Lord Of The Rings star Sir Ian McKellen will swap his wizard’s hat for a mortarboard when he receives an honorary degree from the University of Ulster. Sir Ian — whose characterisation of Gandalf in the Rings trilogy left audiences spellbound — will be made a Doctor of Letters for services to acting in February. The 74-year-old will reprise the role in the forthcoming Hobbit prequel, which also stars University of Ulster chancellor and fellow thespian Jimmy Nesbitt as Bofur the dwarf. The world premiere takes place in New Zealand tomorrow before opening in the UK on December 12. The Co Antrim star recently spoke of how he had struck up a great friendship with Sir Ian since the two began filming in New Zealand. Sir Ian has been invited to deliver the chancellor’s annual lecture at the university’s Magee campus in Londonderry, following in the footsteps of Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny. In a question and answer session with drama and media students at the Magee campus this month, Nesbitt described Sir Ian as “a very close friend”. Sir Ian’s career has spanned everything from Shakespeare and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction.