Good Night, Sweet Albus

by | July 21, 2009 at 9:45 PM | The Movies

The movie is now out in theaters, millions of dollars of tickets have been sold, everybody’s seen it, and everybody read the book years ago, so I think we don’t have to worry about spoilers anymore. Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts Academy, meets his untimely – or perhaps very timely – demise at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, leaving Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) alone without his mentor. But this will not be the last we’ll see of the man, says Michael Gambon, who has been playing the role since filling in for the late Richard Harris in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

As you must know by now, the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is going to be split into two films. “I come back as a ghost in one of them in a long scene with Harry,” Gambon told me recently, “and in the other one they’re just using flashbacks. My bit doesn’t start until early next year.” So it sounds like Dumbledore will be pulling an Obi-Wan Kenobi.

How does Gambon feel about the end of his mutlifilm term as Albus Dumbledore? Read on to learn what he has to say about it.

“It’s been fun. It’s never been arduous,” Gambon assured me, as I thought he might have grown weary of playing the same role repeatedly. “The last film we did, which I finished a year ago, the one just out now, that was the hardest work of all the things I did, because I was on more. There was quite a lot of tough stuff, tough acting required with me and Dan, but it’s been all kind of straightforward.”

“I see Dumbledore as an extension of myself,” he explained. “Quite an amiable man with a sense of responsibility being the headmaster of a private school. They’re all there without mom and dad, and he becomes the students’ dad – their father figure. He’s very kindly and so forth. That’s how I look at him. Not too complicated.”

Perhaps not, but what about the massive, insane fandom surrounding this franchise? Many people would find it scary, but not Gambon. “It’s been a surprise. When I took over the part, I didn’t give it much thought. Over the past years, I get stopped in the street by kids, I get shouted at when I drive my car. It’s pleasant. It’s enormous – the popularity of these films is amazing, it’s become a phenomenon. I quite like being a part of it all.”

Yet Gambon was already a storied veteran by the time he took over the role from Harris – a move he claims he wasn’t daunted by (“In the theater, you are always playing other people’s parts. It’s quite commonplace.”) – but the Radcliffe has been carrying this massive franchise on his shoulders since he was scarcely over a decade old. With Gambon playing his father figure, how does dear old dad see the lad?

“I’ve been with it now for five films, and I’ve seen them grow up – particularly Dan. I feel good about it. It’s quite moving,” Gambon says of his young co-star. “My part in Harry Potter only takes me a few months each year, so there’s a long break before I ever see them again, and they’re suddenly grown up. The whole personality changes. He’s a young man now It’s the luckiest thing to ever happen to Warner Bros., finding that boy, who’s so perfect. The fame doesn’t seem to affect him at all. He has a wonderful way with everybody he meets. He takes endless trouble with everything – he delayed the whole premiere by signing everybody’s autograph – 4000 people queuing up, screaming in the square, mainly children – and he won’t rush. He’s the most completely nice fellow.”

And finally, here’s something from the ‘bet you didn’t know’ file: Gambon was almost James Bond.

“That was years and years ago,” he explains, “after George Lazenby played him. They got ten young English theater actors, having the brainwave of getting an unknown young man to play it. All ten of us went for interviews in London, and I never got it, but one of the ten of us did and then it was cancelled. Sean Connery came back. I wouldn’t be any good. My friend Daniel Craig (Gambon’s co-star in Layer Cake) is the best James Bond ever, I think. He’s terrific. When he hits someone, he really means it.”