In Hollywood, anyone can be “attached” to a project, but that doesn’t mean they almost had the role. Casting rumors are as much a part of the Hollywood Hype machine as the actual casting is – an effort to drum up excitement and interest in new projects. But rumors, auditions, and being “in talks” doesn’t mean you almost got to play an iconic role. This list explores the actors who really almost had these roles, and who may have given us a great performance, before ultimately being replaced by egos, studio politics, or plain bad luck.
(Note: We used any footage or pics of the actor in the role when possible, but considering some of these casting decisions never reached the photography stage of production, we put in some of the final characters’ clips so you can use your imagination.)
Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly – Back to the Future
This is on everyone’s list so let’s get it out of the way first: In 1984, the filmmakers’ first choice to play Marty McFly was then TV star Michael J. Fox. Unfortunately MJF’s hit show, Family Ties, would not give him any time off to film the role, since Meredith Baxter was out on maternity leave. Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale tried to postpone, but the studio demanded the cameras start rolling, or else the film would be scrapped. Enter Eric Stoltz. Having wrapped on St. Elsewhere, Stoltz was ready and available to play the time-traveling teen, and he filmed five weeks worth of footage before the the filmmakers decided they still wanted Michael J. Fox. They convinced Spielberg and Universal to let them re-shoot with MJF, who was by then available to shoot on nights and weekends.
Had the studio said no to this, the production would have been forced to finish with Stoltz. I actually think the movie’s story, style and supporting characters were strong enough that the film would shine regardless of the lead, but maybe Stoltz would have added something unexpected that we never saw coming – and we never will.
Dougray Scott as Wolverine – X-Men
2000 was going to be the breakout year for Scottish actor, Dougray Scott. First, he was cast as the villain in Mission Impossible II (better known as MI:2 John Woo Boogaloo), then he signed on to play Marvel’s most famous cigar-chomping mutant in Bryan Singer’s X-Men. But Dougray Scott was suddenly faced with a conflict; when filming on MI:2 was delayed, it created a conflict with his upcoming X-Men shooting dates. He then had to choose: Should he do the nerd movie, with sideburns and knife hands, and where he is only one cog in a 15 person cast? Or should he play the main bad guy in a proven franchise, where he gets to motorcycle-fight Tom Cruise, and rub up on Thandie Newton?
At the time, the last major comic book flick was the garish Batman and Robin, which left a latex-nipple taste in everyone’s mouth, and caused most superhero scripts to go to the bottom of the pile. So Dougray’s choice was clear, and Bryan Singer brought in Aussie unknown, Hugh Jackman, to take over as Wolverine.
No one knew X-Men would bring superhero movies out of their disastrous “Camp” age, nor did they realize these movies could actually get emotional and be taken seriously, thus appealing to a wider audience (Sorry, Blade). Had Scott stayed with X-Men it would have been a turning point for his career. Like, you probably would’ve been watching him, instead of Gerard Butler.
But speaking of Comic Books and Tom Cruise…
Tom Cruise as Tony Stark – Iron Man
In the early 00’s, Marvel was in talks to have Cruise star as Tony Stark in what would become the start of the Marvel Cinematic Empire. Cruise was eager to play the part but eventually left the film after Marvel failed to deliver a script that Cruise would approve of. Here is what he had to say about it,
“They (Marvel) came to me at a certain point and … when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.”
Cruise was right about the script feeling like it was lacking; when Jeff Bridges was interviewed about the making of Iron Man, he said there never was a script to begin with. Bridges, director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. would “act out” sequences during rehearsals, improvising their way to a finished scene. Bridges said that the entire production was probably saved by the improv prowess of the film’s director and star.
“So I said, ‘Oh, what we’re doing here, we’re making a $200 million student film. We’re all just fuckin’ around! We’re playin’. Oh, great!’ That took all the pressure off. ‘Oh, just jam, man, just play.’ And it turned out great!”
That energy did save the film, but imagine what the film that could’ve been, if they’d had a solid script before they started. And I don’t care what you think of Tom Cruise’s personal life, that man is one of the most charismatic movie stars on the planet, and I bet if he had been given a solid script, we would have enjoyed his version of Stark just as much as RDJ’s.
Emily Blunt as Black Widow – Iron Man 2
Blunt was just coming off her role in The Devil Wears Prada for 20th Century Fox and was becoming an in-demand actress. Marvel sensed her potential, and wanted her to play the Black Widow in Iron Man 2. But Blunt was under a contract to do two movies for Fox, and Fox wanted her to play the romantic lead in the Jack Black version of Gulliver’s Travels. Fox pushed up production on Gulliver in order to directly conflict with the schedule for Iron Man 2, creating a stalemate. With neither studio budging, Blunt was forced to back away from Marvel or else breach her contract with 20th.
Emily Blunt is just a better choice for Black Widow. ScarJo is fine I guess, but all you have to do is watch Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow to get a sense of the badassery she’s capable of. Bonus: More Tom Cruise in that one.
Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man – The Wizard of Oz
When production began on The Wizard of Oz in 1938, Buddy Ebsen was first cast as the Scarecrow, and Ray Bolger was the Tin Man. But Ray didn’t want to play the Tin Man, he wanted to be the Scarecrow, and he complained to the Studio so much that they agreed to let Ray switch parts with Buddy. Buddy was just happy to be in a major studio production, so he eagerly agreed to play the Tin Man. But after rehearsing and recording all the songs, Buddy became deathly ill from the aluminum dust that was in the Tin Man’s silver makeup. But while Buddy was in the hospital barely clinging to life, the production gave his role to Jack Haley.
