A casting decision has the power to define or change the course of artistic history. It’s hard to believe it now, but some actors were once hesitant about accepting what turned out to be the biggest roles of their career (and in some cases, some of the biggest roles ever) while some casting directors were known to hesitate about a few of the best decisions in movie history. Of course, we’ll never know if an iconic movie role would have made any lucky actor’s career, or if our favourite classics would never have come to be were it not for the strength of the actors making the lead role. Does the actor make the role, or do the roles make the actor? It’s a ‘chicken-or-egg’ question to which we’ll never have a definitive answer, but we’ll give you a little more information to furnish your opinion on the matter: The following are ten iconic roles which defined cinema both historically and in the modern age, but they almost didn’t happen. How so? Read on to find out about some of Hollywood’s biggest near misses.
10. Audrey Hepburn – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Audrey Hepburn became the epitome of the kooky, wide-eyed, innocent woman that every man fell in love with, but she almost never played her legendary role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her husband was apparently worried that playing the role of a woman with questionable morals could be detrimental to her career and she herself was worried about playing a “wh*re.” In the end, this role landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and the image of the beautiful Hepburn with her elegant cigarette holder and black dress became iconic in pop culture.
9. Sir Ian McKellen – The Lord of the Rings
Sir Ian McKellen is famous for many different roles – most notably as Magneto in the X-Men films and as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films. The conflict between these two movies almost prevented McKellen from playing the extraordinary wizard, a role for which he became so well-loved. Production of The Lord of the Rings was a time consuming one because of many elaborate scenes, but McKellen was first committed to X-Men. It was only because the production of X-Men in Toronto could go ahead without him for several months that he was able to get to New Zealand to play Gandalf.
8. Mia Farrow – Rosemary’s Baby
Mia Farrow accepted the role in the classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, two years after she married Frank Sinatra. Well into the production of the film, Sinatra was angered by her decision and demanded that she drop out of the movie. He reportedly even served her with divorce papers on the set. Thankfully, she decided to continue the role, which landed her a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year and a successful career ahead, even though she and Sinatra did in fact get divorced.
7. Michael J. Fox – Back to the Future
The 1985 classic sci-fi film Back To The Future is the role that arguably defined Michael J. Fox’s career. According to the writer and producer of the film, Fox was always their first choice for the character Marty McFly, but they knew Fox was committed to his TV series Family Ties. Fox’s agent almost didn’t even run the part by him in fear of losing him on the show. Actor Eric Stoltz was hired for the part and actually started filming, when producers quickly realized he wasn’t right for it. They then approached Fox, who was able to rearrange Family Ties so that he could do both. A little too close for comfort there, but Fox got the role in the end and made Back to the Future one of the most iconic movies of the ’80s.
6. Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games
Although Jennifer Lawrence’s role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is no award-winning performance, it’s the breakthrough role that launched her career and eventually led to her roles in Academy Award winning movies. Before The Hunger Games, Lawrence was working on independent films. When she read the script of The Hunger Games she was actually leaning towards turning it down – intimated by the idea of a blockbuster movie – until her mother reminded her that she shouldn’t care about the size of the movie. Eventually her love for the script won out and America’s sweetheart was born.
5. Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump
One of the most famous and loveable characters in movie history – Forrest Gump – was originally written with John Travolta in mind, but he refused the part. Tom Hanks was the next actor in line, but he was hesitant to take the part. Hanks didn’t need this role for his career – he had just won an Oscar for his turn in Philadelphia, the previous year. He was also apparently very adamant on being certain of the historical accuracy of the story before he agreed to play the timeless character of Forrest Gump. When that was established, he accepted the role and became the embodiment of everyone’s favourite guileless, chocolate box-toting hero.
4. Marlon Brando – The Godfather
Marlon Brando is known to many for one his most famous and iconic roles as Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic drama The Godfather, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1973. He initially refused the part because he wasn’t comfortable playing a role that would glorify the mafia. After several meetings he was finally convinced by his personal assistant and friends. His decision was helped along when he started to hear about other of his contemporaries who were being seriously considered for the part, such as Ernest Borgnine and Laurence Olivier.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio – Titanic
Although Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic is certainly not his best acting performance, it did lead to countless opportunities for him as a leading man. At the time, DiCaprio was being offered the lead in the film Boogie Nights – which eventually went to Mark Wahlberg – and was hesitant about which he should commit to. Once he heard that Kate Winslet was in, he turned down Boogie Nights and took on Titanic. He wasn’t aware at the time that in doing so he became involved in one of the biggest hits in film history.
2. Christian Bale – Batman
Christian Bale played Batman first in 2005, in the initial installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Batman Begins. Since then, it’s difficult to picture anyone but Bale playing the role of the superhero, as evidenced in the backlash against Affleck as the next Batman in line.
It’s funny, and sad, to think that Bale almost gave up on the role at the beginning of shooting the first movie because he was so claustrophobic in the Batman costume that he didn’t think he was meant to play the part. Not wanting to have to explain to people that he didn’t play Batman because he was uncomfortable in the suit, he eventually got over his fear of the costume – a costume that finally fit him perfectly.
1. Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter
Chris Columbus, director of the first and second Harry Potter films, saw Daniel Radcliffe on BBC’s television adaptation of David Copperfield in 1999 and pursued him relentlessly to star in the Harry Potter films. A nation-wide search for the perfect actors to play Hermione, Ron and Harry had successfully identified Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, but the producers simply couldn’t find Harry.
Radcliffe was 11 years old at the time and didn’t really know what was going on. The original deal was to sign on for six movies, all of which would be filmed in Hollywood, and Radcliffe’s parents declined the offer for him because the move would disrupt his life too much at such a young age. Radcliffe almost lost out on the part that made him a multi-millionaire and one of the biggest stars of one the largest and most successful movie franchises of all time. Only when the director and producers agreed to change the original deal to only two films – to be shot in England – did Radcliffe’s parents agree, and he became the face of the multi-billion-dollar Harry Potter franchise.
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