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Ian McKellen, seen in London in March, has confirmed he will return to Middle Earth to portray Gandalf the wizard in the two-film production of The Hobbit. ((Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images))

Ian McKellen, who helped keep up online chatter about The Hobbit during a multitude of delays over the last few years, is heading back to Middle Earth.

The 71-year-old actor confirmed on his website Tuesday that he will reprise the role of the wizard Gandalf, which he memorably portrayed in Peter Jackson's award-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"For a year or more, I have been arranging my professional commitments around the possibility of The Hobbit films starting at almost any time," McKellen wrote on his website.

When word arose that a new film version of The Hobbit was being planned, McKellen publicly expressed interest in returning to the Gandalf role.

However, the project suffered repeated delays over the years because of financial troubles facing its studio, MGM, which is co-distributing the project with New Line, and the subsequent departure of director Guillermo del Toro because of the protracted production start date. There was also a controversy involving acting unions in New Zealand, where the films are to be shot.

Jackson, who was initially only co-writing the script and serving as producer, ultimately stepped in to be director, too.

Escape from Middle Earth

In the meantime, "I kept wondering was Gandalf what I most wanted to do, more than a new play for instance or indeed a new part?" McKellen wrote. "Could I let Gandalf go? Would anyone else care if I did?"

McKellen said he's been assured that the projected 18-month film shoot — slated to begin in Wellington in February — will include "sizable breaks" that will allow him to work on other projects as well.

"My worry that I could not easily escape from Middle Earth was lifted," he noted.

Along with McKellen, Lord of the Rings stars Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis have agreed to reprise their roles as Frodo, Galadriel and Gollum, respectively, for the two upcoming Hobbit films.

Actor Martin Freeman will portray the titular hero, Bilbo Baggins.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story contained a photo of actor John Hurt incorrectly identified as Ian McKellen.
    Jan 13, 2011 4:18 PM ET
With files from The Associated Press