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Richard Harris vs. Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in Harry Potter

Richard Harris vs. Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in Harry Potter

Dumbledore is one of the most important characters and influences during Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts.

It was not easy when Richard Harris passed away, and the role had to be cast to someone new. This can either destroy a film or make it better.

Richard Harris did a wonderful job encompassing the idealistic, caring, and hopeful aura of Dumbledore that reflects the character from the books. Michael Gambon proved to be more exciting and a little rough around the edges, Dumbledore. 

People argue that one is better than the other, but this is difficult because both have a unique twist on the character without straying too far from the books.

Both provided great performances that will forever be remembered by Harry Potter fans. 

Who Is Richard Harris?

Richard Harris
Everett Collection /

Richard Harris was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1930, where he grew up to become an actor and singer. From the classics to medieval period pieces, many of his roles set him up to become a perfect choice for Dumbledore.

  • Born: October 1, 1930
  • Height: 6’1″
  • Birthplace: Limerick, Ireland
  • Nationality: Irish
  • Zodiac Sign: Libra

Richard Harris As Albus Dumbledore

Richard Harris as Dumbledore
Richard Harris as Dumbledore

Richard Harris was an amazing choice when cast as Dumbledore. He provided everyone with a mentor that we all wish and desire that Harry needed when he first came to Hogwarts.

He provided a version of Dumbledore that gave Harry the warmth he had desired from an adult figure.

Sadly, he only played in the first two Harry Potter movies before he passed in 2002. But he was the first Dumbledore everyone met and learned to love.

Harry Could Open Up to Richard Harris’ Dumbledore

Richard Harris’ performance had many wonderful qualities. His performance reflected the necessary characteristics needed for the beginning of the series, especially as a positive role model in Harry Potter’s life.

Richard Harris brings warmth to Dumbledore that we find within the pages of the series. He is kind and nurturing and not only allows Harry Potter to be able to trust him but the viewers as well.

Harris’ Dumbledore Was a Mentor Fans Needed

Harris’ Dumbledore was not only necessary for Harry because he didn’t have any adults he could admire and be his guide, but also for fans. Many fans reading the books at the time were in middle school and may not have had a mentor either.

Dumbledore’s caring demeanor provides fans with something they want and need during a vital time of their lives. It gave fans a relationship they could invest in and the one they hope for.

Richard Harris’ Is the Dumbledore From the Books

Richard Harris’ Albus Dumbledore follows most closely to the novels.

J.K. Rowling paints a clear picture of the Headmaster being quiet and welcoming in his presence. When he speaks, people listen out of respect and not fear. 

The students go to him as a professor, someone they can withdraw information without being told everything. He lets them learn and speaks when it is only necessary.

Although knowledgeable, his voice is never speaking over his students.

Richard Harris’ Dumbledore is Timeless

Many fans will rave that Richard Harris’ portrayal was the pinnacle of Dumbledore and that Michael Gambon, although amazing, doesn’t meet the previous actor’s depiction.

There are many reasons why he is loved more. He was the original actor, and he was the first impression that we got to see Dumbledore. His version was the one we all fell in love with and is often the one that is remembered well.

Everyone loves a character that is warm and welcoming, and Richard Harris did just that. He allowed a positive relationship to appear on the big screen for Harry and all the fans that witnessed his performance.

Who Is Michael Gambon?

Michael Gambon
Featureflash Photo Agency /

Michael Gambon was born on the 19th of October near Dublin, Ireland. He didn’t get his debut on stage until 1962, but his career steadily took off from there.

He was a great replacement for Richard Harris, both being Irish and having similar backgrounds. Michael Gambon also wasn’t too far from Harris with a height shy of 6 feet (Harris being 6’1”) and similar traits.

  • Born: October 19, 1940
  • Height: 5’11”
  • Birthplace: Cabra, Ireland
  • Nationality: Irish
  • Zodiac Sign: Libra

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore

Michael Gambon as Dumbledore
Michael Gambon as Dumbledore

Michael Gambon continued the role of Albus Dumbledore after Richard Harris sadly passed away. He had some big shoes to fill, and often, there is much scrutiny when a role is recast.

Michael Gambon Was an Unpredictable Dumbledore

Michael Gambon brought a more unpredictable and new Dumbledore in his adaptation that made the character more rounded. This is not to downgrade Harris’s version, but Gambon brought his style.

We see a more serious version of Dumbledore, which is perfect later in the series. This shift helps set the tone of the films and how there will be a transformation in the series’ themes.

A Dumbledore of Gambon’s Own

Unlike Richard Harris, Michael Gambon strayed a little further from the novel character. Dumbledore was a nurturing and more welcoming character that we see within Harris, but with Gambon, Dumbledore was a little gruffer. 

This version of the character didn’t stray too far because it may have ruined the film for many readers. Michael Gambon gave Dumbledore a little more spice than Richard Harris and made the character more his own than that of the series.

Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore is Refreshing to Fans

Although many people love Richard more, Michael’s Dumbledore deserves some attention.

He brought to the audience a new and exciting side of the headmaster. He made Dumbledore more his own rather than sticking within the box of the book version.

Many people enjoy that he is refreshing and provides a more realistic portrayal of the headmaster. He is no longer seen with this halo effect, and we start seeing a version that people can relate to more realistically.

Michael Gambon Was the Dumbledore Needed for the War

Gambon’s version of Dumbledore has more edge, more bite. He is the Dumbledore that is needed to fight against Voldemort and the darkness that comes with it.

His gruff demeanor helps the fans and Harry Potter to prepare for the rough time that is about to occur. It also reveals a new side, one that may have been created in the past from run-ins with Death Eaters and Voldemort.

Why the Transition from One Actor to Another Added to the Films

It would have been wonderful to see how Richard Harris would continue to portray Dumbledore. This transition between the two actors was quite a blessing. It did well to add to the films rather than take away.

The transition helped tackle the perspective of a child’s (Harry Potter) view of those they idolize and adore. In the beginning, Harry sees Dumbledore as this father figure and someone who can do no wrong, but with Gambon’s Dumbledore, the perspective shifts closer to reality.

This is the same that happens with many children who adore a parent or a mentor. They see them through rose-colored glasses until they finally realize that those people are just as human and flawed as them.

Gambon’s more serious and rough around the edges headmaster adds to the darker themes that later progress with Voldemort’s appearance and the battles to come.

Richard Harris and Michael Gambon FAQs

Why Did Richard Harris Take the Role of Dumbledore?

He almost didn’t play the role of Albus Dumbledore. He actually turned down the offer three times before accepting.

His granddaughter was a passionate fan of the Harry Potter series and convinced Richard Harris to take the offer. It wasn’t without a little compromise first: she wouldn’t speak to him if he didn’t.

Why didn’t Gambon Read the Books?

Gambon didn’t read a single word of the Harry Potter series to prepare for his role as Dumbledore. He did this because he didn’t want to take away from his performance.

Gambon believed that knowing the character from the book would restrict the creativity of his performance and decided it was best to make Dumbledore his own. It was a risk but one he was willing to take.

Are Gambon and Harris Related?

Some may think they are related, and that’s why Michael was offered the role of Albus Dumbledore, but in reality, they were not. Both actors came from Ireland and were friends. 

Producers could choose either Peter O’Toole or Michael Gambon and decided with Gambon.