Ian McKellen Gandalf Lord of the Rings

Ian McKellen Reflects on Playing Gandalf: ‘I Certainly Wasn’t the First Choice’

Ian McKellen is perfectly fine with not being the first choice to play Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

McKellen is starring in a new film, The Critic, directed by Anand Tucker and premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. Given that his role was originally going to be played by Simon Russell Beale, who dropped out due to a delayed production caused by COVID-19, McKellen was asked during an interview with Variety if it bothered him being somebody’s second pick.

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

McKellen played the lovable wizard Gandalf in all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, which include 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. He returned to the role a little less than a decade later for Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, which encompasses 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Ian McKellen isn’t retiring any time soon

Along with starring in The Critic, McKellen, 84, is starring in a play, Frank and Percy, in 2023 that he’d ideally like to see adapted into a movie at some point. Speaking about the possibility of his retirement, McKellen said he had no plans to slow down any time in the near future.

“Retire to do what?” he said. “I’ve never been out of work, but I’m aware that any minute now something could happen to me which could prevent me from ever working again. But while the knees hold up and the memory remains intact, why shouldn’t I carry on? I really feel I’m quite good at this acting thing now.”