At this point, it’s difficult to imagine anyone besides Ian McKellen playing the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, but information has emerged now that suggests the filmmaker originally had a very different person in mind for the role of the iconic wizard.
According to The Lord of the Rings casting director Amy Hubbard, musician and actor David Bowie was an early favorite of Jackson for the role of Gandalf, and the artist even stopped in to chat with the film’s creative team and possibly read for the role. However, the multi-year commitment to the franchise reportedly prevented him from taking on the character.
Speaking to The Huffington Post in honor of the 15th anniversary of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, Hubbard confirmed that Bowie was approached for the role and explained his reasons for turning it down.
“He was unavailable,” Hubbard said. “It was a very quick conversation with the legendary Chris Andrews at CAA. … We approached him. I’m pretty sure it was Peter Jackson’s idea in the first few weeks that we got going. It was one that he’d always wondered about, and we rang Chris, and [Bowie] was far too busy.”
However, Hubbard indicated that the wasn’t the end of Bowie’s involvement with the project and the studio.
“I do believe that [Bowie] went over and played for everybody at the Millennium party,” she added. “That would’ve been New Year’s Eve in the year 1999, which was when the films were being shot. He went over and entertained everybody, but he never auditioned. That’s for sure.”
Hubbard’s account finally confirms much of the speculation that arose when The Lord of the Rings actor Dominic Monaghan first mentioned seeing Bowie while he was auditioning for the role of Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, the hobbit he played in the three-film trilogy.
“I was doing an audition for Lord of the Rings, and when it ended I went over and talked to John Hubbard, who was running the audition, and he said, ‘Hey, it went really well. You should wait around for 5 or 10 mins. We’ll give you some feedback,'” recalled Monaghan a short time after the death of Bowie earlier this year. “I thought, ‘Oh, okay, cool, and I sat in the reception office. As I was reading a magazine waiting, David Bowie came in and signed his little list and went in. And I’m assuming he read for Gandalf. I can’t think of anything else he would’ve read for. He may have read for something else, but I’m a huge David Bowie fan, so just seeing him in person was pretty special to me.”
Although it’s hard to argue with the casting decision the studio eventually made, it’s certainly interesting to ponder the possibility of Gandalf as played by Bowie.