Christopher Lee may have become the iconic villain Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, but the role that was near and dear to his heart was always Gandalf. Lee lobbied for the role in several different ways, one of which was sending Peter Jackson pictures of himself playing a wizard in an awful 90s Robin Hood TV series.
While the casting of The Lord of the Rings worked out for the best with Ian McKellen as the kindly, but powerful wizard, Lee admitted in 2003 that “of course I would have loved to play Gandalf, but I don’t think he [Peter Jackson] ever had me in mind for Gandalf, because by that time I was too old.”
In 1997, Lee took a role as a wizard called Olwyn in The New Adventures of Robin Hood (no, we haven’t heard of it either) and he confessed that “the only reason I did that was to show anyone who was watching that I could play a wizard, and that I would be ideal for the The Lord of the Rings cast,” he told Cinefantastique.
Lee even sent Jackson pictures of himself in his Robin Hood role, to persuade him that he could play one of the best Lord of the Rings characters. “I sent him a picture of myself all made-up in the wizard’s role, but it was more in the nature of a joke, really. ‘This is what I look like as a wizard, don’t forget this when you cast the movie.'”
“It wasn’t me putting myself forward at all, because I think Peter had already made up his mind. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway, that he never thought of anybody else for Saruman, except for me, so it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.”
Jackson told EW in 2015 that he and Fran Walsh virtually offered Lee the role of Saruman on the spot when he read for them as a kind of audition, but that they “realized in horror that he’d come to talk to us about playing Gandalf!” and that “a very awkward 30 minutes followed.”
So it all worked out for the best – Lee leaving a weird, low budget, late-90s Robin Hood series (pictured above) and stepping into the shoes of Saruman. Lee’s interpretation of Saruman was that there had once been a good wizard inside him, and was grateful that he got to explore that more in The Hobbit trilogy.
McKellen as Gandalf and Lee as Saruman helped make The Lord of the Rings series the best fantasy movies of all time, and we’re now looking forward to the new Lord of the Rings movie, War of the Rohirrim. And we’re hoping to see Rings of Power season 2 duke it out with House of the Dragon season 2.