It was a while ago, so you might have forgotten, but at one point it was a question mark whether or not Ian McKellen would return to Middle Earth to play Gandalf. "Sequels aren’t necessarily as rewarding to act in as their originals," McKellen wrote on his blog at the beginning of 2011 responding to a report about the reasons why or why not he was going to be in "The Hobbit" films. "The deciding negotiation was not about money but about dates. Gandalf is needed on set over the next 18 months but with sizeable breaks when I can work on other projects. My worry that I could not easily escape from Middle Earth was lifted."
And indeed, he signed up, the movies were shot, a third one was added, and the first one comes out next month. But the actor likes the story of how he almost didn't do it, recently saying to THR: “It was a little like going back to something that wasn’t necessarily going to be particularly challenging. Gandalf is still inside me, as it were, so the business of getting to know a new character -- I was sort of going to be robbed of that.” And McKellen elaborates on that point in an update to his blog, where he shares the pros and cons that he went through in deciding to once again carry the staff.
It's basically a greatest hits recap of what we already know: while he loves working with Peter Jackson and the rest of the team, the two year commitment (now likely extended thanks to the third installment) was a worry. But he closes it off quite simply: "What clinched it and made up my mind was the advice of a wise friend: 'Ian, all those fans of the LOTR aren't going to understand or care about your doubts. They just want to see you back as Gandalf.' And then I realised what I'd known all along, that I couldn't bear to think of another actor donning the pointy hat and grey robes."
Meanwhile, though McKellen might be an old pro at the franchise, Martin Freeman is the new kid on the block, and has the heavy responsibility of leading the picture as Bilbo Baggins. Undoubtedly, he will be fielding a ton of questions in the lead-up to the film's release, and while he can't reveal too much, he does say that the ring from the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy can still be felt in his quasi-prequel. "I think it definitely has an effect on him. Maybe I shouldn’t say how much of it is negative or positive, but it’s clear that it has a pull on him, that, I guess would be recognizable from The Lord of the Rings. But it takes a different turn, I guess," he told Collider. "I suppose, ’cause 'The Hobbit' anyway, is slightly lighter and it’s more of a family affair, so it’s not quite as dark. But it doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t there. It definitely still has to matter that he is in possession of this thing. And I think a lot of the time, even he doesn’t realize why he wants to hold onto it so much, but there is an unspoken hold that it has on him, an unconscious hold."
And while fans may have clamored for Freeman to get the gig, he makes it clear they weren't the reason he was hired. "[Peter Jackson] said to me about other things he’s done, where he’s taken maybe too much notice of what was going on on the internet, and actually been given a bum steer. And I think he’s learned from that. We can all look on the internet and go, 'He hates me! Oh, but she loves me. Oh, but he hates me,' you know. And that way, madness lies," he said. "So I think yeah, it’s very nice, it’s gratifying that people wanted me to be in it. But they didn’t get me the job."
As you know, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will find Bilbo and the gang trudging up the Misty Moutain to face the dragon Smaug. But of course, with three movies, that showdown won't really happen until the obviously-titled "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" with Jackson confirming to Empire that the creature makes a "fleeting appearance" in the prologue. The pretty much confirms what Benedict Cumberbatch, who mo-caps the dragon, said in August (though with a switch in placement): "I think my eye might open at the end of the first film and then you’ll get the rest of me in the second." But let's just hope 'Unexpected' isn't just one long tease.
The flim opens on December 14th and until then, here are a few more peeks at the movie via some fresh scans from Comic Book Movie.