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Harry Potter: Why Michael Gambon Is The Best Dumbledore (& Why It'll Always Be Richard Harris)

Harry Potter: Why Michael Gambon Is The Best Dumbledore (& Why It'll Always Be Richard Harris) Image
  • Posted on 18th May, 2022 16:45 PM

From Michael Gambon's edginess to Richard Harris' gentle, kindly aura, here are some reasons why each actor made such a great Dumbledore.

Harry Potter will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most successful and famous children's stories of all time. These stories captured the minds and hearts of a generation, and people young, old, and anywhere in between continue to become superfans of the breathtaking saga. When Harry Potter first started gaining steam, no one could have fathomed how successful both the books and the films would end up being.

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Albus Dumbledore is one of the most iconic characters in literature, and when it came to adapting the Harry Potter books to the screen, finding the perfect Dumbledore was no easy task. However, lightning managed to strike twice, as both actors who played the role did a wonderful job and made Albus uniquely their own.


Updated on January 13th, 2022 by Hilary Elizabeth: Aside from the core three characters of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, Albus Dumbledore is arguably the most iconic player in the entire series.

The character owes at least part of his popularity to the two fantastic actors who played him in the movies, and both Michael Gambon and Richard Harris popularized him for different reasons.

Michael Gambon Is The Best Dumbledore Because

He's Refreshing

Harris's Dumbledore may be more faithful to the books, but he doesn't seem quite as nuanced in the first two films. Gambon's Dumbledore is unpredictable, exciting, refreshing. He has a lot more energy than Harris's Dumbledore, which is clear in his movements and his speech. It's hard to imagine Harris embarking on the dangerous adventures depicted in the later Harry Potter movies.

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Michael Gambon a welcome change to the film franchise for several reasons, even if he isn't faithful to the books. After all, the point of an adaptation is not to copy the source material, but to adapt it.

His Spunky Attitude Meshes Well With The Teen Characters

Richard Harris' version of Dumbledore seems like the ideal man to care for children, but Michael Gambon's performance matches the vibe of the teenage characters much more naturally.

Despite being an elderly man, his wild and vibrant attitude makes him much more relatable to the slightly older versions of the Golden Trio, and it feels like he's actually preparing them all for the enormous task ahead of them rather than just being a teacher mentoring children.

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He Suits The New Darkness

As Harry gets older, the stakes are heightened. He has to come face-to-face with the Dark Lord, and the world around him is changing. Death Eaters are roaming the Muggle world, his friends are in danger, and he needs to learn more powerful magic quickly.

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The arrival of Dementors and mysterious dogs in the third film marks a very big change from the two previous films. Even the color palette of this film is darker. Harris's Dumbledore would seem out of place in this shadowy world, while Gambon's mysterious character suits it. His approach to Dumbledore also hints at a darkness in his own past which isn't present in Harris's.

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He Trained Under Laurence Olivier

This isn't to say that Richard Harris is a slouch when it comes to his acting training - his legendary career speaks for itself. However, when it comes to understanding and learning the craft of acting, no film actor can compare to Laurence Olivier.

According to The Times UK, Olivier recruited him for the National Theatre Company, which Olivier himself had only recently founded at the time. From these humble beginnings, Michael Gambon has gone on to win dozens of acting awards in his career, including three Olivier Awards.

He Brings The Playfulness That Dumbledore Needs

"Playful" may seem like a strange way to describe Dumbledore, especially Gambon's, but somehow the actor manages to make him feel that way. Richard Harris brought a gentle cheer to his version of Dumbledore, but Gambon made Albus feel like more of a rebel.

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Dumbledore may be the headmaster of the school, but it's one of the strangest and most free-wheeling schools that anyone has ever seen. It makes a lot of sense for Dumbledore to be much relaxed and seem like he's even in on the fun sometimes.

He's Badass Enough For Dumbledore

One thing that everyone knows about Dumbledore is that, although he would never use his magic on students and seldom uses his magic in school, he has gone toe-to-toe with the strongest and most dangerous dark wizards in the world.

Michael Gambon makes the audience believe that all of this is true. Dumbledore is an older man now, but Gambon allows the audience to see what kind of fights he must have gotten into as a young man, as well as conveying that he still has that fighting spirit in him.

He Brings Dumbledore's Youthfulness

Dumbledore may quite literally be a wizened wizard, but what makes Michael Gambon's performance so compelling is that he has the kind of attitude and spring in his step that allows him to perfectly blend in with the tweens and teens that are in his charge.

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This Dumbledore feels relatable, like someone who has made mistakes and who will probably make more. In his early years at Hogwarts, Harry sees Dumbledore as a kind of infallible mythic figure, so Gambon's ability to humanize him and make him feel more down to earth was just what Dumbledore needed.

He Captures Dumbledore's Chaotic Side

Dumbledore may have decades of life experience under his belt, but the stoic and measured demeanor of Richard Harris doesn't quite encompass everything that Albus truly was.

While Michael Gambon still captured the more mature aspects of the character, he could also believably portray the wilder and more unpredictable Dumbledore. It's hard to imagine Harris' Dumbledore raising Harry with the intention of him possibly dying in service of the greater good, but Gambon's version seems capable of such a decision.

He's More Intimidating

In order to believably play Albus Dumbledore in the later installments of the Harry Potter films, the performer needed to have a certain dark gravitas that Richard Harris simply didn't possess.

