Actors are just like us in the sense that they don’t know whether or not a movie or TV series will tank. The difference is that their choices can affect their entire careers– they can either become wildly successful and sought after if they land a choice role but they can just as easily sink their careers permanently if they choose a film that bombs. No pressure or anything.
There are a million reasons why an actor would pull out of a role or flatly turn it down. The actor or actress may feel that the role is too small or that it may upset their fans or they may be offended by the material or something they would need to do while making the movie. They may have simple scheduling conflicts or prior commitments or they may have more complex issues from a moral or religious standpoint. Sometimes actors don’t even get the chance to turn down the roles themselves– their agents do it for them.
Today we’re looking back on 15 actors and the roles they could have had, as well as the reasons why they turned them down– and wondering how it feels to have to live with decisions like this…
15 Tilda Swinton (Harry Potter) - Boarding Schools Are Bad
The Scottish actress, Tilda Swinton, was originally approached to play the part of kooky Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone but turned the role down almost immediately. The reason she did this was two-fold. Not only did she have prior scheduling commitments, but she also added that she was morally against boarding schools.
Swinton attended an English boarding school herself, which she remembers as being ‘a very lonely and isolating environment’. She has since added that she dislikes films such as Harry Potter, which romanticize boarding schools because she doesn’t feel that children thrive from this type of education. She believes that children need to be with their parents. Okay then. Not to worry, we think Emma Thompson was much better suited for the role anyway!
14 Isaac Hayes (South Park) - Scientology For Life!
South Park is a show that has poked fun at almost every religion and demographic in the world, it’s definitely not meant for anyone with extremist views. It’s “on the edge” and sometimes shocking content is what has made it so popular– it’s enjoyed 20 seasons over the last 19 years.
In an interview, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were asked about the disappearance of Issac Hayes (the voice of Chef) in 2005 following an episode entitled “Trapped in the Closet” which jokingly mocked Scientology. They revealed that after filming the episode, Hayes (a Scientologist himself since the 90s) had approached them and subtly asked them not to release the episode. Although what he didn’t know at the time was that it had already started to air. Shortly after, Hayes resigned from the show in protest but many people believe that his hand was forced and leaving the show was not his choice.
13 Molly Ringwald (Pretty Woman) - Won't Play A Call Girl
We know, we know, it’s extremely difficult to think of anyone other than Julia Roberts playing the part of Vivian in Pretty Woman but she wasn’t the first actress that the producers offered the role to. Sharon Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Madonna, and Molly Ringwald are just a few of the actresses who turned down what would become a truly iconic role.
In the nineties, Molly Ringwald was a successful A-list actress, part of the “brat pack” who had starred in a number of movies already including Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986). The reason that she turned down the role of Vivian was because she did not like the thought of playing a call girl. She has stated in several interviews that she regrets this decision which some believed could have prolonged her acting career. Interestingly enough, in the same year she turned down the role in Ghost which eventually went to Demi Moore.
12 Mel Gibson (Gladiator) - I'm Too Old For This
At the time of making Gladiator, Mel Gibson was one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood, who had already enjoyed many successful epic roles. So when director Ridley Scott was looking for a leading man for the film, he approached Mel Gibson. But surprisingly Gibson turned down the leading role stating that, being in his early forties, he felt he was too old for sword fighting. His loss. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2001. Incidentally, Gibson is only eight years older than Russel Crowe, the actor who was finally chosen to play the lead.
The film also netted Russel Crowe other awards such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, an Empire Award for Best Actor and a London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor.
11 Harrison Ford (Schindler’s List) - My Fame Would Overshadow The Story
Harrison Ford was the first actor to be offered the role of German industrialist and Nazi member Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's 1993 epic, Schindler’s List. The reason that he turned it down just goes to show you what an inflated ego can do. He said that he felt viewers wouldn’t be able to look past him as a “star” to see the true importance and message of the film. Harrison, we have to agree. Not that you are so incredible that you would have blinded us from appreciating the incredible story, but that you were all wrong for that part! Liam Neeson was exactly the right fit.
The film is now often listed among the greatest films ever made and in 2007 the American Film Institute ranked the film 8th on its list of the 100 best American films of all time.
10 John Travolta (Forrest Gump) - I Can't Play This Character
Did we just blow your mind? Yes, it’s true John Travolta could have been the slow-witted but completely loveable Forrest Gump. Although it may seem like Tom Hanks was born for this part it, was actually offered to John Travolta, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase first and they all turned it down. Travolta said he couldn’t get a feel for the character at the time and admits that this was probably one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, signed on to play the role an hour and a half after reading the script. It won him the 1995 Academy Award for Best Actor, while Robert Zemeckis won Best Director and it scooped up the award for Best Picture too.
9 Michelle Pfeiffer (Silence of the Lambs & Basic Instinct) - This Is Too Disturbing
When it comes to top movies of the 90s you’ll find The Silence of the Lambs on most people’s lists. It’s one of only three films in history to win all five of the big Academy Awards, snatching up Best Picture, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Director (Jonathan Demme), and Best Screenplay.
The erotic thriller, Basic Instinct was another 90s movie that would go on to become a cult classic; breaking ground in mainstream theater with its raunchy content and graphic violence. The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes, including a nomination for Best Actress for Sharon Stone.
