It’s not an uncommon story. There are countless unknown factors in whether or not an actor accepts a role – be it their own passion for the project or a simple paycheck. One reason we hear, particularly from older actors, is that their kids or grandkids were fans of the project. As President Jed Bartlett exclaimed in The West Wing, you don’t mess with the grandchildren for their grandparents are fierce protectors. They’re also willing to bend over backwards to their offspring’s offspring’s wishes.
There is a problem inherent in doing it for a ten-year-old. A child’s taste is not terribly well-honed. Particularly in their formative years, when bright lights, fuzzy Teletubbies or Mac and Me might be included in their Facebook likes. As a result, many a talented actor has wound up in complete and utter crap all for the sake of pleasing a child. And the audience in left with the aftermath of their attempt. On some occasions, there’s a genuinely good literary work geared toward youngsters that a parent can be proud to be cast in, but they’re few and far between.
Be it a terribly misguided attempt to make a prepubescent laugh and smile at you with admiration or a well-executed work of art, here are just 15 Roles Taken By Actors Because of Their Kids.
15. Richard Harris – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Richard Harris was long the favourite to play head wizard and father figure Dumbledore in Chris Columbus’ first adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s juggernaut Harry Potter series. He was offered the role on three separate occasions, each time being reminded of the doubtless financial success of the film as well as an increased salary with each offer. Harris was reluctant. At 70, he was battling declining health. His reluctance stemmed from not wanting to commit himself to a seven picture deal – which ultimately would have been eight.
But it’s hard to say no to your grandkids, especially in what is likely the final decade of your life. So when his 11-year-old granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again if he didn’t take the role, Harris acquiesced. He only survived the first two films, passing away at 72. He was replaced by Michael Gambon, an actor very much his equal who, under the heavy white beard, made the change unnoticeable to children.
14. Raul Julia – M. Bison, Street Fighter
Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia will forever be remembered by ’90s kids as Gomez Adams and M. Bison in Street Fighter. Both roles showcased Julia’s ability to go completely over the top yet still have the same shining charisma that made him such a compelling figure in earlier years. Unfortunately, they don’t display the subtlety or charm he had brought to the screen for decades. Of the two roles, Adams is the more flattering memorial for the actor, who passed away from stomach cancer in 1994.
Though Street Fighter managed to be a modest success at the box office, it’s mostly remembered as the kind of so-bad-its-good action film in which star Jean-Claude Van Damme specialized. Critics were kind to Julia, who only took the role because his children were huge fans of the video game series, but they eviscerated the film. One critic noted what a shame it was that the poorly conceived mess of a video game adaptation was dedicated to the late actor.
13. Robert Downey Jr. – Patrick Pewterschmidt, Family Guy
The list of guest voices in Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy surpasses even that of The Simpsons. What’s astonishing is how many actors have volunteered their actual voices for a single line of dialogue. From Abe Vigoda to regulars like James Woods and Adam West, MacFarlane and his team have a way of getting stars to even lampoon themselves – often in unflattering ways.
One celebrity who didn’t voice himself but has become a recurring character is that of Lois Griffin’s brother, Patrick Pewterschmidt aka The Fat Guy Strangler. After learning his son was a fan of the show, Robert Downey Jr. actually called producers to request a role on the show. It’s an incredibly sweet gesture, but one that also begs the question: Having Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chaplin for a father somehow wasn’t enough?
12. Djimon Hounsou – Korath the Pursuer, Guardians of the Galaxy
Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou has spent a career in self-serious films from self-serious filmmakers like Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and Jim Sheridan. Even his work in television shows like Wayward Pines are heavier than standard network TV fare. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a lighter side – appearing in Constantine, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – Cradle of Life, Michael Bay’s extremely silly The Island and, most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Turns out, however, Hounsou’s reasons for even his lighter roles carry with them serious consideration. The role of Korath The Pursuer in Guardians, for instance, was taken to teach his young son that African Americans can also be superheroes. His son had apparently said he wished to be light-skinned so that he one day could play Spider-Man. Horrified by this, Hounsou set out to diversify the MCU. And, in recent years, the push to move away from an all-white superhero universe has resonated, with campaigns for Donald Glover to be Spider-Man and the introduction of Black Panther.
11. Frank Langella – Skeletor, Masters of the Universe
The behind-the-scenes stories of Golan-Globus’ Masters of the Universe adaptation are well documented. The company is notorious for not necessarily securing the rights to material properly – hence Dolph Lungren’s lack of a Punisher skull shirt in the 1987 adaptation and the lack of “He-Man and the…” in the title here. But the thing we were most delighted to learn was Frank Langella’s complete willingness to leap into the role of Skeletor. According to the actor, he didn’t even blink before agreeing to play the role. At time, his four-year-old son was running around the house shouting, “I have the power!” every ten minutes or so. “I couldn’t wait to play him,” said Langella.
