Can you imagine Jack Nicholson playing the suave mob moss Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” or Al Pacino as the snarky Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise?
A character becomes iconic partly because of the actors who portray them, and it’s often impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role once the movie has screened.
Hollywood is riddled with what-ifs and could-have-beens and many actors have regrettably (or not) passed down career-changing roles because of a gut feeling, a scheduling conflict, or creative differences with the director.
Here are 22 actors who found themselves in just that position — and may have lived to regret it:
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Liam Neeson turned down the role of ‘James Bond’
Played by: Pierce Brosnan
Liam Neeson recently revealed that back in the 1990s, he was offered the part of GoldenEye in the “James Bond” franchise, but passed on the opportunity to take his martini “shaken, not stirred,” following the wish of his late wife, Natasha Richardson. The Schindler’s list actor opened up on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in 2021 about being approached for the part before Pierce Brosnan landed the role.
“My dear, departed wife did say to me…’ Darling, if you’re offered James Bond and you’re going to play it, you’re not going to marry me,” Neeson recalled in the interview.
Michael Keaton turned down the role of Phil in ‘Groundhog Day’
Played by: Bill Murray
OK, campers, get this: Bill Muray was not the first choice for portraying your favorite snarky weatherman in “Groundhog Day”— Michael Keaton was. The “Birdman” actor was offered the role of Phill Connors in the 1990s comedy hit but turned it down because he was not “getting the concept.” The actor told Entertainment Weekly he regrets his choice but admits that nobody could “do it better than Bill Murray did it.”
Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the role of Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’
Played by: Christian Bale
In 1997, following the unprecedented success of “Titanic,” Leonardo DiCaprio was “king of the world.” Unsurprisingly, every studio in Hollywood was eager to lure the golden boy into signing up for their next project. In fact, Lionsgate went as far as offering DiCaprio $20 million to portray the psychotic serial killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.” “The Wolf of Wall Street” actor initially accepted the offer, and the studio even issued a press release announcing the cast. In the end, DiCaprio left the project for undisclosed reasons, and Christan Bale was cast in the title role.
Daniel Day-Lewis turned down the role of Aragorn in ‘The Lord of the Rings’
Played by: Viggo Mortensen
In 2001, director Peter Jackson offered Day-Lewis the iconic role of Aragorn for his epic “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy multiple times, but the lengthy commitment of filming three films was too burdensome for the method actor. Stuart Townsend was originally cast before being replaced by Viggo Mortensen.
John Travolta turned down the leading role in ‘Forrest Gump’
Played by: Tom Hanks
Casting, just like life, is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get. For example, if John Travolta hadn’t been hard at work on another movie, we would have a different Forrest Gump today. Before the titular role in Robert Zemeckis’s classic went to Tom Hanks—who bagged an Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying the good-natured but simple-minded Forrest—John Travolta was the studio’s first choice. Travolta, however, declined the offer and opted to play Vincent Vega in Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece “Pulp Fiction.”
Michelle Pfeiffer turned down the role of Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Played by: Jodie Foster
Michelle Pfeiffer revealed in a recent interview that she declined a role in Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning horror “The Silence of the Lambs” due to its “evil” script.
The director had originally envisioned Pfeiffer playing Clarice Starling, but she could not justify the dark narrative of the film,
“With ‘Silence of the Lambs’ I was trepidatious,” she told The New Yorker.“There was such evil in that film. The thing I most regret is missing the opportunity to do another film with Jonathan [Demme].” The role ultimately went to Jodie Foster, who won an Oscar for portraying the FBI agent in the horror classic.
Christina Applegate turned down the role of Elle Woods in ‘Legally Blonde’
Played by: Reese Witherspoon
As it seems, Christina Applegate missed her chance to do “the bend and snap” when she turned down the role of Elle Woods in 2001’s “Legally Blonde.” The Anchorman star revealed to E.T. Online she passed on the role because it was offered right after she had finished “Married…With Children” and she was “scared of repeating” herself. “What a stupid move that was, right?” Applegate said.
The part ultimately went to Reese Witherspoon, who received widespread acclaim for her top-notch portrayal of the perky sorority girl turned lawyer.
Jack Nicholson turned down the role of Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather’
Played by: Al Pacino
In 1972 Jack Nicholson was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, but against all odds, he did. The “Shining” star was offered the role of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film “The Godfather.” Nicholson turned down the offer because he thought an Italian should have played the role. “There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay him,” the actor told Movieline in 2004. Al Pacino earned two Academy Award nominations for portraying the mob boss in the cult classic.
Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’
Played by: Ian McKellen
Sean Connery was offered $10 million per film and 15% of the box office earnings to play Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Connery reportedly turned down the role because he “did not understand the script.”
