The Surprising Ways 'Mission: Impossible 2' Affected the Course of Movie History

The Surprising Ways 'Mission: Impossible 2' Affected the Course of Movie History

Jul 21, 2015

When many of us think of Sir Ian McKellen, two iconic roles come to mind: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men. And vice versa -- it's hard to imagine anyone else playing those characters on the big screen (well, Michael Fassbender also plays Magneto, very well, but we're talking the older version of the mutant villain). Those franchises could have easily been very different, though, as a result of very different actors filling the parts.

Sean Connery was offered Gandalf, for instance, but he turned it down. So did Christopher Plummer. Same with McKellen's X-Men co-star and BFF, Patrick Stewart. Christopher Lee apparently campaigned for the role but was cast as Saruman instead. As for Magneto, the X-Men's foe could have been portrayed by Terence Stamp. Or anyone else, had it turned out that McKellen couldn't take on the gig that would wind up employing him for at least four features, plus cameos in other installments.

And McKellen very nearly couldn't take on that gig. Or the other. The Oscar-nominated actor recently told People magazine a story of how the course of geek cinema nearly took another turn. Thanks to the Mission: Impossible franchise. Specifically, the second installment, in which McKellen was offered a role. Fortunately, he wound up declining. Here are the details in his words:

"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," he explains. "Well, 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."

If he had done Mission: Impossible II, which ended up experiencing serious production delays, McKellen would have had to drop out of X-Men. That actually happened for Dougray Scott, who'd originally been cast as Wolverine but had to quit due to his role as the villain in the Mission: Impossible sequel -- giving us Hugh Jackman in the role, which we also now can't imagine anyone else playing.

Not only would we not have McKellen as Magneto, but we wouldn't have Instagram delights care of the bond he formed with Stewart making the X-Men movies. Mission: Impossible II apparently had enough scheduling issues that it even would have kept the actor out of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. And the two franchise openers (2000's X-Men and 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) were shot so close to each other that they required a certain amount of fortuitous synergy to work out the way they did, both with McKellen on board.

"Bryan Singer’s first X-Men overran its preparation," he tells People. "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.

And with 15 years of great movies and performances as a result. 


[via Screen Crush]

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