Ian McKellen nearly missed out on playing Gandalf AND Magneto

Just imagine. Actually don't, it's too distressing...

Years ago, before Middle Earth and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters came to our cinema screens, Ian McKellen was offered a role in Mission: Impossible II. As we now know, he turned it down but had he taken Tom Cruise up on his offer, two of film’s best known characters could have looked and sounded very different. 

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Speaking to People magazine, McKellen revealed he said no to playing opposite Ethan Hunt as “they wouldn’t let me see the whole script because I might have spilled the beans. I only got my scenes.

“Well, I couldn’t judge from reading just those scenes what the script was like. 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.'”

Why is this chapter significant in the history of film, you ask? Well, a contract to star in Mission: Impossible would have prevented McKellen from accepting two of his most popular roles. 

According to the 76-year-old, “the next day, Bryan Singer asked me to play Magneto and then Peter Jackson asked me to play Gandalf, and I said yes to both.”

But that wasn’t the end of the saga as Singer’s first X-Men film overran, putting McKellen’s role in The Hobbit in jeopardy. “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’m make sure you get out in time.’

“And he did – with three days to spare. 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.”

And then this would never have happened. 

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A sobering thought, indeed.