If the wrong actors are cast, the wrong movie gets made. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, putting the right actor in the right part is anything but simple. As Los Angeles casting director Heidi Levitt states, “finding the right actor is skilled alchemy and no one can just Google it”. Sometimes though, it seems the right part falls to the right actor, regardless of who the first choice was. In a handful of these cosmic accidents, icons are born. Below are listed some of the most iconic film roles of all time and the actors originally slated to play them.
Shirley Temple as Dorothy Gale — The Wizard of OZ (1939)
At the time, the ten year old Shirley Temple was the highest grossing movie star in the world and had been since 1935. Add to that, she was roughly the same age Dorothy was in the book. It was only after 20th Century Fox would not loan the child star out to MGM that the 16 year old Judy Garland was cast. The character of Dorothy was forced to mature in age while costume designers had to tame Garland’s maturing bust line.
Gary Cooper as Rhett Butler — Gone With the Wind (1939)
GWTW producer David O. Selznick wanted Gary Cooper to play the Confederate Capitan. The only problem was Samuel Goldwyn refused to lend the actor to Selznick, no matter the sum. Selznick then asked Cooper directly and presented him with an offer to leave Goldwyn’s studio however, Cooper simply did not want to do the movie. The part was then passed to Selznick’s second choice, Clark Gable. At the time, Cooper is quoted as saying: “Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me.”
Jack Lemmon as ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson — The Hustler (1961)
It is the billiards movie by which all others are measured. Shooting pool for money is the name of the game and ‘Fast’ Eddie is the best player in the film. Even if you beat him he’s still the best. Paul Newman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance but was at best the third choice for the role. Initially, Tony Curtis was offered the role of the young pool shark. When he turned it down, Curtis’ “Some Like it Hot” costar Jack Lemmon was offered the job. After Jack Lemmon passed on the part, the job fell to Paul Newman. In 1986, Newman reprised his role as Felson, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor that eluded him in 1961.
John Wayne as the Waco Kid — Blazing Saddles (1974)
Mel Brooks had a very specific type in mind for the character. The Waco Kid is supposed to be a burned out, alcoholic gunfighter and Brooks wanted an actor who could portray that dejected and worn quality. The first choice for Brooks was veteran actor and horseman Dan Dailey but he had to pass because his eyesight made it unsafe for him to ride horses any longer. Brooks then tapped perhaps the biggest Hollywood icon of all time for the role, John Wayne. Wayne reportedly loved the script but reluctantly had to pass on the role telling Brooks, “This is too dirty. I’m John Wayne”. After Gig Young was cast in the part but had to drop out on the first day of filming due to actual alcohol withdrawal, Gene Wilder was brought in and hilariously saved the day.
Al Pacino as Han Solo — Star Wars: Ep. IV — A New Hope (1977)
Due to his string of recent hits, Al Pacino was the hottest commodity around. As such, he was offered just about every project imaginable, including the first installment of the quintessential sci-fi saga. Pacino didn’t have a feel for the script and passed on the role. In a 2014 interview, Pacino insinuated that he was only offered the part based upon his popularity; “I was in The Godfather,” he stated. “They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act.” Eventually, Harrison Ford landed the role that made him a household name. Other actors that have been linked to the role of Han Solo reads as a who’s who of Hollywood leading men and include James Caan, Nick Nolte, Chevy Chase, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Murray and Christopher Walken. While also drawing consideration for Luke Skywalker, there is footage of a 24 year old Kurt Russell screen testing for Solo.
Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones — Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Not only did Tom Selleck turn in an outstanding screen test for the hero archeologist, he was actually offered the role. For years rumors have circulated that Selleck turned down the role but that is not true. Of nearly portraying Indy, Selleck revealed in a 2014 interview that “that’s a true story. The only thing that gets me mad when I hear that story is that I turned it down. I didn’t turn it down!” What prevented Selleck from acting in the film was that the pilot he just shot for CBS got picked up. The show was Magnum PI and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could not convince the network to release Selleck of his obligations. Eventually, Lucas and Spielberg turned to a familiar fixture in Harrison Ford; all three are currently preparing for a fifth installment of the franchise.
The Shawshank Trio — The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Tom Cruise as Andy Dufresne – The leading role nearly featured Tom Cruise and he even sat for a table reading. However, Cruise had trepidation working with Frank Darabont in his directorial debut. Tom Hanks was offered the role but could not do both Shawshank and “Forrest Gump” at the same time. Kevin Costner was a big fan of the script but was already ensconced in the mega project “Waterworld”. Other notable considerations for the part that would eventually be played by Tim Robbins included Jeff Bridges, Matthew Broderick, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp and Charlie Sheen.
- Clint Eastwood as Red – In Stephen King’s short story of which the film is based, the aging convict Red is described as an Irishman with red hair, “half grey and starting to recede”. Originally, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Harrison Ford and Robert Redford all drew consideration for the part. Ultimately, director Frank Darabont cast Morgan Freeman for the part due to his “his authoritative presence, demeanor, and deep voice”.
- Brad Pitt as Tommy Williams – After Frank Darabont saw Brad Pitt’s charming turn in “Thelma & Louise”, he felt he would be perfect in the role of charismatic prisoner Tommy Williams. Brad Pitt actually agreed to do the film but opted out so he could do the higher profile “Interview with the Vampire”. Gil Bellows was cast as Tommy who, in Darabont’s opinion, “enhanced the movie”.
Leo DiCaprio as Patrick Bateman — American Psycho (2000)
Mary Harron as writer and director of American Psycho had a clear vision for how she wanted Pat Bateman represented on film. Christian Bale was it. However, in 1998 when Lionsgate Films took ownership of the project, two things happened; Harron was let go as director and Leonardo DiCaprio was announced to play Bateman. Lionsgate felt that Bale simply did not have the star power to carry the film. Oliver Stone was then tapped to direct. After a series of table reads, it became quite clear that Stone and DiCaprio did not agree on the project. DiCaprio decided to ditch American Psycho so that he could pursue the adventure film “The Beach”. Harron was then reinstated as director and she brought back Bale. Regarding the casting of Patrick Bateman, Harron stated: “Whoever was going to do this role had to be totally fearless about it. In a way, they had to have nothing to lose. And Christian had nothing to lose”.