By Ross Miller
Sometimes an actor takes on a role that becomes so synonymous with them that we can’t get our head around the idea of anyone else filling their shoes. However, it’s actually the case that many big name actors have almost played roles that ultimately became associated with someone else.
Whether they couldn’t fit it into the schedule, turned out not to be right for the part or flat out turned it down, we’re taking a look at some of the actors who almost played some of the world’s most iconic movie and TV roles.
Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones
Screen heroes don’t get more iconic than Indiana Jones, perfectly played by Harrison Ford. But once upon a time the famous fedora was almost worn by Tom Selleck, best known (depending on your age) as either Magnum P.I. or as Monica’s older boyfriend Richard in Friends. He apparently turned it down in favour of taking on his fondly remembered Magnum role. Do you think he would have made a good Indy? Watch his screen test and decide for yourself.
Matthew Broderick – Walter White
The iconic role of chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in Breaking Bad is intrinsically linked with Bryan Cranston. It’s weird to think, that he was almost played by Ferris Bueller himself Matthew Broderick. AMC executives initially found it hard to see past Cranston’s zany Malcolm in the Middle persona and so sent out scripts to other actors of whom Broderick was the frontrunner (John Cusack was also mentioned at one point). But then the execs saw Cranston in an episode of The X Files called “Drive” (coincidentally written by Breaking Bad‘s creator Vince Gilligan) and the rest is history.
Sean Connery – Gandalf
The legendary literary character of wizard Gandalf the Grey was brilliantly brought to life by Sir Ian McKellen, but it would have made for a very different Lord of the Rings adventure if the role had been accepted by Sean Connery as was originally planned. The incomparable Scotsman was reportedly offered a whopping $19 million and 15% of the box office takings which would have netted him hundreds of millions of dollars. But he turned it down because he apparently didn’t understand the script and role. Fool of a Took!
Dougray Scott – Wolverine
The role of Wolverine in the first X-Men movie put Hugh Jackman on the Hollywood map. He ended up in the role after fellow Aussie Russell Crowe wasn’t interest in it and recommended him, but not before director Bryan Singer cast our very own Dougray Scott as the iconic self-healing mutant. But due to scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible II – in which he played the villain opposite Tom Cruise – Scott backed out and Jackman eventually got the part more than three weeks into filming.
Will Smith – Neo
Before he was played by Keanu Reeves, The Matrix’s Neo was almost played by one of Hollywood’s biggest superstars, Will Smith. However, the Fresh Prince turned down the role in favour of doing comedy action Western Wild Wild West instead. Say what?! Smith has since said he has no regrets over turning it down, not because he thought Wild Wild West was better (it clearly isn’t) but rather he felt he wasn’t ready to take on such a role at that point in his career. It certainly would have made for a totally different film!
Nicolas Cage – Superman
It’s truly hard to imagine it but at one point during the ‘90s the mighty Nicolas Cage was positioned to play the Man of Steel in the ill-fated Superman Lives movie, which was to be directed by Tim Burton. Bizarre! But despite scripts being written (one by Clerks writer/director Kevin Smith) and Cage even testing out the suit (see above), the project eventually fell through. As well as the image above, you can gain some (hilarious) insight into why by watching Smith talk about his involvement with the project’s producer John Peters in one of his famous stand-up shows.
Eric Stoltz – Marty McFly
Many actors almost play big roles but are merely a pre-production frontrunner. But that wasn’t the case when Eric Stoltz almost played Marty McFly in Back to the Future. He had actually already been cast in the role and had filmed four weeks’ worth of footage. However, director Steven Spielberg ultimately thought he played the part too seriously, scrapped the footage he had so far and recast Michael J. Fox instead. You can see Stoltz in action as Marty here.
Jim Carrey – Captain Jack Sparrow
It’s almost impossible to think of anyone else playing the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow. But did you know he wasn’t actually Disney’s first choice for the role? They initially wanted none other than Jim Carrey to don the pirate garb, but he purportedly couldn’t commit due to scheduling conflicts with Bruce Almighty. As much as we love Carrey and his great comic sensibilities, we’re frankly glad he couldn’t make the timing work!
Ray Liotta – Tony Soprano
The late-great James Gandolfini was absolutely perfect in the role of mob boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s award-winning family crime drama The Soprano. However, the role was originally offered to Goodfellas star Ray Liotta, but he turned it down because he wanted to focus on movie roles and it would have meant years of time commitment. He was later offered the role of Ralph Cifaretto (ultimately played by Joe Pantoliano) but turned that down, too. We’re sure he didn’t want to be typecast as a mobster actor for the rest of his career.
John Travolta – Forrest Gump
Whether you find it endearing or claw your skin at its schmaltzy sentimentality, there’s no denying Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning role in Forrest Gump has become an indelible part of movie culture since its release in 1994. But we bet you didn’t know that the role was almost played by John Travolta. He was the studio’s first choice but for whatever reason he turned it down, a decision he has since admitted regretting. It’s hard to imagine Travolta telling us that “Life is like a box of chocolates,” isn’t it?