Some film roles are so iconic that the actor who plays the part becomes synonymous with the character. Harrison Ford is Han Solo. Arnold Schwarzenegger is The Terminator. Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly. But if a few things had turned out differently, these characters could have ended up being played by other actors. Whether or not the alternatives would have been successful will never be known, but it’s fun to look back at these casting almosts and wonder “what if?”
Superstar Brad Pitt reportedly turned down the role of Tommy Williams, the brash young burglar who claims to have information exonerating Andy Dufresne. Instead, the role went to actor Gil Bellows, and Brad Pitt landed a role playing house with a crazy bi-sexual woman and a pan-ethnic smorgasbord of children.
As much as I like both David Letterman and Airplane, pairing them together just seems like a bad idea, especially considering Letterman was auditioning for the lead role of Ted Striker, which ultimately went to Robert Hays. I can think of at least ten reasons why that would have been a bad idea.
Long before Anne Hathaway was prepping for her upcoming role as Cat Woman or bombing at the Oscars, she was up for the lead female role in Knocked Up. Apparently, she backed out because she felt the film’s use of a prosthetic vagina was in bad taste. Katherine Heigl ended up getting the role. Apparently, she loves fake vaginas.
Both of these iconic actors auditioned for the part of Han Solo. While it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford in the role, I have to say that I think Christopher Walken might have pulled it off. If nothing else, the audition inspired the classic SNL sketch featured above.
Brad Pitt owned the role of Tyler Durdan in Fight Club, but Sean Penn almost ended up playing the deranged alter-ego. And while I’m sure Penn could have easily covered the character’s insanity, I’m not sure that he could have pulled off the likability that Pitt brought to the role.
Sir Ian McKellen was once in the running for the part of Dumbledore. I’m sure the actor would have been great in the role, but perhaps it’s for the best that he didn’t make it. After all, I’d hate to see such a versatile actor get typecast as a wizard.
It’s hard to imagine Back to the Future without Michael J. Fox. But it almost happened. In fact, Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly, and filmed for several weeks before the director decided to pull the plug and start over with Fox.
Can you imagine Mark Ruffalo playing the role of Merrill Hess instead of Joaquin Phoenix? I can. They could have used the reanimated corpse of Humphrey Bogart, and the movie still would have sucked.
Mike Myers Scottish accent is synonymous with the character of Shrek. But Chris Farley was originally cast in the role, and actually recoded some dialogue before his untimely death. Had he lived, I’m not 100% that the franchise would have been as successful, but who knows.
If this role had gone to Tom Selleck instead of Harrison Ford, would Indian Jones have worn a mustache? Or conversely, would Selleck have had to shave his signature facial hair? My puny mind is barley able to fathom such troubling alternate histories.
Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix. While the film was wildly successful, Smith says he has no regrets, since he thinks Keanu Reeves nailed the part. Besides, casting Smith alongside Laurence Fishburne would have broken the rules in regard to the number of badass black dudes in the same film. It’s a SAG thing.
Clearly, Arnold Schwarzenegger was born to play The Terminator. But even so, the producers were forced to go through the motions and have auditions for the part. O.J. Simpson was supposedly a contender, but his nice guy image prevented him from landing such a dark role. Irony, thy name is Hollywood.