Fans can now breathe a collective sigh of relief as it has been confirmed that The Hobbit will now get both its original wise wizard Gandalf the Grey and feral cave-dwelling ring junkie Gollum. Yes, Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis are now officially on board the two-part 3D epic. These two returning integral characters from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy have, oddly enough, been some of the last holdouts in the casting announcement bonanza that has been taking place for the last few months, with most notably, Martin Freeman as main character Bilbo Baggins. With these two locked-in to reprise their roles, all that remains to necessarily maintain the full actor/character continuity between The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy will be Hugo Weaving's Elrond, whose return is practically inevitable. However, when it comes to the return of Ian McKellen as Gandalf, it was a much bigger victory for fans than one might think, and was anything but inevitable. In his blog, McKellen describes just how close he actually came to passing on the role. You'd be surprised at what the actor is sacrificing to don his pointy grey hat.
At the age of 71, Ian McKellen describes himself as "fit," and has been happy with his work schedule for the past year with a production of Waiting for Godot touring Australia and New Zealand. The legendary actor still had every intention to reprise his role as Gandalf, but with the seemingly unending stream of difficulties that would beset the production from studio bankruptcy to Union issues, McKellen especially felt the clock ticking away. Having gotten to where we are now, with The Hobbit being set to shoot next month, he began to ask himself if it was worth the trouble. As he comments in his blog (via Ain't it Cool News):
"As my agent continued to negotiate with Warner Brothers, I kept wondering was Gandalf what I most wanted to do, more than a new play for instance or indeed a new part? Sequels aren’t necessarily as rewarding to act in as their originals." Adding: "Could I let Gandalf go? Would anyone else care if I did? Elsewhere, does anyone care that Michael Gambon was not the first to play Dumbledore?"
He definitely makes a valid case that the film could essentially go on and be as great as fans would like, even without him. Michael Gambon taking over the role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films is a prime example of that situation. (In fact, while I respected Richard Harris' work, I personally preferred Gambon's version.) At McKellen's age, especially, what work you are physically able to do should be about what makes you happy. However, with what McKellen is describing as "sizable breaks" within the 18 month shoot of the two-parts of The Hobbit, allowing him to work other projects, McKellen decided that the schedule was feasible enough. As a fan, it's just excellent to hear that. Additionally, anyone who's read the books will know that Gandalf's role in The Hobbit is actually much more limited than it was in the Rings trilogy. We still may be getting an additional scene that was merely alluded to in the book, where Gandalf leaves Bilbo and company to attend a meeting of the White Council of Wizards, discussing the threat that would eventually reveal itself to be Sauron. However, McKellen's shooting schedule would still be comparably smaller than the previous films.
McKellen and Serkis will be joining fellow Rings vets Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood who are also locked into the film to reprise their roles. With Orlando Bloom's Legolas also looking very likely to return, Christopher Lee's off-the-reservation White Wizard Saruman may also be back for the aforementioned White Council scene. The Hobbit's time-line will be taking place about 60 years before the Rings films. (Although the book's timeline differs at about 80 years, due to necessary narrative changes in the Rings films.)
Notch two more for our return to Middle Earth! Are your expectations now being raised for The Hobbit? (Even more than previously?)
Source: The Hollywood Reporter