How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in Blockbuster Movies

11 Jun

There are certain movies that are almost indistinguishable from their cast, just as there are certain movie characters that are synonymous with the actors who play them.  Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones right?  No one else could have brought the same lovable cockiness to the role.  Sir Ian McKellen was born to play Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.  Only Johnny Depp could have pulled off the craziness that is Captain Jack Sparrow.  In each case the roles could never have been given to anyone else.

Except that they almost were.

Indiana Jones almost had a moustache, Gandalf almost had a Scottish accent, and Captain Jack Sparrow almost wasn’t a crazy make up loving Rolling Stone.

Having a look at the actors who almost played iconic film roles is a bit of an obsession for me, so in the first of what will no doubt be many posts on the topic, Hesaidwhatnow? presents a look at the actors who were almost cast in some of the biggest films of all time.

The Lord of the Rings

This ginormous trilogy broke all kinds of records and bagged a swag of Oscars, but it almost looked very different.  Initially Peter Jackson cast the role of Hobbit protector and elf fetishist Aragorn to Stuart Townsend.  In fact, it was only after four days of shooting when Jackson realised that Townsend was too young for the part and replaced him with Viggo Mortenson.  Getting shafted from a trilogy that raked in roughly a gazillion dollars at the box office has got to hurt.

Sean Connery, on the other hand, has no one to blame but himself.  He was offered the role of Gandalf the Grey only to turn it down because he couldn’t understand the script (he reportedly kept referring to ‘Bobbits’) and didn’t want to spend 18 months filming in New Zealand.  That’s a shame.  The reported $400 million that fellow Brit Sir Ian McKellen received for the role could have bought him another Scottish castle or two.

You ssharl not parss!

James Bond

One role that Connery did land was that of British superspy James Bond.  My apologies: I meant British superspy Bond, James Bond.  Connery played 007 in the first of many films in the franchise, Dr No, back in 1962.  He wasn’t the first choice though; that was Cary Grant.  However after realising that Grant, who was almost 60 at the time, was possibly a bit old to be kicking ass and getting ass, the producers turned to bodybuilder Connery to play the iconic role.  Of the six actors to have played Bond, most agree that Connery is still the best.

One of those six actors to have played Bond could almost have been Clint Eastwood.  He was offered the role when Connery decided to leave the franchise, but he turned it down, astutely realising that Connery had made Bond his own.  Instead George Lazenby took over for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Still, I think it would have been enjoyable watching Eastwood squinting down the barrel of a gun at a bested terrorist, asking him if he felt lucky.  Not sure if a Bond villain has ever been called a ‘punk’ before.

Pirates of the Caribbean

One man who must have felt lucky about how casting ended up was Johnny Depp.  His unique Keith Richards inspired Captain Jack Sparrow – and the outrageous amounts of cash he got paid for playing him – almost didn’t happen.  The idea for a movie based on the famous Disney ride was first bandied about in the early 90s.  At that time, Steven Spielberg was keen to direct.  His first choices to play Captain Jack Sparrow were somewhat different to the end result.  He wanted either Bill Murray, Steven Martin, or Robin Williams.  Had Pirates been casted along those lines it still would have been an immensely fun – albeit a very different – movie, but would it have spawned three sequels and become one of the most successful franchises of all time?  More importantly, would the Halloween costume industry have ever been the same?

The Matrix

Another huge franchise is The Matrix and its sequels.  A sci-fi smash that seemingly came out of nowhere and has since become one of the most influential films of its genre, The Matrix could have looked very different.

Ultra cool Morpheus was played by ultra cool Lawrence Fishbourne, but the part very nearly went to Val Kilmer.  Whilst I think Kilmer could have pulled it off almost as well as Fishbourne, I can’t imagine anyone else playing Neo besides Keanu Reeves.  It nearly happened though.

