Ian McKellen being cast as Gandalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings movies was a match made in heaven. The actor bought the full force of his considerable personality and a lifetime's worth of experience acting in Shakespearean dramas to one of the most iconic roles in fiction.
In a movie trilogy filled with great casting, McKellen's take on the elderly yet powerful wizard was singled out for special praise. Here are 10 behavioral tics of Gandalf the Grey described in the books that McKellen embodied so thoroughly as to make the idea of casting anyone else in the role unthinkable:
10 Elegant Diction
In the books, Gandalf is one of the most learned beings in existence, being a demi-god/angle of creation who has spent a lifetime studying the history of humankind. Naturally, such a deeply erudite man/diety will have complete command over language and diction.
Fortunately, a career's worth of Shakespeare plays has given McKellen one of the most perfect diction in cinema. Every word emerges from his lips perfectly formed and intoned with a wealth of deeper meaning and emotion.
9 Fearsome Temper
Gandalf is a kind man, but he does not suffer fools gladly. He is known for scolding all manners of characters for bad behavior, as though he was a teacher at Hogwarts who was about to deduct 10 points from Gryffindor. In fact, one of the most famous scenes from the books that were enacted in the movie was when Bilbo accuses Gandalf of trying to take the ring for himself.
This pisses off Gandalf, and he utters his famous line, "Do not take me for a fool or a conjurer of cheap tricks." In that one line, we catch a glimpse of a wealth of anger and power kept barely in check, and McKellen sells the moment perfectly.
8 Sense Of Humor
Gandalf is not above cracking a joke or two to lighten the mood, and McKellen is famous for his love of jokes and his quick wit. While lesser actors would have been too busy trying to make Gandalf serious and awe-inspiring, McKellen was happy to show that Gandalf can also be quite lighthearted, like the time he winked at Aragorn after pretending to be a frail old man so the guards of Rohan would allow him to bring his staff into the king's court.
7 Quick Mood Changes
Gandalf has a mercurial temperament. He could be a sage counselor in one instant, a strict teacher the next, and a concerned parent immediately afterward. Let's go back to that scene where Bilbo accuses Gandalf of wanting the ring. The scene starts with Gandalf offering advice to Bilbo, then escalates when he starts applying pressure on Bilbo to give up the ring.
When Bilbo resists, Gandalf turns on his wrath, and when Bilbo immediately cowers, it only takes a second for Gandalf's voice to soften with concern and kindness as he says "I'm trying to help you." Just a really awesome scene between two great actors.
6 Fatherly Air
Considering that, in the books, Gandalf is centuries old, it is not all that surprising that he views most mortals as children, often treating them like his own offsprings. This is especially noticeable in the way Gandalf handles hobbits, whom he is especially attached to.
Gandalf's attitude towards Frodo is that of a father trying to look out for his son, and he extends the same air of fatherly concern to Sam, Merry, and Pippin as well.
5 Enjoyment Of Smoking
Gandalf in the books really enjoys his smoke. It's not just a compulsion for him, but a luxurious hobby that he takes an active interest in developing, even learning cool new tricks to do with the smoke rings coming from his pipe and having a great deal of knowledge about the different kinds of tobacco available in different parts of the countryside.
Ian McKellen portrays this love of smoking in the movies perfectly as well. In fact, one of the few time we see movie Gandalf completely relaxed and at peace with the world is when he is leaning back, placidly puffing on his pipe while observing the world around him. Obviously, Peter Jackson and the screenwriters deserve credit for including this character trait, but McKellen embodies Gandalf's love for the pipe splendidly.
4 Wielding The Staff
The staff in Ian McKellen's hands transforms from a movie prop into an artifact of great significance, just like in the books. In some scenes, Gandalf is seen leaning heavily on the staff, signifying his great age and the toll that battle has taken on his human form.
But in other scenes, where Gandalf is actually doing battle with the Balrog or Nazgul, the staff transforms into a mighty weapon in Gandalf's hands, and McKellen's entire body language changes to reflect that difference.
3 Commanding Attitude
Gandalf is the wisest in the land. Literally, once he becomes Gandalf the White. Naturally, such a character requires a certain amount of gravitas, and McKellen delivers this in spades.
Any scene where Gandalf is talking to anyone - be it hobbits, elf kings, or even his enemies - the Wizard automatically appears as the one in charge, holding forth on an audience that is hanging on to every word he says.
2 Penetrating Stare
Gandalf is an old man, at least in terms of his appearance. In an epic war-saga filled with swordplay, he rarely participates directly in battle. Yet, all Gandalf needs to scorch his enemies is his penetrating stare.
That stare is what tells you: Here is an incredibly learned man with a very sharp perceptive mind, who can gaze into a person's eyes and look deep into their very soul itself, and be aware of theirs greatest, darkest desires.
1 Pain In His Eyes
Gandalf has lived a very long life and seen a great deal of pain and suffering inflicted on the land and its people. For the majority of the narrative, he appears to be fighting a losing battle against the forces of Sauron and Saruman, and no one knows better than Gandalf the horrors to come if the dark forces were to prevail.
All this can be seen in Gandalf's eyes, as played by McKellen, in the few moments where he drops his air of being invulnerable and all-knowing, so we can bear witness to a man having doubts, who has lived a life soaked in loss and strife.