Everyone in life makes a bad decision now and then. When the normal everyday person makes a bad decision the repercussions can range from minor to major. When someone in the entertainment field makes a bad decision it can cost them literally millions of dollars if not more.
When an actor or an actress turns down a role someone else is going to get it. Sometimes that might be an established actor but in a lot of cases, the role can go to an unknown. When that unknown takes on that one role and uses it to launch themselves an iconic or even a pretty decent career, that mistake could cost the original actor many millions of dollars. One person who has done exactly that is John Travolta. As you read on you’ll find out just how many roles he turned down that turned out to be iconic movies. With those decisions, Travolta cost himself easily millions of dollars and put all of them right into the pocket of Tom Hanks.
It’s fun to learn about what famous roles were actually offered to someone else first. It makes you think about what could have been, what may have not turned out as good and what might have actually turned out better. You’ll also learn that what turned out to be a mega box office smash in movie theaters almost didn’t happen. The romantic comedy Pretty Woman was a hit in everyone’s eyes and it was loved around the world. When they were casting, however, the main roles were turned down by several actresses and actors. In fact, it ended up having to be completely rewritten in order to get people interested in it.
You’ll learn a lot of interesting and fun things here today. It will definitely give you a few things to think about!
15 Han Solo (Star Wars) - Al Pacino, Christopher Walken
When George Lucas was making Star Wars he tried very hard to stick to a format that he had successfully used in the past. That was never using the same person twice. It wasn’t a bad thought process because he wanted those characters to be remembered. He learned, though, that if an actor is good they will be remembered for the roles they play and it’s as simple as that.
Lucas had used Harrison Ford in his American Graffiti movie so he was automatically disqualified from being used in Star Wars. The part was offered to Christopher Walken and then to Al Pacino. In 2013 Pacino said that "It was mine for the taking, but I didn’t understand the script." It’s hard to think about what Pacino would have brought to the role but I can certainly say that it wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Pacino also revealed during that conversation that he turned down other roles in Pretty Woman and Apocalypse Now.
Pacino has had one of the most iconic careers in Hollywood so you can never say that he made a bad decision about a role but it’s fun to imagine what would have happened had he taken either of these three roles.
Ford ended up winning the role because nobody else wanted it and he turned in one of many classic performances over his long, successful career.
14 Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) - Dana Delany
When you look back over the life of the show Sex and the City, you see Sarah Jessica Parker nailing a role that she was made for. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of Carrie Bradshaw, but it almost happened.
In the show, Bradshaw is involved in the fashion industry and it plays a major role in her life. Dana Delany was originally offered the role of Carrie and she only turned the part down for one reason: She didn’t think she was stylish enough to be able to pull off the leading part. Can you imagine that? She was smart enough to know that it wasn’t the right role for her so she passed on it. If she had given it a shot the show may never have gone on to the success it did.
Despite excelling in it, Parker wasn’t a shoo-in for the role. Once Delaney turned it down Parker was offered the part but she too almost turned it down. She was focusing her career on theater and movies at the time and she was very hesitant to give a television show a try. It’s a good thing that she decided to give it a shot as a lot of people, including her, made a ton of money from the success of the series.
Delaney has gone on to a successful career including a nice run on Desperate Housewives, a show that she turned down three different times before being talked into giving it a shot.
13 Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) - Ray Liotta
This one will blow your mind. Ray Liotta has played countless bad guy and mafia related roles over his illustrious career. It’s not a surprise that when the cast was being put together for The Sopranos that Liotta was approached first for the lead role of Tony Soprano.
Liotta played Henry Hill in the blockbuster classic Goodfellas so he already had plenty of experience playing the important mafia role. It just made sense to give the role of Soprano to him. However, Liotta didn’t want to do television. He turned down the role for the simple fact that he wanted to stay in movies and not make the move over to the small screen. Had he accepted the role the show still would have been a smash hit but it might not have been as good as it turned out.