Believe it or not, Michelle Pfeiffer was offered both the role of Clarice Starling and Catherine Tramell, but she turned them down due to the disturbing content of the two films. Ouch.
8 Jack Nicholson (The Godfather) - I'm Not Italian
The Godfather is considered by most people to be the greatest movie of all time; outstanding cast, exceptional story, and brilliant film making. Knowing this, it’s almost inconceivable to think that someone passed up the opportunity to appear in a leading role in this film– but someone did and the reason why will shock you.
Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Micheal Corleone before it finally went to Al Pacino– but he turned it down because he did not believe he was the right person for the role (being of Irish descent, not Italian) saying, “I knew The Godfather was going to be a great film, but at that time I believed Indians should play roles written for Indians and Italians should do the same."
7 Will Smith (The Matrix) - I Don't Get It
Will Smith could have been the face of Neo in the smash hit, The Matrix, but he struggled to understand the concept when it was pitched to him and chose to decline it. He later said he had no regrets about turning down the role adding, “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn't see it. I watched Keanu [Reeves'] performance—and very rarely do I say this—but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point, I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every moment.”
6 Leonardo DiCaprio (American Psycho) - My Titanic Fans Won't Like This
So who do you think the first actor was to be approached to play the role of Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho? It certainly wasn’t Christian Bale! Johnny Depp was actually the first possibility for the leading role, but he turned it down, as did Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Ewan McGregor and believe it or not, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lions Gate Films actually announced DiCaprio as the lead but he then dropped out after his agents warned him that playing the violent psychotic businessman would alienate his Titanic fan base. He left the film and did The Beach instead.
Funny enough, though, DiCaprio said that his biggest regret was not taking the role of porn star Dirk Diggler in the 1997 movie Boogie Nights. The role went to Mark Wahlberg, one of Leo’s friends. He said, “I’m a huge fan of (director) Paul Thomas Anderson but the first time I met him for that role I hadn’t really seen much of his previous work.”
5 Brad Pitt (Almost Famous) - I Don't Get The Character
Brad Pitt turned down the chance to play the rock star Russel Hammond in the critically acclaimed movie, Almost Famous because he didn’t understand the character. What is it with this excuse? Playing a killer, maybe that would be hard to understand. But if you’re a famous movie star, how hard can it be to play the part of a famous rock star? Surely the two are not so far removed? Uma Thurman also turned down the role of Penny Lane in this film.
Interestingly, the movie is actually semi-autobiographical– the film’s director Cameron Crowe toured with a few bands during his time as a young Rolling Stone reporter including The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. He was almost killed while traveling with The Who when the small plane they were traveling in crashed.
4 Mark Walberg (Brokeback Mountain) - I Can't Do The Dude Stuff
It’s no secret that at one stage Mark Wahlberg was being considered together with Joaquin Phoenix for the leading cowboy roles in the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain by director Ang Lee. And Mark isn’t shy to share the reason that he turned it down either– the homosexual love scenes were just too much for him. He said, “I met with Ang Lee on that movie, I read 15 pages of the script and got a little creeped out,” said Wahlberg, according to SF Gate. “It was very graphic, descriptive—the spitting on the hand, getting ready to do the thing.”
Wahlberg also passed up on a chance to star in Ocean's Eleven and the opportunity to play the leading role in Donnie Darko. He was adamant that Donnie have a lisp and the director didn’t agree. Seems rather petty, doesn’t it?
3 Emily Browning (Twilight) - I'm Tired
This one might just get a few teenage girls sobbing into their pillows. Somewhere out there, right now, there is an actress who turned down the chance to become Bella in vampire love story Twilight. Not only that, despite already getting the nod from series author Stephanie Meyer, Browning refused to even audition for the film claiming she was exhausted as she had just finished filming the horror flick The Uninvited and didn’t want to get involved in a role that could turn into a movie series. Pretty sure that she wishes she had just sucked it up now.
You’ll remember Browning from her breakout role in Ghost Ship (2002) and for her role as Violet Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), for which she won the Australian Film Institute International Award for Best Actress.
2 Ryan Reynolds (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) - I'm Over High School Roles
You read that right. It was almost Katie Holmes as Buffy and none other than Ryan Reynolds as Xander in the hit TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer. They both turned down roles on the show because of… high school. Holmes was offered the role of Buffy but turned it down because she wanted to go to high school instead and Ryan just didn’t want to play a high school kid, having just finished school himself. Although he’s a big fan of Buffy creator Joss Whedon and the show, he told the Star that he just couldn’t do it, “I had just come out of high school and it was (beeping) awful." We get it, Ryan, we really do, and we think you made the right choice.
1 Angelina Jolie (Charlie's Angels) - I'm Not A Fan
Talk about really bad reasons to turn down a movie role... how about the “I'm not a fan” excuse? That was the reason that Angie turned down the offer to play Alex Munday in the 2000 blockbuster reboot, Charlie's Angels. She said she hadn’t been a big fan of the original 1970s series. Really Angie? Although, in retrospect, comedy is not really her strong point so they were much better off in the end with Lucy Liu. But before it was offered to Lucy, Jada Pinkett Smith and Thandie Newton were also offered the part but they both turned it down citing scheduling conflicts.
In the end, we think Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz were the perfect trio– pulling off the action comedy with ease.
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