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Michael Gambon was an ideal Dumbledore because it was actually believable that a villain as terrifying as Voldemort would be intimidated by this version of Dumbledore. Gambon could sell the audience on the idea that the Dark Lord was frightening, but Albus was even scarier.

He Wasn't Afraid Of The Role

Given how renowned and skilled an actor Michael Gambon is, his humbleness and ability to underplay his achievements is pretty impressive. Taking over the role of Albus Dumbledore is something that most actors would find intimidating, but when Richard Harris had already successfully played Dumbledore and when it was clear how well the Harry Potter movies were going to do, it was a whole other story.

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Even now, though, Gambon seems to feel very comfortable with it. He spoke to Future Movies and said that he basically just stuck on the beard, donned the costume, and went for it, as he has with every other role he's played.

Richard Harris Was The Best Dumbledore Because

He's More Faithful To The Books

In the books, Dumbledore is calm, collected, friendly, and intuitive. Richard Harris portrays these traits perfectly; he seems trustworthy and he's always quiet and soft-spoken even when his words are heavy.

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Gambon's Dumbledore, on the other hand, is loud, harsh, and demanding. For instance, when Harry's name is spat out by the Goblet of Fire, he ruffles Harry and shouts at him. In the books, he asks quietly whether he put his name in, already knowing the answer.

He's Someone Harry Can Talk To

Even if he is all-knowing, Dumbledore seems much more caring and personable in the first two films. He handles baby Harry with care as he leaves him to the Dursleys, even if the deed itself is somewhat careless. When Harry reaches school age, Dumbledore watches over him, but he's approachable.

Harry has a friendly conversation with him on several occasions; he isn't as distant and mysterious as Gambon's Dumbledore. This makes him feel more like a mentor than an enigma, and someone who really cares about Harry, whereas Gambon's Dumbledore makes Harry nervous. The two characters grow distant and their relationship feels less warm than it used to. In fact, Harry doesn't even trust him by the fifth film.

He Will Always Be The Original Dumbledore

First impressions count, and Richard Harris certainly leaves a lasting one. Faithful fans can't help but think of Richard Harris as the "true" or "original" Dumbledore.

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He helps to set the tone of the film series, and he establishes Dumbledore as a character, which is no easy task. Richard Harris will always be the first Dumbledore and the one who helps build the world of Hogwarts.

He Had Childlike Wonder

Albus Dumbledore is a character with a lot of depth and complexity to him, and the way he's played is often up to the actor. What makes Richard Harris stand out in his performance as Dumbledore is his demeanor.

Richard Harris makes a perfect Dumbledore in the early years of Harry Potter because, despite the fact that he is presented to appear ancient, he still seems like someone who looks at the world with a sense of childlike wonder and excitement. This is ideal for relating to young Harry.

He Oozed Wisdom

Although one of the bigger lessons that Harry ultimately ends up learning is that Dumbledore can't give him all the answers, he is a veritable fountain of knowledge regarding wizardry.

Michael Gambon undoubtedly comes across as a very sharp person, but Richard Harris just seems like the kind of man who would know absolutely everything. He's the picture-perfect embodiment of a wise mentor, and it's not hard to believe that he'd have the future of the wizarding world planned for years in the future.

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He Brought The Kindness That Dumbledore Needs

Albus Dumbledore may be one of the most powerful and skilled wizards who has ever lived, but he is also the headmaster of a school. It's a well-known fact that Dumbledore is unmatched, but Richard Harris's behavior makes Dumbledore look like someone who wouldn't hurt a fly.

He seems like the kind of person who children would meet and have full trust and faith in right off the bat, which works very well for the character, especially in the first two films when Harry is so young.

He Made Dumbledore Feel Timeless

One of the brilliant things about Richard Harris is that his version of Dumbledore almost feels removed from reality. He looks perfect in his role as the wizened wizard, and it wouldn't be hard to believe that he was playing a character that was a hundred or even a thousand years old.

Dumbledore is a real man but he is also a legend, and Richard Harris's Dumbledore really looks like the kind of legendary character who separates himself from the crowd and cements his legacy as one of the most exceptional wizards in history.

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He Felt Like A Real Teacher

In all fairness, it's not that difficult to manipulate ten-year-olds. But Richard Harris's version of Albus seemed like the kind of man who saw what was happening with his students, could sometimes foresee mistakes being made, but who would let those mistakes happen if it provided an opportunity to teach that student a valuable lesson.

Michael Gambon's Dumbledore feels a little cooler and a little more like someone to whom kids would be able to relate, but Harris's ability to make his relationships in the film really feel like relationships between a teacher and a student is fantastic.

He Felt Distant In The Way That Dumbledore Should

There is a natural amiability to Richard Harris' acting in the first two Harry Potter installments, but he also feels like a mystery to Harry himself.

One of the biggest realizations that Harry has after Dumbledore's death is how little he actually knew about the man who had been guiding him for so long, so Harris actually nailed that aspect of the character without making the distance between them feel cruel or misleading for Harry.

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He Was Afraid Of The Role, But Did It Anyway

When the casting process for Harry Potter began, Richard Harris was open about the fact that he was reluctant to even put his name in the running, let alone to take the gig. Harris was an incredibly accomplished actor by the time he was cast in Harry Potter, but according to The Guardian, he refused the role on three separate occasions before finally agreeing to take it.

Apparently, his granddaughter swooped in and saved the day. She told him that if he turned down the role, she'd never speak to him again, so he finally agreed to play the part.

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