And by the power of Grayskull, does Langella play the hell out of Skeletor. Critics claimed he was the only redemptive aspect of the film, whose budgetary limitations stranded the men and women of Eternia somewhere in New Jersey. It’s a fun performance and, in a career that includes portrayals of Richard Nixon, Dracula and Claire Quilty of Lolita, it happens to be Langella’s favourite.
10. Anthony Mackie – The Falcon, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Hounsou wasn’t the only star who realized they had an opportunity to change the MCU for the better. Anthony Mackie’s The Falcon was the first African American superhero to appear in the universe – in both comic and cinema form. Mackie saw the role as a way to inspire children of colour worldwide. “The biggest thing for me, the most exciting thing for me, is to come out on Halloween and see all the little Black kids dressed up like The Falcon.
It’s a nice sentiment, and Mackie’s character is a great place to start the change – an intelligent, moral character who trained for the job. He didn’t fall into a vat of superpowers, but is guided by his righteousness. And it’s not the only character Mackie has played to inspire younger generations. His excellent turn as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in All The Way has the same power, without all the flying.
9. Kate Winslet – Jeanine Mathews, Divergent
The Divergent series is another in a long line of dystopian YA fiction. In this case, the futuristic society divides survivors post-apocalypse into five factions based on their personality traits. The usual rebellion against an outmoded adult authority system follows.
Kate Winslet joined the film late in the casting process, uncertain if she could due to her being five months pregnant. She only appears in the first film briefly, her role as chief villain Jeanine Mathews expanding in the later films, so the crew was able to shoot around her condition. Winslet didn’t hesitate when he was offered the role. Aside from the attraction of playing a major villain for the first time in her career, the actresses young girl and boy were 13 and ten years old, respectively. She took the role for the same reason some new mothers let their children have friends over with doors closed or let them trick or treat without chaperones – she wanted to be the “cool” mom. It payed off – her kids suddenly found popularity in their school, their classmates begging them for tickets to the premiere.
8. Michael Sheen – Aro, Twilight: New Moon
A word about Twilight: its faux-vampire lore is more inspired by author Stephanie Meyer’s Mormonism than any kind of gothic literature or film. In fact, when asked if she’d ever even read Dracula, Meyer responded, “it’s on the list.” That’s precisely the kind of statement that drove horror junkies up the wall when her novels and subsequent film adaptations became the financial juggernauts they were.
Nevertheless, actors both new and old were roped into spewing out atrociously dumb dialogue. One such actor who had no problem doing so was Michael Sheen, who played Aro in the series. Sheen was already well on his way to establishing himself as one of the finest actors of his generation, racking up a ton of acclaimed Shakespearean roles and performances in Frost/Nixon and The Queen. On the other hand, he had slummed it in the Underworld franchise. While at first glance his appearance in the Twilight series appears like the same paycheck grab, he actually took the role as a gift to his 13-year-old daughter. The announcement initially backfired, as the ungrateful little punk was upset her father looked nothing like her ideal Aro.
7. Donnie Yen – Chirrut Imwe, Rogue One
Reactions to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have been unpredictable. Some were impressed by the film’s willingness to go as dark as it did while still remaining true to the franchise. Others were put off by the same things as well as Peter Cushing’s trip to the uncanny valley and a psychic squid man. Nevertheless, ever since new Star Wars films were announced, actors lined up to have cameos or supporting roles. In The Force Awakens, Daniel Craig appears as a storm trooper and, under loads of make up, Simon Pegg shows up as a creature.
For Rogue One, Riz Ahmed sent in 14 separate audition tapes just to get director Gareth Edward’s attention. One actor who was less gung-ho about his casting was Donnie Yen, who played the blind Chirrut Imwe. Yen wasn’t enthused about the idea of spending five months away from his family, so he asked his children how they’d feel if he was in Star Wars. “They flipped out,” Yen told Jetset. As a result, Yen brought his unique set of skills to the character, choreographing his own fight scenes. It was also Yen’s idea for Imwe to be blind.
6. Viggo Mortensen – Aragorn, Lord of the Rings
Viggo Mortensen is known for diving deep into the roles he takes. For Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, the actor became so taken with the character and world that Peter Jackson had created, he was known for walking around on set with his sword – even driving with it on his off days. So it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that Mortensen knew nothing of the Tolkien novel prior to arriving on set. He had little interested in spending months far from home, playing a role with which he had no prior relation.