James Gandolfini was then offered the role and he went on to turn it into one of the greatest roles in the history of television. Any Sopranos fan could not even begin to imagine anyone else playing the role of the troubled mob boss. He was so good that when the show finally went off the air, anytime Gandolfini played a part in a movie it was hard not to see him as Tony Soprano. Now that he is gone he will always be remembered as Tony.
12 Michael Corleone (The Godfather) - Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford
The 1972 movie The Godfather is one of the greatest movies of all time. But filmmakers didn’t think it was that good when they were putting the cast together. They thought the film was a very risky move so they wanted an established leading man for the role of Michael Corleone. That was a good thought process. If you have someone good playing the lead role that people already like, it’s a big boost before anyone even sees the flick. But everyone turned them down for the role.
Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson all turned down the part. It was eventually given to Al Pacino who turned in one of the greatest performances in movie history. Things may not have turned out so well though if one of the others had accepted the role.
Nicholson has had a great career and he has been a part of some of the greatest movies of all time himself. However, this role might not have turned out so well if he had taken it on. He once said his reasoning for turning down the offer was simple. "Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians."
That’s ok Jack, it worked out very well for both you and Pacino!
11 Vivian (Pretty Woman) – Molly Ringwald, Michelle Pfeiffer
When directors and producers were gathering the cast for Pretty Woman they had two women in mind for the role of Vivian, a down and out prostitute. It’s a good thing they both turned down the offer because it would never have become the classic that it turned out to be if one of those ladies had accepted.
Molly Ringwald was the first one offered the role and she made a huge mistake by turning it down. She also made another huge mistake by turning down the lead role in Ghost as well. She played a few good roles during the 80’s but she then made a career of making bad decisions. Julia Roberts was eventually given the role and it started her down the road of a majorly successful career. There is no question that Ringwald would not have been able to do what Roberts did with the role.
The same holds true for Ghost. Demi Moore got that role and it started her on a great career as well. Meanwhile, Ringwald could only sit back and watch the others go on to successful careers while hers fluttered for many years.
Michelle Pfeiffer also turned down the part as did Daryl Hannah and Meg Ryan, we will talk about those two later. Ringwald said once that she doesn’t regret her decision and that things worked out well. "Julia Roberts is what makes that movie. It was her part. Every actor hopes for a part that lets them shine like that." Ringwald is still waiting for hers.
10 Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark) - Tom Selleck
When you learn about what has happened behind the scenes during casting of some of the best movies ever made, one might think that George Lucas doesn’t like Harrison Ford. Lucas didn’t want to use him in Star Wars because he had already used him in American Graffiti. When Lucas was an Executive Producer on Raiders of the Lost Ark he didn’t want to use Ford again, for the role of Indiana Jones. This despite the fact that Ford had nailed every role had taken to that point in his career. Steven Spielberg wanted to use Ford but eventually backed down and the role was offered to Tom Selleck.
Selleck has had a great career as well but him playing Indiana Jones is just hard to imagine now. But it was a lot closer to happening than you might realize. Selleck actually accepted the role but the people that ran his hit Magnum, P.I. show refused to allow him to take it. They wouldn’t give him the time off he needed to film the movie. Then, to add insult to injury, Selleck’s hit show was delayed for six months because of a writer’s strike. That would have been plenty of time for him to film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Selleck has mentioned several times over his great career that he is “haunted” over the lost opportunity to play such a great role. Things have worked out well for him though so don’t feel too bad for him.
As far as Harrison Ford is concerned, he took the role and made it yet another box office smash hit.
9 Michael Scott (The Office) - Paul Giamatti
Steve Carell is one of those guys that carried out a role so well that he will be forever known as that one character. He had made a small name for himself when he got the role of Michael Scott on The Office and he used it as a launching pad to stardom. He has made several comedy movies and truly is one funny guy. He almost didn’t get the chance though as the role was originally offered to Paul Giamatti.
Giamatti was the first choice to play Michael Scott but he turned the offer down without much thought. He was still on a publicity high from his movie Sideways and he felt that being on a television show would hurt that more than help. The decision turned out to be a very lucky one for show producers and directors and it didn’t turn out too bad for Giamatti either. He has appeared in several other successful movies since then.
