We tend to think of movies as these big, polished productions where everything turns out exactly as planned. There’s probably months of filming, as well as endless hours of post-production, and decisions that take place up to a year in advance. With that much money being thrown around behind the scenes, it has to be done smoothly, right?
Well, it’s not usually the case. In fact, whole feature films can be wrapped in a couple of weeks so long as there are no big stunts to pull off. The whole movie can change on the cutting-room floor, depending on what the studio thinks of the finished product. They can even rejig the entire storyline just by cutting it cleverly. Script rewrites are ongoing even while the film is shooting, and actors can come and go, being replaced right at the last minute.
You didn’t think all movies only went into filming when they had their stars in place, did you? It’s simply not the case, with some decisions left until the very last possible moment that they could be made. In Hollywood, it’s not unheard of to be called up for a film and expected to start shooting next week. Some of the examples we have gathered here gave the actors even less time than that to prepare.
These 15 movie roles may have seemed assured and polished, but they were actually totally up in the air for what seems an impossibly long time. Those last-minute decisions sometimes turn out for the best – and sometimes don’t.
15 The Lovely Bones – Jack Salmon
Peter Jackson’s 2009 movie The Lovely Bones is fairly famous for the rejection that would have driven most actors mad. It seems totally unfair for poor Ryan Gosling, who had to give up the role of grieving father Jack Salmon right at the very last minute. What happened is that Gosling had a very specific picture in his mind of how Jack should look, and so he set about putting on a lot of weight – 60 pounds, to be precise. When he turned up on set, Jackson was shocked and didn’t like what he saw at all. He had hired young, slim, attractive Gosling, not this 210-pound man he saw before him. Initially claiming that the decision was taken because Gosling was too young to play a father, Jackson fired him from the role just a few days before production was due to start. Mark Wahlberg was quickly drafted in instead.
14 Shrek – Shrek
In 1997, Chris Farley was a bit of a rising star. He was 33 years old, and his comedy chops were starting to get him some serious roles. He was cast in the upcoming movie Shrek, an animation that at the time was cutting-edge and ground-breaking in terms of the level of detail included. That’s when he took a drug overdose and died. Unfortunately, he had already started recording the role as production was well underway. In order to get the film finished as quickly as possible, the production team turned to Farley’s Saturday Night Live co-star, Mike Myers. His take on the character – which is reportedly very different to what Farley had in mind – ended up being a smash hit and spawned multiple sequels and spin-offs. You could live on the merchandise royalties alone for a very long time. Kevin Farley described Chris’ Shrek as “a humble, bumbling innocent guy”.
13 The Godfather: Part III – Mary Corleone
When Sofia Coppola took the part of Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, everyone knew it had been a big mistake. Nepotism convinced Francis Ford Coppola to hire his own daughter, who basically did not have the acting chops required. She was awful in the role, and it has been described as one of the worst performances ever put down on a mainstream film. A huge number of young and well-established actresses had been considered for the role, and it eventually went to 18-year-old Winona Ryder. She had beaten the likes of Madonna and Julia Roberts to get it. When she had to pull out because of nervous exhaustion, it’s not exactly clear why Coppola didn’t go back to the drawing board and pick out one of the actresses he had seen before. Instead, he made the kind of mistake that can irreparably cripple a franchise and soil its legacy.
12 Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets – Emperor Haban-Limai
It may or may not turn out to be an important role, since we haven’t seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets yet, but certainly headlines were made recently when a last-minute casting decision was announced. Emperor Haban-Limai already had an actress confirmed, but director Luc Besson decided that he needed to make a change long past the production stage. Less than two months before the film was due to hit screens, he brought in Elizabeth Bebicki to provide the voice for the character. It’s not yet clear what kind of a difference this will make, but the last-minute dubbing probably wasn’t as much of a problem for getting everything finished in time as you might expect. Usually there is more of an issue, and a potential for delay, when scenes need to be reshot. It’s probable that the director simply wasn’t happy with the original actress’s voice acting, but that her appearance was fine.
