You shall not pass: David Bowie was almost Gandalf in Lord of the Rings

Kinderling News & Features

We know and love David Bowie for his incredible music career, and his film work has also been widely praised. Labyrinth is perhaps his most famous, but it may have cost Bowie a role in the huge hit trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR).

How much elf is too much elf?

When LOTR writers, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh appeared at the recent New York Comic-Con, they revealed that the franchise had been looking for big names to get people watching the adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book series.

“There was a point at which I know there was a drive for name actors in certain roles, and that may have been something more [handled by] the studio,” Philippa said.

In Huffington Post’s coverage, they reported the pair saying that the studio was concerned about Bowie’s previous elf role, the Goblin King in Labyrinth.

And while Philippa and Fran never met with Bowie, they admit they were "quite keen to".

“I don’t think the studio were that keen at that point,” Fran said, “so we never did meet with him.”

“I remember that conversation,” Philippa added. “There was a little hesitancy there because Elrond and the Goblin King. I mean, you know, elves.”

“He is an elf, don’t you think? He is. He would’ve been Elrond,” Philippa said.

“It was for Elrond, yeah,” Fran confirmed.

But some say he was more of a wizard …

While the writers say Ziggy Stardust was picked to be an elf, other sources say he was in fact suggested to play the unifying wizard, Gandalf.

In 2016, Huffington Post revealed that much-loved actor Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in the series, said he spotted the musician in the casting offices.

"I was … doing an audition for LOTR, … As I was reading a magazine, waiting, David Bowie came in and signed his little list and went in. And I'm assuming he read for Gandalf. I can't think of anything else he would've read for. He may have read for something else, but I'm a huge David Bowie fan, and I was lucky enough to know his son now, so just seeing him in person was pretty special to me."

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In a separate interview with casting director, Amy Hubbard (who worked on all of Peter Jackson’s LOTR and The Hobbit films), Huffington Post provided even more insight to Bowie’s potential role. Amy reveals that he never had a formal audition.

“He was unavailable,” she said. “It was a very quick conversation with the legendary Chris Andrews at CAA. I do believe that [David Bowie] went over and played for everybody at the Millennium party. That would’ve been New Year’s Eve in the year 1999, which was when the films were being shot. He went over and entertained everybody, but he never auditioned. That’s for sure.”

Amy explained it was actually director Peter Jackson who was interested in Bowie possibly taking on the role of Gandalf. “We approached him. I’m pretty sure it was Peter Jackson’s idea in the first few weeks that we got going. It was one that he’d always wondered about, and we rang Chris, and [Bowie] was far too busy.”

So alas. Due to conflicting previous roles, a busy schedule or some other unknown reason, the Starman did not become a part of Middle Earth on screen.

Instead, we must re-watch Labyrinth on repeat for an elvish hint as to what might have been.