There were so many rumors that came attached to Peter Jackson‘s rightly beloved adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy that I had cast most of them off as total and complete nonsense. The amount of casting rumors alone was overwhelming, even for a major Tolkien fan like this writer. So, along with all the talk of who had also been considered for Sam or Bilbo, I had tossed away the whispers that the late David Bowie had been in serious contention for the role of Gandalf as high-grade speculation. Well, as it turns out, that was the one I should have held onto.
According to EW, via Huffington Post, Bowie had been in consideration for the role of the great bearded wizard who was eventually (and magnificently) played by Sir Ian McKellan. This factoid comes from casting director Amy Hubbard, who worked closely with Jackson on the trilogy and who confirmed that Bowie did indeed come in to meet with the cast and crew…but never auditioned. Here’s exactly what Hubbard said:
“He was unavailable…It was a very quick conversation with the legendary Chris Andrews at CAA. I do believe that [Bowie] went over and played for everybody at the Millennium party. 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.”
Bowie has been a tremendous presence on the big screen in numerous major works, ranging from Labyrinth to The Man Who Fell to Earth to Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, but in this case, I’m glad he didn’t go for the role. This may just be because, in hindsight, nobody seems nearly as fit for the role as McKellan, but Bowie is also a bit too modern for the role. The role needs a bit of sublimation and Bowie sticks out in every role he’s ever inhabited; in the role of an alien visitor, such as The Man Who Fell to Earth, he is the natural choice for the very same reason. As much as it would have been interesting to see how Bowie would have done in the role, McKellan fit Jackson’s vision of the story seamlessly and continues to be one of a few hundred highlights of Jackson’s opus.