Jim Carrey turned down the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’
Played by: Johnny Depp
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Johnny Depp playing the rum-soaked pirate Captain Jack Sparrow—especially after his performance won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination—but it turns out many actors were offered the role in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” including Jim Carrey. He was among the first actors to be considered for the role, but he turned it down because of a schedule conflict with “Bruce Almighty.”
Tom Cruise turned down the role of Ren McCormack in ‘Footlose’
Played by: Kevin Bacon
After seeing Tom Cruise’s famous pantless dance sequence in “Risky Business,” the casting directors of “Footlose” tried to sign up the actor to play the role of Ren McCormack in the 1984 film. However, Cruise had to turn down the role because he was filming “All the Right Moves,” and Kevin Bacon was ultimately to play the lead part.
Mel Gibson turned down the role of Maximus in ‘Gladiator’
Played by: Russell Crowe
Mel Gibson was the first actor offered the part of the slave-turned-gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic “Gladiator.” However, after reading the script, the “Braveheart” actor declined the offer stating he was too old for the physical demands required for the part. The role eventually went to Russel Crowe, who received an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001.
Emma Watson turned down the role of Mia in ‘La La Land’
Played by: Emma Stone
The casting directors of “La la Land” had a different Emma in mind to play the role of Mia in the 2017 musical. The “Harry Potter” alum Emma Watson was approached first for the lead role but turned it down for another musical — “Beauty and the Beast.” Emma Stone ended up playing the role and won the Best Actress Oscar.
Gwyneth Paltrow turned down the role of Rose Dewitt Bukater in ‘Titanic’
Played by: Kate Winslet
Gwyneth Paltrow almost starred in James Cameron’s 1997 epic “Titanic,” reportedly turning down the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater, and she doesn’t dwell on the choice.
“I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?” Paltrow said on The Howard Stern Show in 2015.
Kate Winslet was ultimately chosen to play the troubled first-class passenger in the movie and won an Academy Award nomination for the part.
Matt Damon turned downed the role of Jake Sully in ‘Avatar’
Played by: Sam Worthington
Matt Damon revealed in a 2019 interview with GQ that he was offered the lead role in Avatar before Sam Worthington joined the film. Despite being offered 10% of the movie’s profits, Damon turned down the role because of a scheduling conflict with Bourne Ultimatum. Avatar eventually became one of the highest-grossing films ever, with $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office, meaning that Damon turned down $270 million.
Julia Roberts turned down the role of Viola in ‘Shakespeare in Love’
Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow
Years before “Shakespeare in Love” was finally made, Julia Roberts was cast as Viola De Lesseps. However, the “Pretty Woman” star had a specific request—Daniel Day-Lewis for the role of Shakespeare. Day-Lewis declined the role in order to do In the “Name of the Father,” so Roberts lost interest. The role ultimately went to Gwyneth Paltrow, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1998 film.
Will Smith turned down the role of Django in ‘Django Unchained’
Played by: Jamie Foxx
Will Smith was the first choice for the eponymous role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” The “Man in Black” star told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that even though he was very keen to play Django, he had to turn it down due to “creative differences.”
“To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see [eye to eye]. I wanted to make the greatest love story that African Americans had ever seen…” Smith said.
Al Pacino turned down the role of Han Solo in ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’
Played by: Harrison Ford
Al Pacino was offered the iconic role of Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise but turned it down because he didn’t understand the script. “It was mine for the taking, but I didn’t understand the script,” the actor revealed in a Q&A at the “An Evening with Pacino” event in 2013.
Denzel Washington turned down the role of Detective David Mills in ‘Seven’
Played by: Brad Pitt
Originally, Denzel Washington was envisioned as the leading actor in David Fincher “Seven.” The actor revealed in a 2012 interview with GQ that he regretted not accepting the role. Brad Pitt was ultimately cast in the leading role of Detective David Mills in the 1995 film.
Bette Midler turned down the role of Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence in ‘Sister Act’
Played by: Whoopi Goldberg
The character of Sister Mary Clarence in the comedy musical “Sister Act” was originally written for Bette Midler. However, Midler turned down the offer because she worried her fans wouldn’t want to see her playing a nun.
Sandra Bullock turned down the role of Maggie Fitzgerald in ‘Million Dollar Baby’
Played by: Hilary Swank
The role of Maggie Fitzgerald was supposed to be played by Sandra Bullock in “Million Dollar Baby.” Bullock had to pass by the offer because of a scheduling conflict with “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.” Hilary Swank was cast as Maggie and gained a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress, among other honors.
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.
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