The role was also offered to Ben Falcone, Rainn Wilson and Alan Tudyk before they asked Carell if he was interested. Wilson ended up playing the role of Dwight Schrute on the show, Michael Scott’s right-hand man.
Carell was so good at the part of the boss of Dunder Mifflin that when he finally left the show it was doomed. They tried several people on the show to replace him but none of them worked and the show was eventually canceled.
8 Edward Lewis (Pretty Woman) - Al Pacino
When director Garry Marshall was putting together the cast for Pretty Woman he had all sorts of problems. It seemed that nobody wanted to play the leading roles. As we talked about already and will address again in a few minutes, several women turned down the chance to play Vivian before it was given to Julia Roberts. It wasn’t as bad when casting the male lead, Edward Lewis, but it was still turned down by the man Marshall had in mind for it.
Al Pacino was originally slated to play the successful businessman but it ended up going to Richard Gere. He did a great job with the role and he was half of the reason it was a box office smash hit. (Roberts was the other half).
During an interview, one time Pacino said his decision to turn down roles actually turned out to be career-makers for several actors. He also passed on Die Hard before Bruce Willis made it a huge hit.
7 Miranda Hobbes (Sex and the City) - Sandra Bernhard
Cynthia Nixon played the role of Miranda Hobbes for many years on Sex and the City and she did a great job with the part. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of the red-headed lawyer. The role was originally offered to Sandra Bernhard and you have to wonder why.
She has never been very good as an actress and there are countless reports that she has a horrible attitude. She proved it by discussing the reasons she turned down the offer one time on the Howard Stern Show. She said the script was “terrible” and a “disaster”. She also said the money they offered her was embarrassingly low. She didn’t hold back when discussing her dislike for Sarah Jessica Parker either as she added. "(I would have had) to play third or fourth fiddle to (Parker) and put up with her sh*t. It would have been hideous to work with her."
Everyone on the show got the last laugh as it turned out to be a huge hit on HBO for many years and Bernhard’s comedy career is still sh*t. What a blessing it turned out to be that she didn’t want the part. If she had taken it, the Miranda Hobbes character probably would have been killed off midway through the first season.
6 Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs) - Michelle Pfeiffer
When The Silence of the Lambs was putting together its cast, it saw a lot of fireworks before the first line was even recorded. Director Jonathan Demme was set on using Michelle Pfeiffer in the main role of Clarice Starling but there was a problem. Screenwriter Ted Tally wanted Jodie Foster for the role and he wasn’t about to back down. After a lot of internal struggling over the issue, Pfeiffer made it easy for them when she rejected the role.
She said the movie was too violent and the subject was too heavy for her liking. One time she admitted to preferring movies that aren’t major commercial hits so this decision ended up being right in her wheelhouse. Why an actress would want that kind of work is mystifying but to each her own I suppose. Isn’t the goal of any actor or actress to have their movie become huge commercial successes so they can do more movies and make a ton more money? She also turned down roles in Pretty Woman and Basic Instinct so she stuck to her guns on that mystifying belief.
Thankfully Jodie Foster took the role and made it into the classic that it is today. It’s doubtful that Pfeiffer would have brought the same talent to the film.
5 Agent Dana Scully (The X-Files) - Pamela Anderson
When casting was being done for The X-Files the producers were looking for a tall, leggy and busty woman to play the role of Agent Scully. At that time nobody fit that description any better than Pamela Anderson. The problem is that she was at the top of her fame on the show Baywatch.
There were obvious contractual issues in bringing Pam on for the show and it really isn’t even known if she was ever really interested in it. She hasn’t made a name for herself by playing serious roles. During an audition, Gillian Anderson did such a great job with her read that they decided to go with an unknown and give her the part.
She played the role to perfection for many years and then used it to launch a very successful career. Her interactions with David Duchovny on screen made the show a classic, even if you didn’t believe in aliens and such.
Gillian was a beauty in her own right and she once talked about the original casting issues. "Pamela was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time. They were looking for someone bustier, taller, leggier than me." It worked out very well. Can you imagine anyone else coming around the corner when Agent Fox Mulder would yell “SCULLY!”? Probably not. We love Pam but she wouldn’t have been a good fit for the show. Gillian nailed it and made hers.
