Peter O'Toole "felt it was intrusive from an acting point of view" to replace his late friend Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise, director Chris Columbus said
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Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole, left, at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003, and Richard Harris, right, in the role of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter
| Credit: getty, courtesy Everett Collection

Harry Potter character Professor Albus Dumbledore was very nearly played by another legendary Hollywood actor.

Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films and produced the third, revealed on Monday that Lawrence of Arabia actor Peter O'Toole was in final talks to replace Richard Harris in 2004's Prisoner of Azkaban after Harris died in 2002.

"It was obviously a crushing blow when Richard Harris passed away," Columbus told The Wrap on Monday. "I remember an interesting thing because [Azkaban director] Alfonso [Cuaron] and I met with Peter O'Toole about playing Dumbledore, and he was close except Richard was his best friend and he felt it was intrusive from an acting point of view so he decided not to do it."

Harris, a two-time Oscar nominee known for roles in 1967's Camelot and The Field in 1991, among many others, died at 72 in 2002.

His role of the benevolent Hogwarts headmaster ultimately went to Michael Gambon, who portrayed Dumbledore in the rest of the Harry Potter films through to 2011's concluding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

O'Toole, an eight-time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, died two years later in 2013, at the age of 81.

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As for the character of Dumbledore, the role was reinvented after the original Harry Potter film series ended, with a younger iteration portrayed by Jude Law in the prequel franchise Fantastic Beasts.

The Closer actor played Dumbledore in the second installment of that series, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018.

Law will next appear as the younger Albus in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which is scheduled to be released in April of next year.

Columbus recently had more to say about the Harry Potter franchise, specifically that he'd happily return to the helm of a new sequel if given the opportunity.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter last week ahead of the 20th anniversary of his film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the 63-year-old director said he would return for a movie adaption of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child if the stars ever aligned.

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"A version of Cursed Child with Dan [Radcliffe, who played Harry], Rupert [Grint, in the role of Ron Weasley] and Emma [Watson, as Hermione Granger] at the right age, it's cinematic bliss. If you're a film nerd or cinephile, it's kind of like what J.J. Abrams did with Star Wars... There's no question if you're a Star Wars fan, you were moved just seeing them on screen, seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo again — and Chewy," he said.

"I think that would be the same situation for Harry Potter fans. To able to actually see these adult actors now back in these roles? Oh, yeah. It would be amazingly fun to make that film — or two films," he added.