With the rehabilitated curiosity – stemming from the footage that was recently released… albeit 25 years later! – in Eric Stoltz’s engagement as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” pre-Michael J.Fox, and of course the big casting switcheroo on “The Hangover 2” (Mel Gibson swapped for Liam Neeson), thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the could-have-been’s of the celluloid struggle.
The following list includes roles that some passed on, movies that an actor or actress was forced to pull out of for one reason or another (ultimately having to be replaced), and some, like Stoltz, that were vetoed either just before – or at the start of – a particular film’s shoot.
Hard to imagine the film adaptation of “Grease” without John Travolta’s cocky swagger and drum-piercing crooning, isn’t it!? Believe it or not Travolta wasn’t the first choice for the role of Rydell High T-Bird Danny Zuko, it was Henry Winkler (Fonzie from “Happy Days”) that was supposed to be the one telling his fellow jacketed buddies “more” while bunny-hopping across the bleachers! Winkler, who like Travolta was one of the next big things thanks to a popular TV stint (Travolta was on “Welcome Back Kotter”), was excited about the prospect of dancing his way onto the big screen but ultimately decided not to accept the role, fearing the role of Danny Zuko was too much like Arthur Fonzarelli. Smart… but oh so rich he could have been!
23. “Beetlejuice” (1988) – Sammi Davis Jr as ‘Beetlegeuse’
Michael Keaton was an afterthought. “Beetlejuice” director Tim Burton had originally decided to use Rat Packer Sammi Davis as ‘The Ghost with the Most’. As you could imagine, Burton had a hard time convincing the brass at Warner Bros that a ‘60’s superstar’ was the right man to lead an expensive new effects blockbuster – due out in 1988! Davis didn’t get the call (Davis instead co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in the ill-fated “Moon Over Parador”), instead Michael Keaton – who was coming off the critically acclaimed Ron Howard comedy “Gung Ho” – would be asked to spent eight-hours-a-day in a make-up chair, instead.
Charlie Sheen wasn’t a star in 1984 (he was still two years away from what was considered his big break, “Platoon”) but his name meant something, as a consequence, both Sheen and brother Emilio Estevez found many a door opening to them that would’ve otherwise had slammed shut if they weren’t the sons of Martin Sheen. Among the many offers Sheen received in the early ‘80s was one to play a bullied teenager who learns martial arts in an effort to protect himself against the thugs who make his life hell. Sheen passed on “The Karate Kid”, but brother Estevez’s “Outsiders” co-star Ralph Macchio jumped at it.
21. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) – Molly Ringwald as ‘Sally’
1989. Remember how big “When Harry Met Sally” was!? It was huge! The film ran for weeks on end in the theatres…. And it’s all because of, well, the great script and proficient direction (by Rob ‘Meathead’ Reiner), but the crackling chemistry of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Ryan (then hot off “Innerspace” and “The Presidio”) wasn’t Reiner’s first choice for the role of ‘Sally’ though, he actually wanted former Brat Packer Molly Ringwald to play the role. At the time Ringwald was growing a little tired of acting so passed on pretty much every offer that came her way (She even knocked back an offer to star opposite Richard Gere in a little movie called, um…oh! “Pretty Woman”!). Ryan got the part, Ringwald moved to Paris.
Took a long time for Michael Douglas to shake off the ‘Streets of San Francisco guy’ image, and as a consequence he was never the first name on any filmmaker’s lips when it came to these big movies – particularly something like “Wall Street”. Director Oliver Stone had offered the part to Richard Gere, but Gere wasn’t interested, so in walks Michael Douglas, ready and able to show Stone just what he’s made of. His effort earned him an Oscar.
19. “Romancing the Stone” (1984) – Christopher Reeve as ‘Jack T.Colton’
Christopher Reeve was a good actor. Audiences didn’t know that, since they were only use to seeing him playing a cartoon character, but some filmmakers were aware of the towering thespian’s capabilities (and we later were, when we saw him put in an amazing turn in “Street Smart”). One such filmmaker was a big fan of the late, great Reeve – Robert Zemeckis, and he’d actually asked the actor if he’d be keen on ditching the red undies for a few months and playing a grizzled adventurer-for-hire in a new romantic adventure comedy he was putting together titled “Romancing the Stone”. For some reason, Reeve didn’t do it…. So the “Streets of San Francisco Guy” snapped up the opportunity.
