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Michael Gambon's Most Unforgettable Role

With a sixty year long career in acting, one Gambon role still stands out above all others

By Ben UlanseyPublished 4 months ago 3 min read
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Warner Bros.

For those who grew up with the Harry Potter movies, they likely see Michael Gambon's face as the apotheosis of warmth and wisdom. Taking over the role of Professor Albus Dumbledore upon the death of the beloved Richard Harris, though, it was no easy task he had before him trying to fill those shoes. Famously, though, Gambon didn't even attempt to. He didn't read the books, and he didn't allow his approach to the character to be tainted by Harris's prior portrayal.

It was the novelty he brought to the character that defined what Dumbledore was for so many: a beacon of light and knowledge, a powerful, mercurial force for good, and a kind, shrewd and eccentric paradox who was never shy of a word to say.

But even in the unique approach that Gambon took to embodying the venerated professor, his portrayal still manages to stand as one of the most effective carryovers between the novels and the cinematic adaptations.

His character is explored in less depth than in the novels, and many of his more long-winded moments of dialogue are streamlined and omitted. The result, though, is a palpable feeling of weight whenever the wizened wizard enters a room. He commands both gravity and levity and expertly toes the line between the two.

One of the most notable features of the Harry Potter franchise is the way in which it indelibly stamped nearly all those involved in the decade long project. Even those who've never seen the Harry Potter movies will forever recognize Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson as the famed magical trio of the beloved family films. But no less iconic were the actors cast to play the wizarding school's various personalities and professors.

Even when parsing between masterful pairings like Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid, Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall, and Alan Rickman's Snape, I'm not sure there's a single actor who more expertly embodied the character of his source material than Gambon as Professor Dumbledore. Not only did he manage to personify one of the series' most complicated, and memorable characters, but he in so many ways elevated it.

And even while Gambon's acting career had begun entire decades before Harry Potter was written, spanning from Sleepy Hollow and The Book of Eli to The Good Shepherd and Amazing Grace, it's his role in this beloved franchise that stands proudly as his magnum opus. Like the timeless opening theme that colored the career of John Williams, Michael Gambon will live on as the face of Albus Dumbledore.

In the entire cinematic franchise, so many of the most exciting moments fall into the hands of Michael Gambon and the measured, fiery prowess he commands. The duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a dazzling display of wizardly wrath. The scenes preceding Dumbledore's death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are among the most gripping in the entire series.

And his death - one of the most poignant, thoughtful, haunting and harrowing moments I've ever seen depicted on film. His soulful final look toward Harry. The stoically loaded look on his face as he falls from the tower. The sight of that giant of personality laying lifeless on the ground. The somber wands with brightened tips raised meekly toward a darkened sky. It's a scene that's replayed in my mind with a renewed intensity these past couple of days.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, one of the movie's concluding scenes features a final conversation between Harry and Dumbledore. In the book, the scene is stretched out long enough to almost dull the impact of some of the septology's most soul-stirring words. It tells but doesn't show. But in Gambon's soft-spoken voice, he carries what will always endure for me as the series' two most important lines.

"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love."

"Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, why should that mean it's not real?"

I think they're two especially beautiful quotes to be remembered by.

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About the Creator

Ben Ulansey

Ben is a word enthusiast who writes about everything from politics, religion, film, AI and videogames to dreams, drones, drugs, dogs, memoirs, and terrorizing Floridians with dinosaur costumes.

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