‘Harry Potter’: Peter O’Toole Almost Replaced Richard Harris as Dumbledore

O’Toole ultimately turned the role down due to his friendship with Harris, director Chris Columbus reveals

dumbledore peter o'toole
Richard Harris in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone;" Peter O'Toole (Warner Bros.; Getty Images)

The “Harry Potter” franchise nearly had a different legendary actor in the iconic role of Albus Dumbledore. While casting for 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” successfully built out the ensemble with renowned performers like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, Richard Harris fell ill after completing the second film in the series, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and abruptly passed away in October 2002.

That left some giant shoes to fill, not only in terms of Harris’ talent but with regards to a key character in the “Potter” franchise going forward. And Peter O’Toole, the eight-time Oscar nominee most famous for the title role in the 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia,” very nearly donned the robes of the Hogwarts headmaster.

Chris Columbus, who directed “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” and produced “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” told TheWrap how it all went down.

“It was obviously a crushing blow when Richard Harris passed away,” Columbus said. “I remember an interesting thing because [‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ director] Alfonso [Cuaron] and I met with Peter O’Toole about playing Dumbledore, and he was close except Richard was his best friend and he felt it was intrusive from an acting point of view so he decided not to do it.”

O’Toole, who at the time was 70 years old, certainly would have brought a different vibe to the role of Albus Dumbledore in contrast to Harris’ soft-spoken approach. (O’Toole died in 2013, at age 81.)

After O’Toole passed on the role, the producers turned to Michael Gambon (who was 62 at the time), and he finished out the next six films in the series with a more mischievous take on the character.

Of course, Dumbledore was recast once again for the prequel series “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which sees Jude Law playing a younger iteration of the wizard. The third film in that planned five-movie franchise, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” is scheduled to be released in April 2022.