Covered in Luck

A few days after I had updated an article, I saw a surge of traffic to it. “Ha!” I thought. “Maybe changing the title worked wonders after all.”

The next week, a friend messaged me about that very article. “Dude, that list of Dumbledore quotes sure was timely!” In an instant, it dawned on me, and a quick Google search confirmed: Michael Gambon, the actor who had played Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter, had died.

Though not having grown as old as his magical counterpart, who lived beyond 100, Gambon reached the ripe age of 82. Still, his death means we’ve lost a wonderful human. It also means my cosmetic changes to a piece of writing did not work miracles. They simply happened two days before an organic rise in people searching for the topic.

In 1988, some 35 years ago, Gambon was interviewed backstage while rehearsing for a theater play. “I think I’ve always felt lucky — to be working at all, you know. My first job was at the Old Vic with Sir Laurence, which was, to me, like a dream. And it’s been good ever since. I’ve always felt covered in luck.”

Covered in luck. Perhaps, that’s what I was when an extra 15,000 people came to read my article. Not skilled or smart. Just due for a bit of luck.

If Gambon felt lucky long before the role of his life, how must he have felt after? Unlike the many crooks and villains he otherwise so often portrayed, playing Dumbledore would secure him a spot in the hearts of muggles and wizards around the world — and that, too, just fell into his lap.

After fellow acting legend Richard Harris died two films into the series, Gambon’s phone rang, and he jumped on the opportunity — famously without having read any of the books. “I have been in five Harry Potter films and never read a Harry Potter book,” he once admitted. “If you are an actor, all you have is the script you are given. If you read the book, you might get disappointed about what’s been left out.”

Sometimes, it’s better not to know. Was that luck? Genius? A deserved break after years of toiling away? Who knows? Just enjoy it! Give thanks, and savor. Keep reading the script you’ve been given, doing the work you’ve been called to do, and don’t worry about what’s been left out.

From breaking into the London Zoo as a boy to landing his first acting gig thanks to a CV filled with imaginary accomplishments, Gambon was always a misfit, ready to stir up a bit of trouble if only for his own entertainment. He was also, however, incredibly hardworking and dedicated to the craft.

Not fond of fame and intensely protective of his privacy, Gambon would also often lie to journalists in interviews, just to get them off his back. “I’ve always tried to be an actor who… I just plod on and try to keep my mouth shut, mind my own business,” he said.

Work hard, focus on yourself and your contribution, and watch what happens. That seems to have been Gambon’s approach, an approach he found liberating — perhaps even more liberating than magic: “There’s no subtext in Harry Potter really; it’s all magic, anything can happen. It’s quite nice in a way. There is a real freedom to it. Doesn’t say much for acting, does it?”

What Gambon alluded to was that, at its best, acting is not so much acting as it is revealing yourself through your work. He never “played” Dumbledore. He became Dumbledore. A unique, personal interpretation of a character that was more Michael than Albus.

“I’m not really a character actor at all,” he once said in a Q&A, talking about the role. “I don’t have to play anyone really. I just stick on a beard and play me, so it’s no great feat. I never ease into a role — every part I play is just a variant of my own personality.” Well, if that’s not a great formula for being covered in luck — don’t you think?

Keep your head down, let the chips fall where they may, and enjoy whatever good might come your way. That’s how Michael Gambon survived for over six decades in the world of show business, a philosophy not just built for an impressive trajectory but for having fun along the way.

It’s a view on life you and I can learn from, whether we are performing Excel kung fu, breastfeeding while making sales calls, or writing quote lists of fictional characters. It might not always allow us to take credit for all our accomplishments, but if it makes us feel covered in luck about our career less than halfway through the journey, who are we to argue with the wisest, most powerful wizard to ever walk the earth?