11 American Psycho – Patrick Bateman
In an odd way, Christian Bale was kind of brought in to replace himself. If that sounds impossible, here’s how it all played out. Firstly, he was offered the role of Patrick Bateman after a successful audition. However, after some consideration, the studio executives decided that he wasn’t quite right for the role and picked up Leonardo DiCaprio instead. Bale was shocked when he saw the announcement at the Cannes Film Festival of 1998 that DiCaprio was taking the role, because no one had actually bothered to tell him. But DiCaprio had issues with the director, the script, and the plot – basically the whole movie. He came to the decision that he didn’t want to be involved anymore and, running out of time, the studio had no choice but to go back to Bale. It turned out for the best, as he was iconic in the role and played it far better than DiCaprio could have done at that age.
10 Deadpool - Colossus
When filming on Deadpool started, Andre Tricoteux had been cast as Colossus. The press had been told, his name was on IMDb, and he even started to film his parts. Stefan Kapicic came in instead. He started out by recording all of the voice parts, and then moved on to the motion capture parts, which he only needed to record partially. He came on board with the movie so late on that he actually only finished his parts about eight weeks before the film was scheduled to be released. Thankfully, despite this last-minute change, the studio was able to turn it around without having to trigger any delays. It sounds like sheer dedication won Kapicic the role in the end. A final four-hour audition turned into a 12-hour session, which was then followed by a 14-hour flight home and a drive from the airport to the theatre so he could take his theatre role in Romeo and Juliet.
9 Batman Returns – Catwoman
1992’s Batman Returns saw Catwoman come to the big screen, with Michelle Pfeiffer taking on the role. But, right up until the last minute, that wasn’t going to be the case. It was Annette Bening who was initially signed up to don the infamous rubber catsuit. Given the tight nature of the costume, we have to admit that her excuse for dropping out of the production was a fair one. She found out that she was pregnant, and left shortly before filming started. Most fans are pretty happy that it turned out that this way. There were actually a lot of different actresses who could have taken the role. These included Raquel Welch, Cher, Madonna, and Susan Sarandon. Out of those choices, it’s probably easy to agree that Pfeiffer was the right one to cast. Cher and Madonna in particularly probably would have turned the film into one of those regrettable laughing stocks.
8 The Lord Of The Rings – Aragorn
Getting the role of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings turned out to be one of the biggest successes of Viggo Mortensen’s career. He was more or less perfect to play the gritty, weathered fighter who turned out to be a secret king. In the beginning, though, he would not have been involved with the project at all. Stuart Townsend did two months of training before production started, getting into the role and learning the kind of skills he would need. The day before filming was due to start, he was fired from the role. He later expressed a deep dissatisfaction with how it all happened, stating that he wasn’t even paid for his two months of work because he didn’t spend enough time in the role to fulfil his contract. He said, “I had been having a rough time with them, so I was almost relieved to be leaving until they told me I wouldn’t be paid. I have no good feelings for those people in charge, I really don’t.”
7 Aliens – Dwayne Hicks
Aliens could have played out a little differently, with James Remar getting cast to play Dwayne Hicks. He even started filming with the rest of the crew, getting through one week before he bailed out. He claimed that he had creative differences with James Cameron, the director, and they weren’t able to work through them. Michael Biehn got a call that Friday asking him if he was interested in playing the part. That Monday, he was already on set taking up his role. He missed the full three weeks of rehearsal as well as the first week of filming but still managed to jump in and play his part. He even said it was a relief to not have to go through the army-style training that the other soldiers had to endure. He said he missed the times when “they did the round table reading, and they would take all the soldiers out and march them over and over again, and have all the dinners.”
