How Ian McKellen Almost Missed Out On X-Men AND Lord Of The Rings

Two of the biggest movie franchises of the 2000s, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Lord of the Rings,’ very nearly lost one of their key players - all because of one Tom Cruise movie.

It’s fairly well-known that ‘Mission: Impossible II’ robbed the original ‘X-Men’ of one of its intended stars, as Dougray Scott - who starred opposite Cruise as villain Sean Ambrose - was the first choice to play Wolverine, until shooting overran on the John Woo-directed spy sequel, forcing him to relinquish the role to Hugh Jackman.

However, Sir Ian McKellen has revealed that he too was offered a role in ‘Mission: Impossible II’ - and had he accepted, he would almost certainly have missed out on his two biggest film roles as Magneto and Gandalf.

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McKellen tells People, “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 can’t say no to working with Tom Cruise!” and I said, “I think I will.”

“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.

“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.” 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.’

“It’s all about luck – being there at the right time and ready for it.”

McKellen doesn’t specify which ‘Mission: Impossible II’ role he was up for. It would seem likely to be either Swanback, the IMF commander portrayed by Anthony Hopkins; John McCloy, the drug company boss played by Brendan Gleeson; or Dr. Nekhorvich, the scientist portrayed by Radé Sherbedgia.

The rest is, of course, history: McKellen has since portrayed Gandalf six times, in every film of Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ trilogies, as well as portraying Magneto in the original three ‘X-Men’ films and 2014′s ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (plus a brief cameo in ‘The Wolverine’).

Nor was ‘X-Men’ the only movie whose casting was affected by delays on ‘Mission: Impossible II,’ as these also forced Thandie Newton to drop out of ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ in which she was initially cast opposite Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore in the role which ultimately went to Lucy Liu.

Not that any of this hurt the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise, given its fifth installment - ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ - hits cinemas on 30 July.

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Picture Credit: 20th Century Fox, Paramount, New Line Cinema