Everyone has that one experience they wish they could go back and change. For these actors, it might be letting these now legendary parts slip through their grasp. From The Matrix to The Shawshank Redemption, some of your favorite actors passed up the opportunities to play some of your favorite roles.
Undeniably, The Matrix
was a pivotal film that marked many new advances in filmmaking, but did you know that the casting of Keanu Reeves as Neo was not the director’s first choice? That privilege lay with the Fresh Prince
himself, Will Smith. When Smith passed, the part was handed to Reeves who turned the film into his most successful to date and spawned two, less-than-stellar, but still visually stunning sequels.
Leonardo DiCaprio passed on the roles of Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, Robin in Batman Begins and Spiderman in, you guessed it, Spiderman. In an ironic twist, DiCaprio’s most iconic role, Jack Dawson in Titanic, was only given to him after Matthew McConaughey passed at the chance to stow away aboard the maiden voyage.
Another serial passer is Warren Beatty. He, too, passed on a role in the film Boogie Nights, the same role that won Burt Reynolds an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He also passed on the lead roles in Misery, Wall Street and The Sting.
One film that had many casting shifts was Thelma & Louise. Melanie Griffith was the producers’ first choice for Thelma, but she turned them down. They went on to cast Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster as Thelma and Louise, respectively, but when pre-production lasted longer than expected, both actresses were forced to drop out. That was when Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis stepped in and created the iconic characters we all know today.
The role that would ultimately turn Julia Roberts into America’s Sweetheart was actually intended for none other than Brat-Packer Molly Ringwald. After the 80’s teen queen passed on playing Vivian in Pretty Woman, the role was offered to Jennifer Jason Leigh, then Daryl Hannah; both actresses passed, Hannah claiming the role was “demeaning to women.” It was only then that the actress with the big red hair and even bigger smile stepped into those thigh-high black boots.
Ringwald’s career choices continued on a curious path when she turned down lead roles in Some Kind of Wonderful, Scream and Ghost. But Ringwald shouldn’t feel too bad; Bruce Willis also turned down the male lead in Ghost, a film that would later cast his then-wife Demi Moore in the role intended for Ringwald.
Roberts herself is not immune to passing on legendary roles. Having passed on Sharon Stone’s famous leg crossing role in Basic Instinct, as well as parts in Godfather III, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping and even Gwyneth Paltrow’s Academy Award-winning role in Shakespeare in Love, Roberts has still managed to become one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses of all time.
Tom Hanks is known for his good guy charm, so it’s not surprising that he was sought after for the roles of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams and Jerry Maguire in the like-titled film, but could you imagine Hanks in the gritty prison drama The Shawshank Redemption? That is who producers originally had in mind for the film’s central character. And while the idea of Hanks and Morgan Freeman sharing the silver screen seems divine, anyone else but Tim Robbins in that role just seems wrong in retrospect. On a side note, Hanks’ most recognized role, Forrest Gump, was originally intended for John Travolta.
Passing on now-iconic roles is nothing new for actors; even old-Hollywood saw its fair share of cinematic musical chairs. Bette Davis turned down the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind when she was under the impression that Errol Flynn would be playing the part of Rhett Butler; at that time, Davis refused to work with the actor.
Perhaps most surprising is that two of the most iconic films of our time couldn’t get their desired leads. Producers for James Bond originally approached Cary Grant about playing Great Britain’s most debonair secret agent in 1962’s Dr. No, but the actor declined, saying he didn’t want to be tied to a series. The role ultimately went to Sean Connery, much to Bond creator Ian Fleming’s chagrin. Fleming was quoted as saying of Connery “he’s not exactly what I had in mind.”
One role reigns supreme in the game of famous actors passing on famous roles. The movie is Star Wars, the character is Han Solo, and the actors in question were Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken and Burt Reynolds. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone but Harrison Ford in the role, but Pacino, Nolte and Walken were all seriously considered. It was Reynolds who was chosen by producers to play the now iconic role, but he turned down their offers. Apparently, the force was just not strong with that one.
Don’t feel too badly for Ford; he has actually made a career off other actors’ missed opportunities. In addition to Han Solo, he booked The Fugitive after Alec Baldwin passed, and he only received the role of Indiana Jones after Tom Selleck was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with Magnum PI. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s multi-picture deal.