4 Forrest Gump - John Travolta, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray
John Travolta is a pretty good actor. But he is no Tom Hanks. The reason for that just may be that Travolta gave Hanks some of his best roles. Sometimes in life, we don’t always make the best decisions. John Travolta can say that multiple times over. Some of the roles he decided to take turned out really really well, but more often than not, they didn’t. Some of the roles that he turned down did really really well. Most of them did. And so it goes.
Travolta turned down roles in Forest Gump, Splash and Apollo 13. Hanks took all of those roles and because of them, he is one of the most respected actors of our time. He should take Travolta out to dinner a few times to thank him for his generosity.
Hanks wasn’t a shoe in for Forrest Gump though, he had to wait for it to be rejected by Chevy Chase and Bill Murray before the offer finally came his way. He only used it to collect his second Oscar. He became just the second actor in history to get an Academy Award for Best Actor two consecutive years. Once again, he should take Travolta out for a dinner or three to thank him.
If you wonder if Travolta regrets his decision, he has said multiple times over his career since then that he does.
3 Vivian (Pretty Woman) - Darryl Hannah, Meg Ryan
We have already talked about the major troubles that were come across while casting for Pretty Woman. Maybe one of the reasons why is because it was originally written as a dark movie about prostitution in America. Darryl Hannah and Meg Ryan both also turned down the role of Vivian. We already talked about how Molly Ringwald and Michelle Pfeiffer also rejected it.
Hannah said one time that she doesn’t regret turning down the part because it was degrading to women and it wasn’t even close to being a positive type of movie. So while the four women that turned down the chance to play the role did so, they really didn’t actually turn down the role that was eventually given to Julia Roberts.
Before Roberts accepted the role the movie was completely rewritten and turned into the romantic comedy that we all know and love. Who knows, maybe Julia Roberts would have rejected the initial script as well. Maybe Meg Ryan would have made the film just as good as Roberts did. Pfeiffer and Hannah probably wouldn’t have though.
The film was made for $14 million and it has grossed over $460 million to date. Not to mention that it launched a very successful career for Roberts.
2 Neo (The Matrix) - Will Smith
The Matrix trilogy turned out to be a majorly successful movie threesome. At the time the first one was made Will Smith was on top of the world from his performances in Men in Black and Independence Day. He had calls coming in every day wanting him to play roles and he obviously had to turn a lot of them down. One of those that he rejected was the part of Neo in The Matrix.
He said once that one of the main reasons he turned it down was because he didn’t understand it. That’s not hard to follow along with because even today there are still millions of people who don’t understand the movies after watching it several times. All Smith had to work with was text on paper so it had to be even harder for him. He said "In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s 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.”
Don’t misunderstand Smith there, though. Reeves didn’t make that movie successful. He has never made any movie successful. He’s a horrible actor that has been lucky enough to work with some of the best directors and producers in the business. Those people have made the movies that Reeves has been in successful. Well, them and anyone else that starred in those movies.
1 George Costanza (Seinfeld) - Paul Shaffer
Paul Shaffer considers himself a musician first and an actor second. Never was that more apparent than when the cast of the super hit show Seinfeld was being put together. The show wanted him to play the role of George Costanza and it was his to lose. He wasn’t even going to be required to audition for it. They wanted him and that was that. But there was a slight problem.
When the call came in about the role, Shaffer never called them back. The kicker is that he didn’t call back on purpose. It’s not like it was an accident or he just forgot. He said that at the time he was “too busy” to think about a role on an unknown sitcom so he decided to not even bother to return the call.
Jason Alexander is certainly happy that the call was never returned because he nailed the role for many years and made a ton of money with the show. Since it has gone off the air he has been on several other shows as well as several movies. Paul Shaffer’s loss was a career born for Jason Alexander.
There isn’t a Seinfeld fan in the world that would have wanted to see anyone other than Alexander in that funny and important role. All of those people should send Paul Shaffer a hearty thank you!
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