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CONFIRMED: Ian McKellen returning to Middle Earth in 'The Hobbit'

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Sir Ian McKellan has inked a deal to reprise his role as Gandalf in "The Hobbit." The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision Blog reports that McKellan, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of J.R.R. Tolkein's wizard, is confirmed, hot on the heels of news that Andy Serkis will also be back to provide voice and motion capture performance for the CGI Gollum.

Both roles are pivotal to the Tolkein novel, which will be shot as one huge production, then released as two films, as was the Academy Award-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson returns to direct. Principal photography is scheduled to commence in New Zealand on Valentine's Day.

Elijah Wood signed on to reprise his role as Frodo last week, to the consternation and confusion of some fans of the novel, who scrambled to their bookshelves to see if they'd missed something. The Hobbit hero of "The Lord of the Rings" does not appear in Tolkein's novel, "The Hobbit." Cate Blanchett will also appear in the film as Galadriel. Orlando Bloom has reportedly been offered a chance to return as the elf archer Legolas. No confirmation at this time as to whether a deal has been made. Martin Freeman will play Bilbo Baggins, Richard Armitage has been cast as Thorin Oakenshield and James Nesbitt will play Bofur. Rumored but not confirmed actors include Leonard Nimoy as the voice of Smaug, David Tennant as Thranduil, and Saoirse Ronan as Itaril. Veteran actor Brian Blessed is rumored to be cast, no word as who. Hugo Weaving is widely assumed to be returning, but is not listed on IMDb.

McKellan has not accepted a major on-screen role since "X-Men: The Last Stand" in 2006, other than appearing in AMC's remake of "The Prisoner," and some voiceover work.

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