No matter what line of work people do, there are job/career related decisions that have to be made. Workers have to decide if a promotion and salary increase are worth the added stress or extra hours; whether relocating is the best move for the family; or if the long commute for higher pay is a good trade-off for less time at home.
While it often seems actors have it easy, only having to audition and negotiate via an agent salary and conditions to keep working, many have to make difficult decisions when it comes to accepting certain roles. Sure, it’s all pretend, but some actors simply won’t play certain roles – at least early in their careers when fear of type casting looms and they’re trying to gain a fan following. And just like common folk, they have friends and relatives with social and philosophical influences on their career choices.
Some of these turned down roles may have shot these actors to stardom…or not made a bit of difference to their success. Nonetheless, at least a few of them must ponder the age-old question, “What if…?”
Dana Delany- Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and The City
Delany‘s acting resume is impressive; she’s worked steadily since her most memorable role as Colleen on China Beach, appearing in 70+ movies and TV shows. But when Sex and The City creator Darren Star tapped her for the part of Carrie Bradshaw, she respectfully declined. Fearing she’d be destined to be forever cast in sex-themed projects (she’d recently shot Live Nude Girls with Kim Cattrall when Star made the request), her refusal ended up giving Sarah Jessica Parker her biggest role to date. Delany also declined the role of Bree Van de Kamp on Desperate Housewives, although she later appeared in several episodes as Katherine Mayfair.
Thomas Jane – Don Draper, Mad Men
Oh, the pain of 20/20 hindsight. When Jane turned down the lead role of Don Draper on Mad Men, his reasoning was solid. AMC hadn’t proven it could draw an audience for a series; it had long been known solely as the “old movie channel.” He also found the premise and writing a bit too highbrow and intellectual to appeal to many viewers. Since those now questionable decisions were made, AMC has had a string of hit shows and they all have a cerebral vein, proving once again it’s not wise – or easy – to predict public preferences. Jane went on to star in Hung on HBO, but that gig only lasted two seasons. Jon Hamm‘s Don Draper lives on halfway through the show’s seventh and final season.
Bette Midler- Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence, Sister Act
While some role refusals are based on informed opinions and facts, others are passed on for reasons that are beyond baffling. It’s no surprise that Midler would be a top choice to play a Las Vegas showgirl in a comedy since she cut her teeth on musical theater and has delivered a list of impeccable comic performances. Midler down the lead in Sister Act because she thought her fans would have a negative reaction to her playing a nun. Huh? Someone could’ve explained to Midler that the character wasn’t really a nun; the character just dressed like one to hide out in a convent. Whoopi Goldberg got the part and must still smile when she realizes what a career break Midler inadvertently gave her.
Luke Grimes- James, True Blood
Just when you think society is making great strides forward in acceptance and throwing out their old tired ethics, someone comes along and rains on your idealistic parade. Grimes had a pivotal role as James on the HBO hit True Blood, which he played quite well. But when he perused the upcoming scripts and discovered his character was going to become romantically involved with gay character Lafayette (Nelson Ellis), Grimes refused to even kiss another man, much less do sex scenes with one. No problem; he was simply recast with the talented – and progressive thinker – Nathan Parsons. Note to Grimes: Acting is pretending; all those vampire cast mates were really just regular mortals.
Molly Ringwald- Vivian Ward, Pretty Woman
No one likes to own up to making a really bad decision, much less making two bad calls. Ringwald had enormous success with two 1980s movies, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, but that doesn’t pay the rent forever, and the time frame for playing ditzy high school girls is very small with that aging process always rearing its wrinkled head. But Ringwald decided to hold out for another teen angst role – in 1990 – rather than take the lead in Pretty Woman that was offered to her before Julia Roberts. She also said no to the lead in Ghost in the same year, much to the delight of Demi Moore.
Matthew Broderick & John Cusack- Walter White, Breaking Bad
Occasionally when an actor turns down a role, fans breathe a long sign of relief when another actor nails it so perfectly that even considering someone else playing the part seems absurd. Word on the street is Matthew Broderick, as well as John Cusack, both turned down the part of Walter White on one of the biggest TV hits of the century, Breaking Bad. While Broderick and Cusack are both fine actors, no one except Bryan Cranston could have brought that character to better or more convoluted life than him.
Angela Bassett- Leticia Musgrove, Monster’s Ball
Maybe Bassett is more open-minded today in picking roles to play. She had no qualms playing a murdering voodoo witch on American Horror Story but when she was offered the role of a waitress who sleeps with her convict husband’s executioner in Monster’s Ball, she mistook the waitress for a prostitute and said no, citing it was “such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.” And a murdering voodoo witch isn’t stereotyping? Halle Berry should have thanked Bassett in her Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech for the role, the first African-American woman so honored.
Tom Cruise- Ren McCormack, Footloose
An image of Kevin Bacon is typically what comes to mind when the classic’ 80s film Footloose is mentioned. But if Tom Cruise hadn’t already committed to the film All the Right Moves – and Rob Lowe hadn’t injured himself when the part was being cast – Bacon might have faded into obscurity before his talents were fully appreciated. Good news is all three guys continue give us exemplary performances.
Sandra Bernhard- Miranda Hobbes, Sex and The City
In another case of “can’t imagine” casting, Bernhard was one of the top choices to play Miranda Hobbes on the HBO show Sex and The City. She reportedly turned down the offer based on what she called “terrible” writing and the meager salary. Cynthia Nixon ended up with the part and played the role of frustrated, sarcastic attorney to the hilt.
Paul Shaffer- George Costanza, Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld handpicked bandleader Paul Shaffer to play the role of his best friend George Costanza on the smash hit comedy Seinfeld, telling Shaffer in the voicemail message he didn’t even need to audition for the part. Shaffer claims he never returned the call, simply because he was busy at the time. But for the finger of fate, the world would have never had the pleasure of watching Jason Alexander play George with flawless precision.
Harrison Ford-Oskar Schindler, Schindler’s List
If Harrison Ford hadn’t seen himself as a star so bright as to cause distraction in the early ’90s, he would have played the title role in Schindler’s List, the dark, disturbing Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Ford allegedly rejected the part because he thought the significance of the film would be overshadowed by his star presence. Whatever. Liam Neeson played the part to perfection.