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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

A magical new angle

Michael Gambon finally gets a chance to lighten up in 'Harry Potter.'

June 06, 2004|Susan King

The hulking, sad-eyed Irish actor Michael Gambon, 63, has played so many dramatic roles in his 40-year plus career that he's rarely gotten a chance to show his lighter side. But "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" has changed all that.

Gambon stars as Albus Dumbledore, the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in the recently released third installment in the popular movie series. Gambon replaces the late Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two "Harry Potter" films, based on J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful novels about a young wizard.

He began his career in 1963 at the Edwards/MacLiammoir Gate Theatre in Dublin and was one of the original members of the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic under the direction of Laurence Olivier. During the last four decades, the award-winning actor has established himself as one of the biggest lights in British theater and played film and television roles ranging from President Lyndon B. Johnson in the HBO movie "Path to War" to the boorish landowner in "Gosford Park."

Stepping into the "Harry Potter" saga, he puts his own twist on Dumbledore, transforming him into a sprightly, funny and mischievous headmaster. He'll begin work on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" this month.

Is it true that you once auditioned to play James Bond?

That was years ago. When George Lazenby played it [in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"] they didn't like what they did. They got a lot of English theater actors and interviewed us all. It would have been brilliant to play James Bond.

Well, I would imagine the role of Albus Dumbledore was also pretty hotly contested.

The producers just rang me up and said did I want to do it. I didn't even realize it was hotly contested. I have only been told that afterward.

Director Alfonso Cuaron and the producers didn't try to turn you into a clone of Richard Harris' Dumbledore.

They just let me do my own thing. The look is different. The costume is very light. It's very silky and flowing. I have almost nothing on! I have a pair of pants, a vest and a top. I wear carpet slippers and little stockings and then my wig is browner than Richard's. My beard is darker and I have a little bell in my beard. People say I look like a hippie. All of that suits me fine. And he likes fun, doesn't he?

Did you have any teachers like Dumbledore?

No, I wish I had.

Neither did I during all my years at Catholic girls school.

I went to Catholic boys school and we were always hanging around the Catholic girls school, which was a mile way. We knew Catholic girls were very nice! We used to hang around the gates and wait for them to come out. The teacher used to come out and say, "Go away." That's a terrible admission! Dumbledore wouldn't have [hung out at the school] or would he have?

I think he would. He definitely has a twinkle in his eye.

Maybe Dumbledore eventually will get a girlfriend. I think if I met J.K. Rowling, I'd tell her when you write the sixth book or the seventh book, could you introduce a very hot scene with sort of a Julia Roberts-type actress. Hello, Julia!

Why did the late Sir Ralph Richardson nickname you the "Great Gambon"?

He was always calling me names and I suppose that was one. I don't know what he meant by it. I knew him for years before he died and I did one play with him and it was a disaster. It was called "Alice's Boys" and it was about the secret service. It was a bit like James Bond and Ralph was the chief, an eccentric Englishman who was doing needlework as the curtain goes up. It only ran for two weeks. He said to me one day, "Why did you choose to do this play?" I said, "Because you were doing it. Why do you think we're all in this?" I said the more important question is why did you choose to do it ? And he said, "Because I have to do needlework in Act 1." Can you imagine anything so ridiculous?

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