Christopher Lee did not want to play Lord of The Rings Saruman: Clashed with Peter Jackson

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power title announced

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On this day, Friday, May 27, 2022, the iconic British actor Christopher Lee would have turned 100-years-old. The star died on June 7, 2015, due to heart failure. He was 93-years-old.

He of course made his mark in cinema by playing such iconic roles as Dracula, James Bond villain the Man with the Golden Gun and Count Dooku in the Star Wars series – as well as countless other characters – but he had a lifelong passion to play one brilliant creation from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Jackson remembered casting for the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy alongside screenwriter Fran Walsh. He recalled Lee “literally looming out of the shadows” to introduce himself in a “creepy old Gothic church in London”.

He remembered: “As we chatted, he told us how he’d met Tolkien, and why the book meant so much to him. He re-read The Lord of the Rings every single year, and could freely quote vast chunks. We had a video camera and tripod set up, but just said that we would love him to be in our movie — virtually offering him the role of Saruman right there.”

But as Jackson began offering Lee the role of Saruman the White, the incredible evildoer from the series, he realised the actor did not want to play the nefarious wizard.

Jackson said: “It was at that exact moment that Fran and I realised in horror that he’d come to talk to us about playing Gandalf!”

In a nightmare scenario, the director had to break the news to Lee that they had already approached another British star for the role of Gandalf the Grey.

Jackson said: “A very awkward 30 minutes followed, with Fran and I trying our best to explain to a rather peeved Christopher Lee that we were already talking to Ian McKellen about Gandalf — but what an incredible Saruman he would be!”

Unfortunately for Jackson, Lee wasn’t open to the idea.

'Dracula' – Death Scene with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing

Jackson said: “Chris wasn’t hearing a bar of it, and eventually commanded us to turn on the video camera so he could audition for Gandalf. After shooting a few takes, he thanked us very graciously before disappearing back into the shadows.”

Eventually, Lee succumbed and accepted the role of Saruman – but he never seemed settled in the character.

Jackson explained that every time he would discuss the wizard’s actions with Lee, the actor would announce: “You must understand, Peter – he’s really not an evil man.”

And he even took his disdain directly to the new Gandalf star as well: Sir Ian McKellen.

One day on set, Lee turned to McKellen while they were both in full costume and said: “I’m perfectly happy to be in an ‘Ian McKellen film.'”

But McKellen would not let it slide.

He instantly responded: “But not as thrilled as I am – to be in a ‘Christopher Lee movie’!”

Jackson added that he suspected this was how Lee felt throughout his career.

Jackson continued: “That was the bittersweet reality with Chris – while he regarded his cinematic history with a certain amount of disdain, everyone around him had the opposite opinion.”

Despite not wanting to play Saruman in the first place, Lee returned to play the villain in the follow-up Hobbit trilogy.

Jackson added: “For my part, I’m as happy as hell to have made five Christopher Lee movies.”

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video now.

The Hobbit is available to stream on Netflix now.


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