McKellen says he was only free to work on Lord of the Rings because he turned down a role in Mission Impossible II:
It’s ridiculous that I’ve gotten to play both Gandalf [in the Lord of the Rings films] and Magneto [in the X-Men films]. How did that come about? One would have been enough. But two? And [it] also nearly might not have happened. 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. 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.’ 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. 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 stars as a 93-year-old Holmes who is now a recluse, slowly succumbing to senility. The film co-stars Milo Parker, Laura Linney and Hattie Morahan and is directed by Bill Condon.
There was no problem with Sherlock Holmes once we got the look right. It was the same with Gandalf. Once we got the look, once I looked in the mirror and saw, “Oh! There he is.” It was then very easy to, with imagination, say, ‘The man who looks like that talks like this. The man who talks like this walks like this.’ It’s, sort of, in the DNA.
McKellen talks about his role as Gandalf the Grey in the movie The Desolation of Smaug:
The trouble in answering that is that we filmed the three Hobbits at the same time. What is actually in the second film, I’m not quite sure. I know that Gandalf has quite a big stake in this one. It’s pretty striking stuff, quite violent, hopefully exciting, and a bit mysterious.
McKellen is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie at the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards for portraying Number Two on The Prisoner.
McKellen is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards for portraying King Lear on King Lear.