An interview has shed some light on how Ian McKellen’s part as two of the most iconic characters in movie, comic book & literature history nearly didn’t happen… because of Tom Cruise & Mission: Impossible II!
Speaking to People, McKellen who is now arguably most famous for playing evil master of metallic manipulation, Magneto, in the X-Men franchise and wise old wizard Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, gave some insight into how those parts might not have happened if things worked out differently with an offer he got to star alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II:
“I got offered a part in Mission: Impossible II with Tom Cruise, but 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 cant say no to working with Tom Cruise!” and I said, “I think I will.””
So, thanks to a creative/directorial decision only to let McKellen see his own scenes rather than the full script influenced the acclaimed actor to turn the role down. The calls from Bryan Singer & Peter Jackson to star in X-Men & Lord of the Rings the very next day. Ian McKellen has since gone on to appear as Magneto a total of five times, and starred as Gandalf in all six of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth based movies. However there were very nearly scheduling complications here too:
“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.””
Fortunately, Singer wrapped X-Men up in time for McKellen to make it to New Zealand for Lord of the Rings filming and thus he managed to bag himself two roles which he has returned for numerous times for over a decade. Can you imagine a world where somebody else played Gandalf or Magneto? We can’t either nor do we want to!