While most fans of the Harry Potter movie franchise would associate the actor Michael Gambon with the iconic headmaster Albus Dumbledore, famed British actor Richard Harris originated the role. He appeared in the first two movies, 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and 2002's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, before passing away in the fall of 2002, just weeks before Chamber of Secrets hit theaters. While Michael Gambon took over the role for the next six movies, another iconic big screen wizard could have played the role, Ian McKellen. The actor revealed during a BBC HardTalk interview that he was approached to take over for Richard Harris, but there was a very good reason why he didn't do so.
During his appearance on HardTalk, which recently surfaced on YouTube, interviewer Stephen Sackur mentioned that there was a time where Richard Harris himself criticized fellow British actors Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh, stating that they were all, "technically brilliant, but passionless," a notion Ian McKellen dismissed as, "Nonsense." Still, when approached to take over the Albus Dumbledore role, after Richard Harris' passing, Ian McKellen revealed he couldn't in good conscious take over the role. Here's what he had to say during the interview.
"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, 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. Well, sometimes, when I see the posters of Mike Gambon, the actor who gloriously plays Dumbledore, I think sometimes it is me."
At the time of Richard Harris' death, Ian McKellen's career had been launched into the stratosphere, earning his first Oscar nomination for 1998's Gods and Monsters, playing Magneto in the 2000 blockbuster X-Men and portraying the iconic wizard Gandalf in 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. With Lord of the Rings and X-Men sequels already in the works, Ian McKellen was most certainly in demand when the filmmakers were looking to re-cast the Hogwarts headmaster. Michael Gambon took over the role in 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and continued to play Dumbledore in 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2009's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2010's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2001's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Ironically, this news comes as Dumbledore is about to be recast again, since it has been confirmed that a younger Albus Dumbledore will be featured in the Harry Potter spin-off sequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2. Fan campaigns have already started for Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris, to take over the role, although Jared Harris hinted in an interview that studio heads don't like "having their hands forced," so fans shouldn't expect him to be cast. Legends of Tomorrow star Arthur Darvill has also expressed interest in the role, but Warner Bros. hasn't made a final decision yet, with filming slated to begin this summer in France and the U.K. Take a look at Ian McKellen's interview below, with the Harry Potter talk coming at the 9:18 mark.