Christopher Lee: How director Peter Jackson remembered the 'Lord of the Rings' actor

Among other work such as appearances in the 'James Bond' and 'Star Wars' series and starring in the Hammer horror films, Lee portrayed the evil wizard Saruman in Jackson's 'Rings' and 'Hobbit' movies. 'It never ceased to be a thrill to see him on set,' Jackson wrote.

Tony Gentile/Reuters
Christopher Lee poses on the red carpet during the Rome film festival in 2009.

Fellow actors and other members of the movie industry have shared their memories of and thoughts about actor Christopher Lee following Lee’s recent death, and one of the most recent to do so is director Peter Jackson, who directed Lee in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films. 

Lee portrayed the evil wizard Saruman in the “Rings” and “Hobbit” movies and, according to an interview the actor did with Cinefantastique Magazine, was a big fan of the books by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Jackson remembered working with the actor in a post on Facebook

“It is with tremendous sadness that I learnt of the passing of Sir Christopher Lee,” Jackson wrote. “Christopher spoke seven languages; he was in every sense, a man of the world; well versed in art, politics, literature, history and science. He was scholar, a singer, an extraordinary raconteur and of course, a marvelous actor. One of my favourite things to do whenever I came to London would be to visit with Christopher and [his wife] Gitte where he would regale me for hours with stories about his extraordinary life … it never ceased to be a thrill to see him on set. I remember him saying on my 40th Birthday (he was 80 at the time), 'You’re half the man I am'.  Being half the man Christopher Lee is, is more than I could ever hope for. He was a true gentleman, in an era that no longer values gentleman. I grew up loving Christopher Lee movies. For most of my life I was enthralled by the great iconic roles he not only created – but continued to own decades later. But somewhere along the way Christopher Lee suddenly, and magically, dissolved away and he became my friend, Chris. And I loved Chris even more.” 

In the interview with Cinefantastique Magazine, Lee recalled playing a wizard character in the TV show “The New Adventures of Robin Hood” prior to the “Rings” films being made. “The only reason I did that was to show anyone who was watching that I could play a wizard and that I would be ideal casting for ‘The Lord of the Rings,’” he said. Lee said he sent Jackson a picture of himself in his wizard ensemble – “it was more in the nature of a joke, really” – but that, as he learned later, he was already in. “I think Peter had already made up his mind," he said. "That’s what I’ve been told, anyway, that he never thought of anybody else for Saruman, except for me, so it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.” 

Lee said he read a scene for Jackson that took place between good wizard Gandalf and the hobbit Frodo (eventually played by actors Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood, respectively). “Of course I would have loved to play Gandalf, but I don’t think he ever had me in mind for Gandalf, because but that time I was too old,” he said. He reiterated that he would have loved the part of Gandalf in a 2000 interview with New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. “They're really quite magical,” he said of the “Rings” films. “And for a long time I would have loved to have played Gandalf. Maybe if they'd made it even 15 years ago, I could have. But it's nearly a year's work, and you have to accept certain facts when you reach a certain age.”

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