6 Demolition Man – Lenina Huxley
With the way it was eventually filmed, Demolition Man has become a bit of a cult classic. It was the big breakout role for Sandra Bullock, after she played the part of Lieutenant Lenina Huxley. This 1993 sci-fi action movie might not be what you would consider to be average fare for Bullock, but it certainly stood her in good stead in terms of her career. She was brought in right in the thick of it with no time to prepare, however, after Lori Petty dropped out. She filmed just three days of scenes before going to producer Joel Silver and complaining about her character. Whatever it was that she must have said, it didn’t go down well at all, because she was then fired. It must have been something pretty serious for the producers to consider getting rid of her so late in the game, and face gambling on an actress who may not have been right for the role either.
5 X-Men – Wolverine
One of the most iconic roles of Hugh Jackman’s entire career almost didn’t go his way at all. Dougray Scott was signed up to play Wolverine in the first X-Men movie when production was about to begin. Unfortunately, he was working on a different project at that time which ended up running over longer than it was supposed to. Since he was contractually obliged to finish up that one first, he had to pull out of the film at the last minute. Thankfully, director Bryan Singer had already had his eye on Jackman since the auditioning process. A few calls were made, Jackman stepped in, and movie history was made. Jackman surely hasn’t regretted the decision, and while Scott says that he doesn’t regret it either – that it’s just one of those things that happened – there must be a part of him that wonders what would have happened if he was still involved.
4 Dirty Harry – Harry Callahan
As far as Clint Eastwood goes, there are two seriously iconic roles which define his career. First there was The Man With No Name, and then there was Harry Callahan. Everything else was simply incidental. But, bizarrely, Harry Callahan was written with someone completely different in mind. Frank Sinatra was intended to play the title role in Dirty Harry from the start. Then he was filming The Manchurian Candidate and broke his wrist. Since the .357 Magnum that Callahan carries is an important part of the role, it came as a blow when Sinatra wasn’t even strong enough to lift it up. He quit just a few weeks before filming was due to begin, and the producers had to scramble to audition someone new. Eastwood was brought in after a number of others were considered, but it must have been clear from the first take that he was the only real choice for the role.
3 There Will Be Blood – Eli Sunday
One of the darkest and most interesting plot points in There Will Be Blood comes when it turns out that Eli Sunday and Paul Sunday are identical twins, and Daniel Plainview has been dealing with not one psychopath but two brothers with different personalities. Originally, the script wasn’t so clever. Kel O’Neill was cast as Eli Sunday, while Paul Dano was cast in the smaller role. O’Neill was reportedly frightened by the prospect of acting with Daniel Day-Lewis, who famously stays in character until production is completed (and this was a pretty scary character). Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t look far for the replacement: he just asked Dano to cover both. This turned out to be a stroke of genius, adding more depth to the film and showcasing Dano's brilliant then-relatively-unknown acting chops. He was perfect for the role, switching between the brothers effortlessly and fooling the viewer right up until the reveal.
2 The Wizard Of Oz – The Wicked Witch Of The West
Margaret Hamilton isn’t well-known by name for much other than playing the Wicked Witch of the West in musical classic The Wizard of Oz. She takes on the role of the green witch who tries to steal Dorothy’s slippers, and does it with great style – she’s convincing as the evil sister who cackles maniacally. But she was brought in at the last minute, because the original actress, Gale Sodergaard, quit just three days before filming began. It seems like Sodergaard accepted the role without bothering to read the script, because she apparently objected to the idea of playing what she called a “hag”. The chance to play the role came up by accident, but it was a great one for Hamilton as she really made her mark. If the witch had been played by a woman who was trying to appear attractive, it might not have gone so well.
1 Paddington – Paddington Bear
When Paddington was put into production, there was one character who just had to be right. The titular bear was “played” by CGI, but he still needed a voice actor. Colin Firth was cast, and he even recorded all of the lines. Yes, all of them. They put the film together and then the producers had a change of heart. There’s last minute, and then there’s so far past the last minute that it’s not even the same year anymore. Ben Whishaw was hurriedly brought in to replace all of the work that Firth had already done. It seems like it was the right choice, as the film became a bit of a surprise hit and had strong reviews. Firth was completely in agreement with the producers that his more mature voice probably wasn’t the best fit for the loveable bear, so a younger actor was the obvious choice.