Over-50 and acting? Join the Wizard’s Institute…

After reading Damian Lewis’ disparaging comments towards Ian McKellen and McKellen’s mild-mannered if acerbic retort, were you left wondering if perhaps Lewis was on to something? Well ponder no longer…

Ian McKellen, charged with conspiracy to conjure aged 74 but first offense aged 62. The assumed target of Lewis’ initial critical comments, McKellen is obviously best known for his towering role of Gandalf in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth epics. I’ll leave it to commenters to debate whether perhaps his turn as metal-morphing mentalist Magneto in the X-Men franchise also qualifies – my own guess, probably not.

Michael Gambon, Headmaster of Hogwarts aged 63, and his spiritual progenitor Richard Harris, then 71, since deceased, played master of magic, friend and mentor to Harry Potter, the wizened but wise Professor Dumbledore. Heroes to fans of the series and admired by critics, both are on a proud pedestal among wizards – and actors for that matter.

Jeremy Irons, practiced magic aged 51 as Profion the evil mage in Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately, despite his virtues as an actor, as a mage the Oscar winner didn’t have the tricks to save Dungeons & Dragons from a 10% Rotten Tomato score [1] and even landed himself a YouTube compilation dedicated to his overacting [2]. Probably not the highlight of his career then, although he was the highlight of the film!

Alfred Molina, aka Doctor Octopus of Spider-Man 2 fame, dabbled with the dark arts as Maxim Horvath in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice aged 57, attempting to subjugate the human race with hat and cane and witchcraft. His ethos might not have been so benevolent – “The world’s about two things. Power and control” – but be under no illusion, he ranks up there with the best of the wicked wizards.

Helen Mirren whipped up a storm in The Tempest in 2010, aged 65 – ok, so technically she’s a witch not a wizard, but filling the shoes of Shakespeare’s Prospero (subtly renamed Prospera, in case anyone got confused) it would be remiss to leave her out. Mirren commands the elements with the same ease she has commanded kingdoms, and while the film received very mixed reviews [3], almost all were unanimous in their praise for her. The Academy admired her style too, with costume designer Sandy Powell getting a nomination for Best Costume Design [4].

John Malkovich controlled minds as the eponymous Buck in The Great Buck Howard at the ripe old age of 55. Although supposedly a modern mentalist in the vein of Derren Brown (not literally, that really would be magical), it is definitely implied that the great Buck is gifted with a certain supernatural mystique. While his hunger for the limelight and vituperative behaviour somewhat clouds his talents, when the credits roll he maintains an air of mystery.

And new to the club, we can welcome Morgan Freeman, 76 years of age and voicing magus Vitruvius in The Lego Movie, due out next year. The trailer offers a peak at his long white merlinesque beard [5], and faintly weary wise man voice, perhaps deliberately reminiscent of his turn as God in Bruce Almighty [6]. That’s kind of wizardy too, right? Afterall, what’s more fruity than offering apples nobody can eat?

Some of the most famous silverscreen wizards weren’t quite silver-haired at the time of their magic misdemeanors though, escaping the WI branding with a few years spare.

Frank Morgan narrowly avoided the over-50 wizard category playing the titular Wizard in The Wizard of Oz in 1939 aged 49. Similarly, the late Nicol Williamson was 45 when he acted perhaps the most famous of all magicians, Merlin in Excalibur. Nicolas Cage was also cutting it fine when he donned the robes of Balthazar in 2010’s The Sorcerers Apprentice at the age of 46 and tried to face off against the aforementioned Maxim Horvath. Competing with a firm WI veteran? What was he thinking?

All things considered though, it looks like McKellen is in esteemed company and part of his very own exclusive magic circle. Damian Lewis could be proud to count himself among their number in the future. In fact, if he’s lucky, maybe someone can sign him up early for the role of Gandalf in the inevitable Lord of the Rings reboot in twenty years time?


1. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dungeons_and_dragons/
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL4w__Vqdjg
3. http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-tempest
4. http://www.deadline.com/tag/sandy-powell/
5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZ_JOBCLF-I
6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FngXOUxklR4