Ian McKellen explains why he refused Dumbledore role

Ian McKellen attends the New York screening of "Beauty and the Beast" on March 13. The actor played the wizard Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

April 4 (UPI) — Ian McKellen says he refused the role of Professor Dumbledore out of respect for Richard Harris.

The 77-year-old English actor explained Tuesday on the BBC show “HARDtalk” that he turned down the chance to play the “Harry Potter” wizard after Harris’ death because the late actor didn’t approve of him.

“When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the ‘Harry Potter’ films, they didn’t say in what part,” McKellen recounted. “I worked out what they were thinking, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.”

Harris, who played Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” before his death in 2002, once described McKellen as a “passionless” performer, as HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur brought up in the interview.

“He lumped you and Derek Jacobi [and Kenneth Branagh] together, and he said, ‘These guys are technically brilliant, but passionless,'” Sackur recalled.

McKellen was cast as Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy prior to Harris’ death, and went on to reprise the wizard in “The Hobbit’ movies. Michael Gambon, meanwhile, replaced Harris as Dumbledore in the final six Harry Potter films.

“Sometimes when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me,” McKellen joked in the interview.

McKellen previously told The Frame that he’s “often mistaken for Dumbledore,” but “will always be the actor who played the real wizard.” He last portrayed Gandalf in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” which opened in theaters in 2014.

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