Buddy ending up outliving both of the other actors and went on to play Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.
Tim Roth as Professor Severus Snape – Harry Potter
Tim Roth was offered the role that kills Dumbledore, but he turned it down to play the villain in another anticipated movie, Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Burton’s Apes is considered one of his worst movies, but it had one of the best performances – by Roth. He added these amazing animalistic mannerisms and tics to the character, making you forget it was an English man in makeup. Plus, it was an extremely intense character that fit Roth’s highly energetic style of acting. Even when he is not moving, there is a restlessness to him that keeps the audience on high-alert. And so it makes sense that he would pick this character over Snape.
Chris Farley as Shrek – Shrek
Over 80-90% of the film was recorded with Farley’s voice before he died in 1997, and recently part of the recording was released with some of the original animatics. It’s surprising how similar Mike Meyers’ voice is to Farley’s – minus the Scottish accent, the tones are nearly the same. Although Meyers was an excellent Shrek, Farley would have brought in a bit more the fun, gruff ogre side, and would have won the audience over with that genuine sweetness only he could pull off.
Winona Ryder as Mary Corleone – The Godfather Part III
In 1990, gossip magazines reported with fervor that Winona Ryder dropped out of The Godfather Part III. Nervous breakdowns and unplanned pregnancies were the go-to headlines, but a few weeks after she’d left the production, Ryder gave this statement to the Los Angeles Times:
“I’d done three films in a row: Great Balls of Fire, . . . Roxy Carmichael and Mermaids. Right after (Mermaids) wrapped, I flew to Rome with a terrible upper-respiratory infection and a 104-degree fever. I literally couldn’t move. The studio doctor told me to go home, said I was too sick to work. It wasn’t my choice. It was out of my hands. Sure it’s disappointing, devastating in fact. I wish it didn’t happen . . . but it did.”
Director Francis Ford Coppola gave the role to his daughter, Sofia Coppola, since she was visiting at the time. The movie was nominated for several awards including seven Academy Awards, but the only two it won were Sophia’s Razzies for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star.
Warren Beatty As Bill – Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino has made a reputation revitalizing actors careers. After the massive failure that was Town and Country, Beatty needed a win. He was interested in the character of Bill, especially when he was told it wouldn’t be much more than a few days of filming. As discussions continued and the script was shoring up, Beatty grew increasingly concerned that it was too long. But he was trooper, until an acting note finally pushed him over the edge. Tarantino kept pushing Beatty to “Act more like David Carradine!”
…Until Beatty finally replied, “Then why don’t you hire David and leave me the hell alone.”
Frank Sinatra as Harry Callahan – Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry was one of the biggest scripts in Hollywood at the time, and the studio wanted Frank to play Inspector Harry Callahan. They even went so far as place an ad in the paper toting “Ol’ Blue Eyes” as Dirty Harry. Talking to MTV in 2008, Eastwood recalls the phone call that offered him the role again:
“Frank Sinatra’s got some problem with his hand and he can’t hold a gun.” That sounded like a pretty lame excuse, but it didn’t matter to me. I said, “I’ll do it.”
That lame excuse was a broken wrist he suffered while filming The Manchurian Candidate and prevented him from hoisting Harry Callahan’s famous magnum. So he had to quit. John Wayne was next offered the role, but immediately turned it down because he “didn’t like being offered Sinatra’s rejections.”
Only the Duke could turn down one of the manliest roles in history, in a damn manly way.
Steve McQueen as The Sundance Kid – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Originally titled The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy, both actors couldn’t agree on who deserved top billing. Neither budged, and McQueen eventually left. So the producers brought in a then unknown Robert Redford – who was a lot less money and didn’t mind letting Butch go first.
Fun Fact! : The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, was developed back in the 70’s and originally starred Steve McQueen and Diana Ross.
Tom Selleck as Indian Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark
George Lucas did not want Harrison Ford to star in another one of his movies, fearing people would think Ford was “his De Niro” (a la Scorsese). So Spielberg and Lucas decided they wanted Tom Selleck to crack the whip in Indy’s first film. But Selleck had just shot a pilot for CBS, and the studio wouldn’t let him out of his contract to film Raiders. Fortunately, the pilot was called Magnum P.I. and it made Selleck a household name.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford in the role, but I think Tom Selleck would have made an amazing Indy. It would have been a totally different character, but I think it would have been a lot more fun.
Sean Connery as Gandalf, Dumbledore, Morpheus, and John Hammond – LOTR, Harry Potter, The Matrix, and Jurassic Park
Aside from Jurassic Park (when Connery just wanted too much money) he has said that he turned down these offers because the scripts “didn’t make sense.” From the outside, it might appear that Connery turned down these iconic roles because he was confused or out of touch. But these movies were the turning point for special effects – before them, there was no WETA, Bullet Time, or highly rendered Hogwarts. In his defense, every time Connery had tried to dip his toe into a fantastical genre in the past, we ended up with movies like Zardoz, The Avengers (not the good one), and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I mean, the guy has been burned a lot – understandably he passed on these roles. But it wasn’t because he was out of touch or they didn’t make sense, he was likely just spooked by a familiar Hollywood promise: “Trust us, it’ll look great.”