Roles that never were

A rather under reported aspect of the glamorous world of film is the nitty gritty of casting. We hear plenty of speculation about who’s being considered for a role, but you rarely hear about people who’ve turned a role down. Just imagine it; you’re a new actor/ress struggling to make your way into film making. You’ve done your fair share of minor appearances, but to date, have only accumulated 15 minutes of screen time – namely thanks to playing ‘Barry the bouncer’ in that awful indie film ‘The Club’. You’re dreading the day your agent is going to tell you that “for the sake of your career” you should start to consider those auditions for *insert awful TV drama comparable to Holby City/The Bill*. Your agent calls. Sickening dread floods your stomach. It’s the beginning of your slow decent toward children’s television. “Hello?” “You’ll never guess who turned down (role X). Well, you were next on their list kiddo! You’ve got your break!”

Here are a few of those actors and actresses who rejected some massive roles, and changed the course of cinema history as a result. It’s all a bit chaos theory from here on out, so hold on to your hats…

We’ll start with a biggy.

Before 1999, Will Smith had done pretty well for himself. He’d made a surprisingly successful move from music to acting, with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air launching him into living rooms across the globe. The cult classic of 1995, Bad Boys, made him an even bigger hit with Hollywood, and soon he was having to turn down casting calls left right and centre. Independence Day was a smash, as were Men in Black and Enemy of the State. The guy was on an indisputable role-roll.

Until old Willy made the wrong call. In the mid 1990s, several projects lined themselves up with Will’s name on them. One of them was Wild Wild West. It had ‘hit’ written all over it in big, money coloured letters. Kevin Kline was in it. Kenneth “I do Shakespeare” Branagh was the bad guy for crying out loud! Well, it was either that, or some film by the brothers who’d only made one successful film called Bound. It was about a computer hacker who stumbles across some mind blowing secret. The script was confusing, it was going to be heavy on special effects and stank of weird self indulgent mythology. It was called The Matrix. Keanu Reeves, you owe Will Smith BIG time.

How many people have heard of Gabrielle Anwar? She was in The Scent of a Woman. Type the name into Google and you’ll find approximately 516,000 results. Now how many people have heard of Kate Winslet? A similar Googling, and you’ll find 3,730,000 results. Now Gabrielle might be glad that her life hasn’t been plagued by the interference that goes hand in hand with the fame that someone like Kate Winslet has, but surely, as an actress, she must be a bit miffed she hasn’t been offered the same sort of roles as Kate. Sorry? She has? Which one? Gabrielle Anwar turned down ROSE IN TITANIC?! It’s alright Gabby, Claire Danes and Gwyneth Paltrow turned it down as well. The three of you can get together sometime, open a bottle of wine, and cry yourselves silly.

Mel Gibson knows his Hollywood potatoes. He’s been there, starred in that, had a decent go at directing and shouted at the wrong people. However, after he turned down the title role in Gladiator, you’d have to say that even the great Mr Gibson must have been left a little bit sore. I think we’re all quite grateful to Mel that he let Russell Crowe and his husky tones deliver one of the best performances of his career. Whilst Russell convinced us all he was a brooding Spaniard, Mel took on a proper American role for the woeful film that was The Patriot. Silly Mel.

This one bends the mind a little. We all love The Lord of the Rings. Everyone does, even the Pope, and he never likes anything. And we all love Ian McKellen as Gandalf. The casting was spot on, and no one else could have been quite as good as the great aged thesp, a man born to play the coolest wizard ever to have been penned (sorry Dumbledore). But hold on there. Did you know that Ian McKellen wasn’t the first man to get the call? The man who was originally wanted to play the great white wizard was in fact… Sean Connery. Yep. Get your head around that accent. “Ewyou, schall ne parss”. No thanks. In fact, McKellen wasn’t the only second choice in The Lord of the Rings line up. Uma Thurmon had to pull out of the role of Arwen as she was pregnant. Daniel Day-Lewis was the number one to play Aragorn, but he didn’t want it, so it was given to Stuart Townsend. However, when filming started, Peter Jackson felt that Stuart looked too young. Viggo Mortensen finally secured the spot, and with it, many girls’ hearts.

From the Two Towers to a tower block, Die Hard could have turned out very differently indeed. “Nothing Lastst Forever”, the book on which the film is based, had its movie rites purchased by a Mister Clint Eastwood. Apparently, Clint wanted to star in the film adaptation, set for the early 1980s, but the project never came together. When the film was given the green light and the casting made, Bruce Willis wasn’t the first nor even second choice for the lead role, but a rather astonishing 6th choice. The role was first offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Sylvester Stallone, then Burt Reynolds, then Richard Gere, then Harrison Ford, and finally Mel Gibson (that’s two now Mel) before Willis became a new action hero.

None of the above films suffered from not gaining their first choices; it could be said that many of them benefited, seeing surprising performances from a struggling star who knew how fortunate they were to get the role. Casting isn’t the most important facet of film making, but as the above discussion proves to us all, it does have a rather profound effect upon the finished product. Sean Connery with Hobbits? Mental…

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