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‘I Hope They Feel Silly’: Ian McKellen Is Looking Back At Signing On For Lord Of The Rings, And All The A-Listers Who Said No

 Ian McKellen sits in Rivendell with a concerned look on his face in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Ian McKellen sits in Rivendell with a concerned look on his face in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Being selective in one’s career can open as many doors as it closes, and a legend like Sir Ian McKellen certainly understands that. When it came to landing his role as Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings franchise, it was definitely a door opening for the English actor, and he understands it. Reflecting on accepting the part of the wizened wizard, McKellen had a message for those who passed it up before him: “I hope they feel silly.”

How Ian McKellen Looks Back On Accepting The Part Of Gandalf

As it turns out the X-Men vet found himself stepping into yet another role that required his talents, which saw him taking his latest gig in the film The Critic. Speaking with Variety on behalf of that project, Ian McKellen was asked how he felt about not being the initial casting choice for this 2023 new movie release, to which he responded with this magical story:

I don’t think you’re ever the first choice. I certainly wasn’t the first choice for Gandalf. Tony Hopkins turned it down. Sean Connery certainly did. They’re all coming out of the woodwork now, and I hope they feel silly.

Ian McKellen has also had his own experiences on the other side of the coin, as past rumors had pegged the stage and screen legend as turning down the role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise. While McKellen personally debunked that story, he has stories from both sides of the coin to share. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, Ian McKellen couldn’t have been more fortunate; especially considering the “silly” competition that was also up for the role.

More “Silly” Actors Who Turned Down Gandalf In The Lord Of The Rings

Anthony Hopkins and Sean Connery weren’t the only A-listers who rejected Gandalf’s cinematic quest. In a talk show appearance back in 2015, Christopher Plummer fessed up to passing on Lord of the Rings, stating that “there are other countries I'd like to visit before I croak." Although there’s an even more surprising candidate that isn’t as widely reported as any of the names we’ve mentioned above.

During an oral history with The Independent, none other than Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis was subtly mentioned as someone who let the part of Gandalf out of his grasp. Admittedly, he’s the youngest candidate who could have shepherded the likes of humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits through all of Middle-Earth in the quest to vanquish the One Ring. It could have worked, but with Ian McKellen already enshrined in this historic undertaking, it’s harder to imagine, even in theory.

With his time in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world seemingly wrapped, Sir Ian casts a long shadow for anyone who may step into Gandalf’s robes in the future. As Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power makes its way to Season 2, and based on what we know about The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, there’s plenty of room for this mythic presence to return. Should that ever happen, you can bet that actors will be tripping over each other for a chance at the role, which could look just as silly as passing on the part when you think about it.

Those looking to go there and back again with The Lord of the Rings trilogy can currently stream those movies on Max. Meanwhile, The Rings of Power Season 1 can be streamed through the use of a Prime Video subscription.