Some roles are done so brilliantly by actors that it’s hard to imagine them being having been done by anyone else. However, there are plenty of examples of roles that were offered to others prior to the final casting of the part. Here are a few examples of movies that could’ve been quite different, and actors/actresses that have been in the running for parts they (for various reasons) did not end up doing.
Robert De Niro played the part of James ‘Jimmy’ Conway perfectly, and considering his many movies with director Martin Scorsese, it might come as a surprise that Al Pacino was actually offered the role. Pacino declined the role, fearing it might lead him to being typecasted, a decision he has admitted to regretting later on. John Malkovich also turned down the role.
In the same movie, Ray Liotta plays the lead character Henry Hill. Arguably one of his best performances, Liotta himself has said that Sean Penn was considered for the part. Alec Baldwin also auditioned for the role.
Ellen Barkin was considered for the part of Henry Hill’s wife, Karen Hill. The part eventually ended up being played by Lorraine Bracco, best known for her character of Dr. Jennifer Melfi in ‘The Sopranos’.
The Shawshank Redemption
As much as Al Pacino might have regretted turning down ‘Goodfellas’, I’d say Kevin Costner’s decision to turn down the role of Andy Dufresne might be an even bigger mistake. Especially considering he did so as he was attached to an other movie at the time. That other movie was ‘Waterworld’…
The Oscar nominated director Rob Reiner tried to buy the rights for the movie script for ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, and had his offer been accepted, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford were his choices for the roles of Andy and Red, respectively.
Other actors considered for the role of Andy (which in the end was played wonderfully by Tim Robbins) were Nicolas Cage, Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks. The latter was however committed to ‘Forrest Gump’ at the time, and could not accept an offer for the job.
Before Morgan Freeman landed the role of Red other actors considered were Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Brad Pitt was also set to play in the movie, as the character Tommy Williams, but this part in the end fell to Gil Bellows.
Speaking of Brad Pitt, it is no surprise that he has been in the running for many parts other then the ones he’s played. An actor of huge diversity, he proved his acting range during a magic couple of years during the 90s. After his breakthrough performance in ‘Thelma & Louise’, many considered him just a pretty boy. However, after showing off his comedic skills in ‘True Romance’, his touch of drama in movies such as ‘Legends of the Fall’, ‘Se7en’ and ‘Interview With a Vampire’, he hit a home run with his Oscar nominated performance in ’12 Monkeys’. As Jeffrey Goines he cemented himself as one of the rising star actors in the film industry. But what about the movies he just almost took part in?
– He turned down a role in ‘Apollo 13’ due to his commitment to ‘Se7en’.
– He was considered for the lead role in ‘The Matrix’.
– Was considered for the role of Willy Wonka in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
– Was considered for the role in ‘Crimson Tide’ which eventually went to Denzel Washington.
– Was in the running together with Russell Crowe for the part of Richie Roberts in ‘American Gangster’.
Six degrees of… replacements
Jodie Foster won an Academy Award for her performance in ‘Silence of the Lambs’, but only after Michelle Pfeiffer had turned down the role….
Michelle Pfeiffer on the other hand was considered for the lead role in ‘Mamma Mia’, a role which eventually went to Meryl Streep…
…. who was considered for the lead role in ‘Evita’, which in the end was played by Madonna….
…. who wanted the role in ‘Basic Instinct’, which eventually was played by Sharon Stone….
Sharon Stone auditioned for the role of Vicki Vale in ‘Batman’, a role that in the end went to Kim Basinger…
Kim Basinger was set to star in ‘Boxing Helena’, but tried to renegotiate her contract… it failed, and she was ordered to pay $8 million after the producers of the movie sued her. In the end, she did not have to pay the money, but the role ended up going to Sherilyn Fenn…
Same, but different?
Trying to imagine ‘Goodfellas’ without Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro seems hard. The movie is a masterpiece, and despite the brilliance of other actors considered, could it have been as good? It’s impossible to say. However, even this short look at film casting speaks volumes of the power of movies. Changing just one actor can change a whole movie. Would any other actor have pulled of that look Robert De Niro gave in a crucial scene in ‘Goodfellas’? How would Brad Pitt have pulled off the lead role in ‘The Matrix’? Could Meryl Streep have added another statue to her Oscar collection if she had participated in ‘Evita’? We will never know. To me, this is a truly magical aspect of movies. The fact that with just one tiny change in the setup of the movie (whether the casting of a lead actor or a small supporting role), a movie can have a whole new life. A whole new meaning. It can go from great to mediocre. From poor to okay. From forgettable to top class.
It’s magical because it says a lot about Film as Art. And it says a lot about how much potential a movie can have. And last, but not least, it says a lot about how important the job of a casting agent is…