and said would I be interesting in being in the Harry Potter films, they didn’t say what part, I worked out what they were thinking and I couldn’t.”

It turns out, McKellen didn’t want to take over the role from the then-recently departed Richard Harris – because the original Dumbledore didn’t rate him as an actor! 

McKellen explained: “I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.” What did Burton think of McKellen? He didn’t pull any punches, describing McKellen as “technically brilliant, but passionless.” Michael Gambon - who replaced Richard Harris - was perfectly fine but, oh, what could have been…

Has McKellen been kicking himself ever since? The Gandalf actor said, “Sometimes when I see the posters of Michael Gambon… who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think it’s me.”

I’ll take that as a yes.

Image: New Line Cinema

Bradley Russell

I'm the Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.