In the ‘80s, Michael Biehn was the Robert De Niro to James Cameron’s Martin Scorsese. Biehn worked on near everything with the up-and-coming filmmaker – “The Terminator”, “Aliens” and “The Abyss”, as well as, albeit briefly, “Terminator 2”. It was a match made in… post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. When Cameron snagged the rights to Spider-Man in the late ‘80s, his go-to guy was quickly locked into playing ‘young’ (?) Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Unfortunately for Biehn, for umpteen various reasons, production of the film was blocked (and blocked once more in the ‘90s when Cameron planned to do it with Leonardo DiCaprio) and it’s star and director would never work together again.
17. “True Lies” (1994) – Jodie Foster as ‘Helen Tasker’
Don’t see it myself, but in the early days of his action/comedy’s conception, James Cameron could envision nobody but Jodie Foster in the role of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lingerie-dancing wife. Cameron assumingly gave up drinking a couple of years later, because it was out with Foster and in with the much more aptly cast Jamie Lee Curtis!
Every young actress in town tested for the role of the dimish, mall-occupying vampire slayer in the Twentieth Century Fox movie (written by Joss Whedon) – but only after the studio’s original choice, “Who’s the Boss?” hottie Allysa Milano turned them down. Kristy Swanson laughed all the way to the…. er, unemployment line, whilst Milano would instead get her, er, kicks a year later in the equally junky “Double Dragon”.
15. “Face/Off” (1996) – Sylvester Stallone vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger
The big studios always tried to pair up action stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger. When the script for “Face/Off” landed in his pigeonhole, Captain Hollywood read it with an eye to ultimately casting the two biggest names in action in the film. By the time director John Woo was hired to helm the film a couple of years later, Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s appeal had started to wane and, amusingly enough, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage’s stars were on the rise again – thus, the latter twosome got the job.
Remember the game of musical chairs they were playing on the “Basic Instinct” sequel!? Went on for months! When Michael Douglas [sensibly] gave the project the birdie, the studio offered the male lead to near every decent actor in Hollywood. Downey Jr was their first pick, but when he was arrested with hooch, the studio cut him free from the project. I believe they next went to Kurt Russell… or was it Bruce Greenwood?
It was as much a sure thing as dark clouds producing rain, Tom Cruise was going to be Iron Man. Throughout the ‘90s Cruise’s name was frequently associated with the project, even when the project passed hands from Fox to New Line, with the actor himself confirming multiple times that he was not only interested but looking forward to playing, what he claimed, was one of his favourite superheroes. Cruise was also going to produce the film.
When New Line, who were set to make the film with Cruise, lost the rights to the film, the whole project went cold – only unthawing a couple of years later (at Paramount) with both a new actor (Robert Downey Jr) and new director (Jon Favreau) onboard.
12. “Hulk” (2002) – David Duchovny as ‘Bruce Banner’
Before deciding on relative newcomer Eric Bana, Universal and director Ang Lee met with several notable actors who they imagined could pertinently fill the amethyst shorts. One of those actors was David Duchovny, then a huge television star (thanks to “The X-Files”) making the transition into film, who was said to be jumping at the bit to ‘Hulk Smash’ San Francisco to bits!
11. ‘’48 Hours’’ (1982) – Mickey Rourke as ‘Jack Cates’
Walter Hill had asked Mickey Rourke, who the filmmaker was friendly with at the time (and still is, they’ve worked together a couple of times), to play the good guy cop opposite Eddie Murphy’s unrestrainable convict. Rourke, whose career was on the up and up at that stage, benevolently refused the offer.
Either because there was no money in it, or Sly didn’t like the idea of dying his hair blonde, he passed on the offer to play the burly cartoon character on the big screen. Sly suggested Dolph Lundgren, whom he had worked with on “Rocky IV”, would be a much better fit. He was right… not that it did much for Lundgren’s career.
