Ian McKellen is playing one of fiction’s most iconic characters in his latest film, Mr. Holmes, but that’s something he should be used to by now. The English actor has already had had memorably outings as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Magneto in the X-Men movies.
But McKellen tell People Magazine that he nearly missed out on playing both Magneto and Gandalf. It all began just after he had turned down a role in Mission Impossible II, because they wouldn’t let him read the full script.
“Well, I couldn't judge from reading just those scenes what the script was like,” McKellen recalls. “So I said no. And my agent said, ‘You can’t say no to working with Tom Cruise!’ and I said, ‘I think I will.’"
The next day, Bryan Singer offered him Magneto, and then Peter Jackson offered him Gandalf. He accepted both, but ran into more trouble with the production of the first X-Men.
“Then, Bryan Singer's first X-Men overran its preparation. It had to delay, delay, delay, delay. So I had to call up Peter Jackson and say, ‘I'm sorry. I can't play Gandalf because X-Men, which I agreed to do first, is overrunning.’
“And Peter Jackson said, ‘Well, I'll keep it free for you. Let me know what happens.’ I told Bryan Singer and he said, ‘Well, you must do Gandalf. I'll make sure you get out in time.’”
Singer came through for McKellen, and got him off to Middle-earth with just three days to spare.
But what if he had taken his agent’s advice? What if he hadn’t said no to Tom Cruise?
“Meanwhile, Mission Impossible was put off, put off, put off. And if I had decided to do that, I wouldn’t have been in X-Men and I wouldn't have been in Lord of the Rings.”
Most fans will probably agree that McKellen made the right choice.
Mr. Holmes is now playing in theaters.