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Sir Ian McKellen is to return to New Zealand and don the grey beard of Gandalf to reprise his role in the upcoming film of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit.

The respected actor has confirmed on his website that he will play the wizard again, delighting fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Asked if he would take up the role, Sir Ian writes: "Yes, I will, if Peter Jackson and I have anything to do with it, he being the producer and me being, on the whole, a very lucky actor."

It is believed that a contract has not yet been signed but that plans are under way to start shooting one of two of The Hobbit films next year.

When asked by another fan if he had been approached by Jackson or anyone else, Sir Ian replies: "Encouragingly, Peter and Fran Walsh have told me they couldn't imagine The Hobbit without their original Gandalf.

"Their confidence hasn't yet been confirmed by the director, Guillermo del Toro, but I am keeping my diary free for 2009."

There has been concern over the making of The Hobbit.

Last year it was reported that the studio that produced the Lord of the Rings had told Jackson he would never work for them again. Robert Shaye, the New Line Cinema co-chairman, waded into a public row between Jackson and New Line after Jackson initiated legal action against the studio over profits from the three films.

But the parties came to an agreement last December, paving the way for Jackson to work on the eagerly awaited New Line adaptation of The Hobbit, the novel that precedes the Lord of the Rings.

Jackson, whose third film in the trilogy, The Return of the King, equalled the biggest ever haul of Oscars, has agreed to be executive producer of The Hobbit.

Sir Ian was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen in this year's honours, recognising his portrayal of the wizard and his Shakespearean performances.