Christopher Lee

From Tolkien Gateway
Christopher Lee.jpg
Christopher Lee
Lifetime27 May, 1922 - 7 June, 2015
PortrayedSaruman in:
 The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
The Hobbit film trilogy

Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE (1922-2015)[1]was an English actor, who portrayed Saruman in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, The Hobbit film trilogy, and read the The Children of Húrin audiobook.

Life[edit | edit source]

Lee had a long history with Tolkien's fiction; he read The Hobbit after leaving the Royal Air Force in 1945, and since The Fellowship of the Ring came out, he read all Tolkien's books once a year. Lee also had the experience of actually meeting Tolkien in person (making him the only individual involved in the film trilogies to do so) while visiting The Eagle and Child during the 1950s:

We were sitting there talking and drinking beer, and someone said, "Oh, look who walked in." It was Professor Tolkien, and I nearly fell off my chair. I didn't even know he was alive. He was a benign looking man, smoking a pipe, walking in, an English countryman with earth under his feet. And he was a genius, a man of incredible intellectual knowledge. He knew somebody in our group. He (the man in the group) said "Oh Professor, Professor..." And he came over. And each one of us, well I knelt of course, each one of us said "how do you do?" And I just said "Ho.. How.. How..."

Lee always envisioned himself as being Gandalf, so when he read that Peter Jackson would be adapting his bedside book, he immediately called his agent.[source?]

Filming The Lord of The Rings[edit | edit source]

Although he realized he was too old to play Gandalf, he read the part.[source?] He did not get it, but was called back as Saruman instead. He had never been in a movie with the actual Gandalf, Sir Ian McKellen, but the two quickly became friends, being the oldest actors on the set (though Lee was 17 years older). When McKellen was cast as Gandalf, Lee was 78 years old and McKellen was 61.

Lee shot most of his scenes in Wellington, in the main studio, but also shot one scene in Wellington's national park. He visited New Zealand four times, the longest time being ten weeks. He later did some post-synching in London.[source?]

While jet-lagged, Lee broke his hand smashing it against a wall.[source?] Several shots of him in the finished films show him carefully hiding this bandaged left hand.

Other projects[edit | edit source]

Known for his booming voice, Christopher Lee has sung operas, and performed with the Tolkien Ensemble on their CDs At Dawn in Rivendell and Leaving Rivendell. He sang the role of Treebeard, as well as reciting numerous other poems.

Lee has recounted his life and his connections with Tolkien's work in the foreword to Chris Smith's The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare, and in chapter 74, titled "Spellbinder", of his autobiography, Lord of Misrule.

Lee agreed to reprise his role as Saruman for The Hobbit film series on the condition that, due to his age, he did not have to fly out to New Zealand to be filmed. As a result all of his close-up his scenes as Saruman in this film where shot in London and not in New Zealand, while his stunt scenes where shot in New Zealand with a body double.[3]

Roles[edit | edit source]

Quotations[edit | edit source]

What Professor Tolkien achieved is unique in the literature of my lifetime. Indeed, in my opinion, he had reached the peak of literary invention of all time. Nothing like it has ever existed, and probably never will.
—Christopher Lee, foreword to The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare

It's just going to be...I'm trying to think of the right word - without making it sound like the usual fashionable superlative. I think it will create film history. I think it's going to have the biggest impact, on screen, of anything of the last 40 or 50 years
—Christopher Lee, SFX Magazine June #65

Saruman is number one. Saruman is, very definitely, the most brilliant, the most powerful, with the greatest intellect and the greatest knowledge. Gandalf...well he's number two. But Saruman's whole character becomes perverted and distorted and he lusts for power and gradually, as it very often does, the old famous quote 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'.
—Christopher Lee, Fox's Quest for the Ring

I did meet him [Tolkien], very briefly, in the Fifties. It was in a pub that he used to go to in Oxford, called the Eagle and Child. I was there having a beer and I was completely overcome when he walked in. I had already started reading the books and thought, "This man has created a unique form of literature - one of the great works of all time." While I was filming The Lord of the Rings, I thought about what he would have thought all the time, and hope he would have approved. I'm still an enormous fan - I read The Lord of the Rings every year.
The Independent, 11 February 2009

Awards[edit | edit source]

Bibliography, selected[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. Anita Singh, "Sir Christopher Lee dies at 93 - latest reaction and tributes" dated 11 June 2015, telegraph (accessed 14 February 2016)
  2. "Interview with Christopher Lee, Ian Mckellen, and John Rhys", (accessed 12 June 2013)
  3. Michelle Jaworski, "This is what Christopher Lee's final 'Hobbit' scene looked like on set" dated 20 March 2020, Daily Dot (accessed 16 October 2022)