You always hear about stars that were up for a certain role, but they never got it. We know about Matthew McConaughey almost being offered the role in Titanic, John Travolta passing on Forrest Gump or Tom Cruise nearly landing the role in Footloose, but it’s always so difficult to imagine other actors in big roles. Well, what if we didn’t have to use our imaginations? What if we had the audition tapes from these attempts? Here’s a secret. We do have them. Well, we have some of them. For most of the members on this list, their auditions can be found online. In the ones that can’t be found, the stars themselves have given us a little walk down memory lane.
So why didn’t these superstars get these massive roles? Some of them just failed, and, if you watch the videos, you’ll see which ones bombed. Others were amazing, but were simply out-acted by the actors who eventually would land the roles. Sure, there’s politics involved, no doubt. But we’re not about to sit here and guess who bribed who or who was owed a favor.
Again, every single name on this list is the name of a superstar. While they may have some “what ifs” lingering in the air, they all did alright in their careers without the roles in question. For many, not landing these roles opened them up for other opportunities. In fact, some of the “failed” auditions were so loved by the people watching that would use them for other roles in the film or TV show or in other projects. So, let’s have a gander. Here’s a first hand look at 15 superstars who auditioned for iconic roles but were rejected.
15. Robert De Niro – The Godfather
Watching Robert De Niro audition for the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather is like watching a master at work, except that De Niro wasn’t yet considered a master. This was before Taxi Driver, before Mean Streets and, obviously, before Godfather II. De Niro is young but he looks seasoned as he tests for the role that would eventually go to James Caan. But before you start feeling sad for Bobby D, remember that in just two years he would land the role of a young Vito Corleone in Godfather II and win an Academy Award for the portrayal. Plus, Caan’s Sonny was about as close to perfection as you could get. Excuse us, we’re going to go watch The Godfather trilogy real quick.
14. Scarlett Johansson – Judy Shepherd in Jumanji
It would take Scarlett Johansson a while to become a household name in Hollywood. Really, it wasn’t until Lost in Translation that most fans began to take note of her talents, even if she had been acting for a long time prior to that. In an alternate reality somewhere, Johansson was famous from a very early age, just as Kirsten Dunst was. That’s because, coming from her first ever role in the film North, 11-year old Johansson auditioned for the role of Judy Shepherd in Jumanji, a role that would eventually go to Dunst and make her recognizable for families everywhere. It’s not hard to see why Johansson didn’t nab the role. Let’s just say that she certainly isn’t as convincing as Dunst was in the final cut, even if that’s not a fair comparison.
13. Mindy Kaling – Lillian in Bridesmaids
When Mindy Kaling (left) was asked if any roles got away from her that she wished she landed, it was Maya Rudolph‘s part in Bridesmaids that came to mind. Even though, today, Kaling is one of the highest paid females in the industry, that part would have been something that she could have done well with. Here’s what The Mindy Project star and creator had to say: “No one ever calls me in to audition for things because I’m so specific. Actually, you know what it was — Bridesmaids, which I loved. They called me in for Maya Rudolph’s part, and I practiced it so much and I was so into it, and I love that whole cast. That one was a heartbreaker.”
12. Brad Pitt – Brian McCaffrey in Backdraft
It’s interesting how things work out. When people look for a role that helped carve out a path to stardom for Brad Pitt, many look to his small part in Thelma & Louise. Landing that part for Pitt all stemmed from his audition for Brian McCaffrey in Backdraft. When Pitt lost the McCaffrey role to William Baldwin, Baldwin was forced to opt out of another role he had landed, the small part of J.D. in Thelma & Louise, the role that would eventually be given to Pitt. Who knows what would have happened, but, it’s safe to say that Pitt is probably thankful he was turned down from Backdraft. Both Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr. also auditioned for the role of Brian McCaffrey, but it was Baldwin who was considered the best of the bunch. Funny.
11. Marlon Brando – Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause
This one is a little misleading because Marlon Brando was not technically auditioning for any role in the Rebel Without a Cause film. In 1947, Warner Bros purchased the rights to the film and wanted to run a screen test for future pitches. They brought in Marlon Brando, who, at that time, was a well-known stage actor. Brando did the screentest with full knowledge that there was no part to be had. The film never did quite get off the ground until a new script was written in the early 50s. Then, in 1955, they auditioned newcomer James Dean and the rest is history folks. The Brando screentest is still a sight to be seen because it predates Brando’s earliest work on the big screen.
10. Bob Odenkirk – Michael Scott from The Office
When Pam interviews for a job in Philadelphia in season 9 of The Office, she can’t help but notice that the Philly office manager (Bob Odenkirk) is almost exactly like her old boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). This is funny because Odenkirk originally auditioned for the role of Michael Scott but lost out to the incomparable Carrell, as we know. Odenkirk’s audition was convincing, but, in truth, he couldn’t hold a candle to Carrell, who seemed like he might have been born for the role. Seriously.
9. Leonardo DiCaprio – Ponyboy in The Outsiders
You might be thinking, wait a minute. Leo would have been too young to play Ponyboy. Yeah, you’re right. Leo auditioned for the role of Ponyboy, but it wasn’t for the 1983 film, The Outsiders; it was for the 1990 TV series The Outsiders. The audition might not appear all that great, but we all know what Leo was about to do in his career. At this point, however, he was still very new to the craft and it would be a year or three until he hit his stride. DiCaprio would lose out to the superstar Jay R. Ferguson (who?), but he would get a small part as the “kid fighting Scout.” Hang in there 1990 version of Leonardo DiCaprio. One day you’ll be the biggest star in Hollywood.