9. “The Fugitive” (1993) – Alec Baldwin as ‘Dr. Richard Kimble’
Harrison Ford likes taking Baldwin’s sloppy seconds – either that, or the former carpenter can see potential where Baldwin can’t. Baldwin (who also handed the Jack Ryan franchise over to Ford after only the one film – “The Hunt for Red October”) was originally attached to play the deserter doctor in Andrew Davis’s big screen version of the old TV show but the thirty-something heartthrob ultimately abandoned the project (likely to do theatre) and Ford got involved – but not before Andy Garcia was offered the part. Smart move on Indy’s part.
8. “Blade Runner” (1982) – Dustin Hoffman as ‘Rick Deckard’
Hoffman, being the man-of-the-moment in the early eighties, was director Ridley Scott’s first pick to play closet android agency Deckard in the groundbreaking science-fiction classic. Hoffman ultimately pulled out because he was never truly convinced that he was the right to guy to play a “macho” action hero and likely knew he was only cast because his name meant something at the box office. Before Ford was approached, Scott had tested everyone from Gene Hackman to Clint Eastwood and Scott Glenn.
Travolta, being not only an accomplished actor but also a musician, was one of the first contenders (as far as back as 1986) to play the lizard king in the biopic. At one stage there was even talk of reforming the band, with Travolta on vocals, and going on tour. It was ultimately decided – not sure by whom, maybe Oliver Stone? – that Travolta is “too nice” a guy to play Jim Morrison, let alone tour with his edgy band.
6. “Ghost Rider” (2007) – Johnny Depp as ‘Johnny Blaze’
Johnny Depp was long interested in taking on the role of the blazing male protagonist but by the time Sony finally got around to doing the film Depp was a huge box office star, thus wasn’t as interested, let alone as available, to participate. Having missed out on Iron Man, not to mention Superman, comic-book fan Nicolas Cage jumped at the chance to play Blaze.
5. “The Expendables” (2010) – Wesley Snipes as ‘Hale Caesar’
Sylvester Stallone had wanted his “Demolition Man” co-star to play the role Terry Crews ended up playing in the hit actioner. Snipes was interested, but the film was due to lens in Brazil, and the actor’s tax problems meant that he couldn’t leave the USA. Forest Whitaker ultimately took on the role – even rewriting it – but was forced to leave a few days before production due to a scheduling conflict. Stallone then went to Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson but when he got wind that his fans weren’t happy with that decision he handed the part to brawny footballer cum actor Crews.
Mary Harron’s film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ book is a favourite of mine, largely because of – well, the writing but also – Christian Bale’s insanely superlative performance. Can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of the suited slaughterer, Patrick Bateman. Rumour has it that Christian Bale was originally attached but when Leonardo DiCaprio took a shine to the role the producers decided to dump the future Batman in favour of the bigger name. As a consequence, director Harron walked. DiCaprio then realized he wasn’t that interested in it, and both Harron and Bale returned. Said the “Titanic” actor, “’I liked the idea of that demented sort of character being put in an ’80s highbrow environment,” he says. ”But eventually I realized it didn’t amount to anything, it didn’t mean anything to me, and it was nothing that I really cared about when all was said and done.”
3. “Interview with the Vampire” (1993) – River Phoenix as ‘Molloy’
At the time of his sad, ill-timed death River Phoenix was filming his role as in director Neil Jordan’s film adaptation of the Anne Rice novel. Christian Slater took over the role, and wouldn’t accept payment.
2. “Man on the Moon” (1999) – Edward Norton as ‘Andy Kaufman’
Milos Forman had quite a difficult choice to make : Edward Norton or Jim Carrey? It was a decision based not so much on who would give the better performance but who might put more bums on seats. Both actors really wanted the role of the eccentric “Taxi” star but Forman, likely out of studio pressure, realized Carrey, having starred in some of the biggest films of the ‘90s (as opposed to Norton, whose main claim to fame at the time was playing third fiddle to Richard Gere and Laura Linney in “Primal Fear”) was probably going to bring more eyeballs to the film.
Having knocked his socks off with his turn in “To Die For”, director Gus Van Sant had hoped to retain the services of young Joaquin Phoenix for his controversial remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Unfortunately Phoenix was engaged at the time but offered Van Sant Vince Vaughn’s name as a feasible suggestion. Some might say Phoenix dodged a bullet.