Sir Ian McKellen has said he would be "very pleased" to don his grey cloak and cape again to play Gandalf in the mooted movie version of The Hobbit.

The 68-year-old, currently touring the world as the lead in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of King Lear, told the Reuters news agency that he would be keen to reprise his role as the great wizard in the planned film of JRR Tolkien's book.

However, a legal dispute between studio New Line and Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson means that McKellen may not be uniting with the same production team that earned him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for The Fellowship of the Ring.

Though recent rumours suggest that the mud-slinging between Jackson and New Line may be coming to a close - the director has sued the studio over royalties - McKellen revealed that he has the Oscar-winner's blessing to play Gandalf even if another director takes the helm for The Hobbit.

McKellen said: "When Peter announced he had withdrawn from The Hobbit, he sent me an e-mail saying 'Because I am not going to do it, it doesn't mean you have to do the same. Of course, you must play Gandalf whether I direct or not'."

Sir Ian - also an integral part of the X-Men movie franchise - said of a potential Hobbit film: "I am glad to read that it is looking more and more likely. ... I would be disappointed if they didn't want to have the original Gandalf.

"I suppose if I am still functioning and working well, it is very likely I would be asked to do it and if I were, I would be very pleased to do it," he added.

15/10/2007 14:15:17