Some actors just own certain roles. Can you imagine any other Joker in “The Dark Knight” other than Heath Ledger? Or could any other actor outside of Paul Newman play the lead role in “Cool Hand Luke?” How about Javier Bardem’s antagonist roles in “No Country for Old Men” and “Skyfall?”
Believe it or not, some of the most memorable roles in film history were actually portrayed by actors who were not the producer’s first choice. A couple of lessons can therefore be learned, namely, study the roles being offered to you carefully and do not be averse to handling roles rejected by other actors. You never know when a great thing might come along.
Here are ten actors who have turned down legendary roles. Some even passed up on more than just one opportunity to land a memorable role.
1. Emily Blunt – Black Widow Iron Man 2
She is known for her roles in films like “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Looper.” She, however, turned down the iconic role of Black Widow in the movie “Iron Man 2.” The role got even bigger when it was included as one of the main characters in “The Avengers.” Blunt instead did a role in the box office flop “Gulliver’s Travels.” Still, it is not as if it killed her career. After all, she has already won a Golden Globe for her role in “Gideon’s Daughter,” aside from several other nominations from various award-giving bodies. Men certainly would not complain seeing Scarlett Johansson playing Black Widow instead.
2. Sean Connery – Gandalf and Morpheus
He has had his share of legendary roles, like James Bond which he did seven times, the father of Indiana Jones and the clean law agent in “The Untouchables.” Two roles that he rejected, decisions that he eventually regretted, were those of Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Morpheus in “The Matrix” trilogy. Those would have been perfect feathers on his cap. Ian McKellen and Laurence Fishburne benefited from Connery’s mistakes.
3. Kevin Costner – Andy Dufresne
Kevin Costner was riding sky high back in the 90s. He had a string of great movies, like “The Untouchables,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” and “JFK.” Even his less than stellar movies made a lot of money, like “The Bodyguard” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” He was also honored in the Academy Awards for “Dances with Wolves.” So it’s hard to blame him when he decided to take on an ambitious project in “Waterworld” rather than do the relatively quiet role of Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Tim Robbins ended up with the role and, while it did not make big money as well, at least it garnered the honor of being one of the best movies of all time.
4. Matt Damon – Jake Sully, Harvey Dent, Ennis del Mar, Harvey Milk
He was in both the “Ocean” and “Bourne” trilogy, as well as in the World War II classic “Saving Private Ryan.” He also has an Academy Award for the original screenplay he wrote with Ben Affleck called “Good Will Hunting.” Matt Damon is already considered one of the best actors of his generation. Imagine how much higher he would have been held in esteem had he not turned down four great roles. Jake Sully of “Avatar” went to Sam Worthington, and that movie turned out to be the highest-grossing movie of all time. Harvey Dent of “The Dark Knight” went to Aaron Eckhart instead. Heath Ledger tackled Ennis del Mar of “Brokeback Mountain” more than adequately. Sean Penn got the role of Harvey Milk in “Milk.” All four movies were critical darlings and got Oscar nominations.
5. Johnny Depp – Ferris Bueller
Before Johnny Depp burst into the limelight in “21 Jump Street,” he could have already made it big in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The role went to Matthew Broderick instead. With Depp’s long line of hits and acclaimed performances, it is doubtful though if he would exchange positions with Broderick now.
6. Leonardo Di Caprio – Dirk Diggler
Leonardo di Caprio is a big fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson, so when he couldn’t do the role of Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights,” Di Caprio would end up regretting it. The role went to Mark Wahlberg instead. Still, considering that he passed on the role because he was also doing “Titanic,” one can safely say that it turned out for the best.
7. Jack Nicholson – Michael Corleone
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” is one of the greatest films of all time. Jack Nicholson realized the potential of the role of Michael Corleone, but declined to do it because he does not have Italian blood that it called for. Al Pacino ended up with the role. It was a case of a legendary actor replacing another legendary actor for a legendary role in a legendary movie.
8. Molly Ringwald – Vivian Ward, Molly Jensen
Julia Roberts hit it big playing the prostitute Vivian Ward in “Pretty Woman.” Demi Moore started getting more serious roles after portraying Molly Jensen in “Ghost.” The two movies launched the two actresses to superstardom. Molly Ringwald, once considered the greatest of the teen stars in the 80s with movies like “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” could have had those roles. Instead, she is still remembered only for those teen movies she did back then.
9. Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones
Tom Selleck was already a relatively big star back in the 80s because of his hit television show “Magnum P.I.” How much bigger he could have gotten had he crossed over successfully to the film business, no one knows. And he got that chance when he was offered the role of Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Scheduling conflicts with his TV show forced him to reject the role and Harrison Ford ended up with it instead.
10. Will Smith – Neo
Will Smith could have been “The One” had he accepted the role of Neo in “The Matrix.” He has no regrets though as he has admitted that he could not have portrayed it better than Keanu Reeves. His bigger regret is probably doing “Wild, Wild West,” the flop that he chose to do over “The Matrix.”