8. Jake Gyllenhaal – Frodo from The Lord of the Rings
Recently, Eddie Redmayne told a story about how he failed his audition for Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit because he tried to imitate Ian Holm from The Lord of the Rings, but Jake Gyllenhaal has a better story. Back when they were casting for The Lord of the Rings, Gyllenhaal went in to read for Frodo, a part that would eventually go to Elijah Wood. Gyllenhaal describes his nightmarish audition as one of confusion and embarrassment, claiming, “I went in, and I remember going to this room. There was a lot of stage directions and no lines… It was just like ‘finding the ring’… and I remember I didn’t really do it because I didn’t really understand because there were no lines, so I sort of walked up, and opened [a box] up and I was like ‘Is that good?’ Literally Peter Jackson was like face palm.” Then, after reading a few lines in his own voice, director Peter Jackson turned to him and said, “You are the worst actor that I have ever seen. Did anyone tell you you were supposed to have an accent?” When Gyllenhaal said “no,” Jackson responded, “Well, fire your agents.”
7. Jennifer Lawrence – Bella Swan in Twilight
Nowadays, it’s unlikely that superstar Jennifer Lawrence needs to audition for anything. She’s even at the stage in her career where people are writing roles specifically with her in mind. But it wasn’t always that way. When Twilight was casting its stars, Lawrence was still a virtual unknown. It would be a few years yet before she took on Winter’s Bone and got her first Academy Award nomination, so landing Twilight would have been big for her. When you ask JLaw about it, she claims that she had no idea how big the franchise would turn out to be, and, since Hunger Games ended up being so vastly superior of a franchise, maybe she should be thankful that she never got the role. In discussing the audition, Lawrence said, “I remember when the first movie came out, seeing Kristen Stewart on the red carpet and getting papped wherever she went…. I had no idea Twilight would be such a big deal. For me, and assuming for her, it was just another audition. Then it turned into this whole other thing.”
6. Seth Rogen – Dwight in The Office
There are so many roles out there that we say were made for a specific actor, but let’s be honest, there’s truly only one Dwight Schrute and his name is Rainn Wilson. Still, the American version of The Office went through a long and drawn out audition process and many big names came out for a test run, many who were not cast would find their way onto the show at some point in small cameos or even recurring roles. Maybe the most interesting of the auditions was Seth Rogen because of how big of a name he is today. Rogen tried for the role of Dwight and gave an interesting interpretation of the character. Despite Rogen’s knack for comedic timing, he seems to have only one speed and he uses it for all his characters, so his version of Dwight Schrute was basically Seth Rogen playing Seth Rogen.
5. Helen Hunt (and Gwyneth Paltrow) – Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park
We’ll quickly acknowledge that Gwyneth Paltrow also auditioned for this role, but it was Helen Hunt who stole the show. Now, before we start gushing over Hunt’s audition, Laura Dern was unbelievable as Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park. It’s a rarity to see Dern do anything short of brilliant, and this was no different, but Hunt’s audition proves why she was on the shortlist. She’s more confident than Dern’s Sattler, which makes for a convincing expert. The complex language flows off her tongue flawlessly, something Twister fans might recognize. There are plenty of similarities between Hunt’s brief portrayal of Dr. Ellie Sattler and the character of Dr. Jo Harding that she would play a few years later in the disaster flick Twister.
4. Tom Hiddleston – Thor in Thor
When you think of the character Thor, you think of a mountain of man carved out of muscle and iron and rock and handsome. You think of Chris Hemsworth, the freak of nature. Because of that vision, you might be shocked to find out that Tom Hiddleston, the man who would eventually play the conniving and much slenderer brother of Thor, Loki, was considered. Well, Hiddleston might not look the part as we know it today, but it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t acknowledge that he was a serious contender. His build was not as impressive as Hemsworth’s, but Hiddleston was ripped and looked good swinging Mjolnir around. Sure, Hemsworth is the one true Thor and we aren’t about to deny that, but, if you asked director Kenneth Branagh, Hiddleston wowed everyone in attendance of his audition, even if he didn’t land the part.
3. Josh Hutcherson – Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man
Before his Hunger Games fame, Josh Hutcherson was still a pretty big name as far as young actors go. When the studios were looking to cast for The Amazing Spider-Man, Hutcherson was one of the actors who were shortlisted, competing with others like Aaron Johnson, Anton Yelchin and, of course, Andrew Garfield. It wasn’t until after the process had been completed and Garfield had been named as the new Spidey that a demo reel was released showing Hutcherson in the web-slinging role. Hutcherson looked great as he manhandled a few bullies with some impressive fight choreography for small demo. He might be too old for the role now, but, after watching the clip, it’s not hard to picture what might have been for Hutcherson.
2. Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
When you watch Tom Selleck‘s classic audition for Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers loved him. The story is that Selleck was even offered the part, but because of his contractual obligations with the studios and his other job in Magnum P.I., he was unable to accept. There’s another story in the annals of Hollywood that says, after Selleck was forced to turned down the role, a writer’s strike hit and shooting for Magnum P.I. was delayed, so Selleck could have done it in the end. That story, while interesting, isn’t true. It was a contractual restriction that limited Selleck, not timing. He could not have accepted it even if the timing worked because the studios wouldn’t allow it. It doesn’t matter anyways. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. No one else.
1. Kurt Russell – Han Solo in Star Wars
There was a time when Kurt Russell was the epitome of cool, kind of like Harrison Ford, come to think of it. His audition for the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars trilogy was great. He was chill, alpha and felt like Han Solo. The only problem he had is that he had to compete with Ford and that usually didn’t go well for other actors during this time. There’s been some talk about Russell turning down the iconic role, but that’s not the whole truth. Russell auditioned for both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but he had also been offered the lead in the Western TV series, The Quest. Russell had to decide quickly, so he decided to take himself out of the running for both Star Wars roles and take the guaranteed job in The Quest.