10/18/2012 09:23 am ET

Ian McKellen As Gandalf? Actor's 'Hobbit' Return Almost Didn't Happen

Outside of director Peter Jackson, no one is more closely associated with the "Lord of the Rings" universe than Sir Ian McKellen. Which is why the idea that McKellen almost didn't return to star in the "Rings" prequel trilogy "The Hobbit" is almost too crazy to comprehend.

“It was a little like going back to something that wasn’t necessarily going to be particularly challenging,” McKellen told THR. “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."

In the end, McKellen said it was the rabid Middle-Earth fan base that brought him back to the Shire. “You felt, how many millions of people are waiting for it? They wouldn’t understand if you weren’t as keen as they were."

While McKellen doesn't get to play a new character in "The Hobbit" films (the first, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is out in December), he does get to explore a side of Gandalf only seen in the first "Lord of the Rings" film: Gandalf the Grey, who perished in "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." (McKellen returned in "Lord of the Rings: Two Towers" as Gandalf the White.)

"Well, this is not Gandalf the White," McKellen said to io9 at Comic-Con in July. "The White was not our favorite. We stuck with him through two movies, but we're very glad to get back to the long-bearded, straggle-bearded Gandalf the Grey [in 'The Hobbit']. Who sleeps under hedge rows, who likes drinking down in Hobbiton and having a smoke, and telling a joke and having some fun. It's that sort of Gandalf."

For more on McKellen, head over to THR.

[via THR]

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' Stills