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Scottish actor Sean Connery turned down the largest actor's pay cheque in cinema history when he refused an offer to play Gandalf in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Scotsman newspaper reports.

If the actor had put on the long white beard and clasped the wizard's staff as the hero of Middle Earth he would have earned as much as £ 225 million ($647 million).

Jackson has revealed that New Line Cinema, the production company behind the films, offered the Scottish actor between 10 and 15 per cent of worldwide box office takings to secure his participation.

A copy of the script was delivered to the actor in 1999 and the lucrative offer was put to CAA, the agency that manages him.

But The Scotsman newspaper reported Sir Sean turned the offer down as he did not understand the complicated plot of J R R Tolkien's fantasy.

If he had accepted the terms of the contract, which included a small fee but a large chunk of the film's future earnings, he would have earned more from a single screen role than any actor in movie history. The role eventually went to another British actor, Sir Ian McKellen who was later nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

The three films in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring (2000), The Two Towers (2001) and The Return of the King (2002), earned a total of $4.3 billion at the box office, which would have meant the former Bond actor would have earned between $431 million and $647 million.

The fee would have dwarfed the $66.14 million earned by Jack Nicholson under a similar deal for his role as The Joker in Batman, released in 1989.

The offer, which had previously remained confidential, was revealed in the recent new biography of Jackson, A Film-Maker's Journey by Brian Sibley.

In the book, Jackson said he was under pressure from the producers to cast Sir Sean in the role.

Jackson explained: "New Line were indicating that having a major name like Connery was necessary in order for them to green-light the film. They asked us if we would agree to send a copy of the Fellowship screenplay to Sean with a view to enticing him to play Gandalf.

"I couldn't imagine him wanting to spend eighteen months in New Zealand, and I didn't think they could afford his fee, but Mark Ordesky - the film's executive producer - told me New Line were going to offer a small fee in exchange for a large slice of the gross.

"Mark said New Line was prepared to give him between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the films' income. Some kind of offer must have gone in because in April 1999 the script was bundled off to Sean who read it - and declined the role."

Last year Sir Sean explained his decision to turn down the role: "Yeah, well, I never understood it. I read the book, I read the script, I saw the movie. I still don't understand it. I would be interested in doing something that I don't fully understand, but not for eighteen months."

Jackson is in dispute with New Line over earnings he believes he is still due from the sales of DVD and computer games based on the trilogy.

- NZPA