Ian McKellen Wasn't The Only Person Playing Gandalf In The Lord Of The Rings

One of the more striking visual aspects of Peter Jackson's 2001 fantasy film "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was capturing the vastly different heights of the characters. Several of the central players in "Rings" are hobbits, who tend to stand at about 3'6", and their adventures put them into the company of human characters who stand in the 5'5" to 6'0" range. The wizard Gandalf, according to the Tolkien Gateway, is reported to be 5'6". Ian McKellan, who played Gandalf in the six "Rings" films, is 5'11". In order to achieve the illusion of height disparity, Jackson used a good deal of visual trickery — including forced perspective, body doubles, and some digital machinations — to make it look like hobbits were indeed as small as they were. 

In the early "Rings" films, the completed effect was mildly uncanny. Not quite convincing, but weirdly fascinating to look at regardless. The height effects were later perfected, and looked almost wholly convincing (perhaps thanks to Jackson's fondness for high framerates), in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" in 2012. 

When a human and a hobbit stood together, notably in shots where one of the two character's fasces was obfuscated, body doubles were hired. As such, multiple actors and stand-ins played each of the film's main characters.

Tall Paul Randall

In a 2021 oral history with the Independent, McKellan revealed that working with mismatched scale was something he wasn't able to ever adapt to 100%. In order to assure that he was looking at the place where his effects-shrunken co-star was to eventually be, McKellan had to avert his eyes from the actor's actual face. Part of the time, a very tall stand-in was brought in.

"I never really got over having to work with scale. I'd be standing on a box or Elijah [Wood] would be on his knees. If we had a two-shot I couldn't look into his eyes and vice versa. I had to look at his midriff and he'd be looking at the tip of my pointy hat. The scale doubles were a large part of it too. They found a very large policeman called Tall Paul to double me."

Tall Paul is actually Paul Randall, a 7'1" New Zealand actor who, apart from the "Lord of the Rings" movies, also appeared — in motion capture — in "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," and in a bit part on the 2013 Kiwi horror anthology series "Freaky." In the first three "Rings" films, he served as a stand-in for multiple characters, including Aragorn (the Viggo Mortensen character), Legolas (the Orlando Bloom character), and Boromir (the dead character). It wasn't until the three "The Hobbit" movies that Randall would play Gandalf exclusively. 

The Long and Short of It

Actor Dominic Monaghan, who plays the hobbit Merry Brandybuck, recalled working with Randall as well, often kneeling in front of him. The actual conversations and face-to-face interactions were handled by McKellan. Also from the Independent, Monaghan recalls: 

"Tall Paul was often our Gandalf. He was like seven foot and we'd be on our knees. Ian would still be on set, unless it was just a walking shot. It was never just a day with the double, Ian was always there and we were always with Ian."

Randall became a beloved part of the crew, and, perhaps because of his extensive interaction with the director and all the players, was hired by Sean Astin (who played the hobbit Samwise) to appear in an amusing six-minute short film that he wrote, directed, and produced in 2003. In "The Long and Short of It," the late Andrew Lesnie — the Academy Award-winning cinematographer for the "Rings" movies — plays a workman who attempts to paste a paper car advertisement to a wall. A short woman (Praphaphorn "Fon" Chansantor, also a stand-in on "Rings") stops to help paste down the bottom of the poster. A tall man (Randall, his face visible) approaches to help paste down the top. They get the job done and leave together on a bus. The bus driver is played by Peter Jackson. There is no dialogue and the soundtrack is the "Che Gelida Manina" aria from Puccini's opera "La Bohème." It's a very sweet, quaint little short, and one of the only times you'll be able to see Randall's face on screen.

"The Long and Short of It" can be seen on Mubi