Christopher Lee, renowned for his portrayal of the iconic villain Saruman in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, held a deep fondness for the character of Gandalf. In his pursuit of this coveted role, Lee made various efforts, including sending pictures of himself in a wizardly role from a less-than-stellar 90s Robin Hood TV series to Peter Jackson.
While Ian McKellen ultimately secured the role of Gandalf, Lee openly acknowledged in 2003 that he would have cherished the opportunity. He conceded, however, that by the time the casting process was underway, he was deemed too advanced in age for the part.
In 1997, Lee took on the role of a wizard named Olwyn in “The New Adventures of Robin Hood,” a relatively obscure series. He later confessed that his motivation for accepting the role was to demonstrate his proficiency as a wizard, thereby asserting his suitability for “The Lord of the Rings” ensemble.
Lee went as far as sending Peter Jackson images of himself in his Robin Hood wizardry attire, aiming to persuade the director of his aptitude for a role in one of Tolkien’s masterpieces. He explained that while it was meant somewhat in jest, it was also a subtle reminder of his wizardly potential.
Despite his efforts, it was revealed that Jackson had already envisioned Lee as Saruman, and the actor’s overtures regarding Gandalf didn’t influence the decision. Jackson recounted in 2015 how, during what he thought was an audition for Saruman, Lee surprised them by expressing interest in Gandalf, resulting in an awkward exchange.
Ultimately, everything fell into place as Lee transitioned from an obscure, budget-constrained Robin Hood series of the late 90s to the formidable role of Saruman. Lee infused Saruman with a complex portrayal, suggesting that there was a once-virtuous wizard within him. He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to delve deeper into this character in “The Hobbit” trilogy.