Early candidates included Ewan McGregor (who turned it down to play Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Nicolas Cage (thank god that didn’t happen) but the role was also turned down by two of the biggest movie stars of the time.  Tom Cruise turned it down because he didn’t think it would be a success.  Will Smith almost took it, but wisely decided that he wasn’t very suited to the role, instead opting to film Wild, Wild, West.  That movie was ever so slightly less successful than The Matrix, but it’s not like Smith missed out on blockbuster sci-fi franchises entirely…

Men In Black

The Men In Black films are very much more up Will Smith’s alley, and it’s hard to picture anyone else as super cool, super cocky alien busting Agent J, but he almost didn’t get the part.  The role was initially slated for an actor with almost the exact opposite skill set as Smith: Friends star David Schwimmer.  Would MIB have been such a success and spawned two sequels over two decades if Schwimmer had been involved?  I doubt it.  Thankfully, whoever came up with that casting idea got told to look into a neuraliser.

Interestingly Tommy Lee Jones’ role of Agent K was almost given to Clint Eastwood.  Had Eastwood been cast alongside Schwimmer, we might have seen two hours of Schwimmer whining about his feelings for Rachel before being  smacked on the back of the head and being told to stop being a wuss by Eastwood.  Come to think of it, I probably would’ve paid to watch that film.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Surely no one could have worn the fedora of Indiana Jones other than Harrison Ford, right?  Well, were it not for a twist of fate, someone else very much could have.  After unsuccessfully offering the role to a diverse group of actors including Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Jack Nicholson, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were at odds on who should have been the world’s greatest archaeologist.  Spielberg wanted Ford, but having already worked with him several times before, Lucas was adamant that the role go to his first choice, little known actor Tom Selleck.  Lucas got his way, and Selleck was cast in the role.

This is when fate stepped in.  Selleck had earlier shot a pilot for a TV show.  Between getting the role as Jones and the filming of the movie, the TV network picked up the option on his show.  Contractually, Selleck was bound to work on the show – Magnum P.I. – and had to regretfully turn down the role as Indy, leaving Ford to pick up the hat and whip.

If he was angry at fate already, Selleck was soon even angrier.  As it turned out there was a strike in Hollywood that delayed the filming of Magnum P.I., but because Indiana Jones was filmed overseas, there wasn’t any delay for its production, meaning he could have filmed both.  Ouch.

Also worth noting, the role of boisterous Egyptian excavator, Sallah, was originally conceived for Danny DeVito.  That would have been a slightly different challenge for the wardrobe department.

This almost happened

Star Wars: A New Hope

Indiana Jones wasn’t the only iconic role that Ford almost missed out on.  The biggest blockbuster of them all, Star Wars: A New Hope, was almost comprised of a different cast, including for the role of Han Solo.

The range of actors considered for Han Solo were even broader than those considered for Indiana Jones.   They included the same four who were considered for Jones – Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Jack Nicholson – as well as Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Roger Daltry.  Perhaps the actor I could best see in the role if it wasn’t Ford is Kurt Russell.  The worst?  That would be a tie between Gene Simmons and Sylvestor Stallone (although rumour has it that Stallone’s drawling voice was the inspiration behind Chewbacca’s dialect).

Lucas didn’t like any of the other choices, and eventually after watching Ford read the part with the actresses auditioning for Princess Leia, he realised he had the perfect man for the job all along.

Among those Ford read with were Carrie Fisher and Sissy Spacek.  Lucas gave the role to Spacek, whilst Fisher won the title role in the Steven King novel adaptation, Carrie.  But Fisher didn’t want to do any nude scenes, so they swapped parts.  Apparently she had no problems with gold slave bikinis though.

So a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher almost weren’t in Star Wars. Now that would have sent a disturbance through the Force.

2 Responses to “How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in Blockbuster Movies”

  1. amandalovesmovies November 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Always love these, didn’t know about the possible Jack Sparrow. Or David Schwimmer in Men in Black. Will Smith replaced another white actor in Bad Boys, which was written for Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey.

    • hesaidwhatnow November 8, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      Thanks for the Bad Boys fact – I didn’t know that one. That would definitely have been a different film! I’ll be posting some more casting facts in the future, so keep an eye out!

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