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Ian McKellen is returning to Middle Earth to star as Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” currently in pre-production in New Zealand.

New Line confirmed Tuesday that McKellen, who starred in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has signed for the back-to-back “Hobbit” films. Jackson’s set to start shooting next month.

McKellen revealed on his own website that he’s due to start filming in Wellington on Feb. 21 after spending more than a year arranging commitments around the possibility of “The Hobbit” films starting.

“The deciding negotiation was not about money but about dates,” McKellen added. “Gandalf is needed on set over the next 18 months but with sizeable breaks when I can work on other projects. My worry that I could not easily escape from Middle Earth was lifted.”

The character, originated by J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Hobbit,” is a powerful wizard and integral to the pursuit of the titular One Ring. “Hobbit” cast includes Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis reprising their roles from “Lord of The Rings” trilogy.

Jackson, Fran Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham are producing the films with co-writer Philippa Boyens serving as co-producer and Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner as exec producers.

The “Hobbit” films will be released in December 2012 and December 2013 through Warner Bros.