It was his son Henry who convinced him otherwise, telling his father it’d be “pretty cool” to be in the film. The next day, he was on a plane to New Zealand and training with Bob Anderson, who taught Errol Flynn a thing or two about sword play. Once he was engaged in duels with Anderson, Mortensen was sold on the role.
5. Elvis Costello – Himself, Spice World
Elvis Costello isn’t quite exactly an actor, but his hammy delight shines through in every “performance” he’s delivered. In fact, his giddy enthusiasm has made him a favourite of comedian Stephen Colbert, who best utilized Costello in his Christmas Special. And he’s not half bad at line delivery; when David Letterman underwent open heart surgery, Costello was the first to guest host the show (with an appearance from a little known comedian named Mitch Hedberg).
So it was no surprise that Costello willingly turned up in Spice World, the unrepentantly bad vehicle for the late 90s sensation that no one has been able to properly explain yet. Some have argued its an attempt to update A Hard Day’s Night, which sounds more like an insult to the young Liverpoolians than an explanation. Either way, the film featured countless cameos from British celebrities. Costello reportedly appeared due to his children’s love of the band.
4. Donald Pleasence – Dr. Sam Loomis, Halloween
The role of Dr. Sam Loomis, who takes his name from John Gavin’s character in Psycho, is one of the most iconic in recent horror history. Appearing in five of the Halloween films, Donald Pleasence’s frantic doomsaying performance was sorely missed after the actor’s death in 1995. The role was offered to several other horror stars before Pleasence agreed to it, including both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee would later say not taking the role was one of his biggest regrets.
Before John Carpenter revolutionized the horror genre with Halloween, he made the low-budget psuedo-remake of Rio Bravo, Assault on Precinct 13. While the film didn’t perform well in the U.S., critics overseas praised it as one of the best of the year. At least one young British girl was paying attention: Pleasence’s daughter, who loved Carpenter’s synth score to the film. When her father got the offer for Carpenter’s next project, it was his daughter who convinced him to take it.
3. Danny DeVito – Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
As It’s Always Sunny has continued through the seasons, it appears Danny DeVito has fallen into a bizarrely intense form of method acting that should probably worry his friends and family. DeVito’s first such outburts was on The View after a night of drinking Limoncello shots with friend George Clooney. Drinking apparently makes DeVito believe his impression of then-President George W. Bush as one of The 3 Stooges is the funniest thing in history. DeVito, always the charmer, responded to what could have been an embarassing moment by releasing his own brand of Limoncello.
Rob McElhenny, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day were struggling to gain an audience for their FX show after the first season. FX heads liked it, but couldn’t justify keeping it on the air unless ratings significantly improved. As the actors and writers threw names around the room, the idea of asking Danny DeVito to join grew on them. DeVito was more than game, aware of the show’s existence because his kids loved it.
As a result, the show’s ratings immediately saw a boost and DeVito, no stranger to playing despicable characters with hearts of gold, has enjoyed a nine-season run on one of the most beloved cult shows in history.
2. Dennis Hopper – King Koopa, Super Mario Bros.
There’s very little that hasn’t been said about the live-action adaptation of Super Mario Bros. Director’s Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel clearly had their own unique vision for the film. As more than one critic has pointed out, that vision looked as though they retrieved sets from Blade Runner and Total Recall from the lot dumpster and added more slime on them. Stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo both admitted to being completely wasted throughout the shoot – and while there’s no guarantee or even rumour Fisher Stevens was coked to the gills, it sure appears that way.
Then there’s poor Dennis Hopper, who spends the film hamming it up and arguing with a pizza delivery guy about dinosaur toppings, in one of the many failed recurring jokes throughout the film.
We’ll let Hopper explain himself. He told Conan O’Brien,
“I made a picture called Super Mario Bros., and my six-year-old son at the time — he’s now 18 — he said, ‘Dad, I think you’re probably a pretty good actor, but why did you play that terrible guy King Koopa in Super Mario Bros.?’ and I said, ‘Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.'”
1. Tommy Lee Jones – Two Face, Batman Forever
There’s no shortage of stories about Tommy Lee Jones being a bit of a jerk on and off sets. A story told by an anonymous waitress on an episode of Coast to Coast AM involves the time she dared tell him she admired his work at a restaraunt. Jones ordered the woman fired. That story, while obviously hard to verify, fits in well with what we know of his behaviour on the set of Batman Forever.
Jones was reluctant to take the role at all. It was his son’s enthusiasm that led Jones to agree to the part. Prior to his son’s coaching on the character’s history, the actor had no clue who he was. As casting went on, he was further distraught to learn many of his scenes would be with Jim Carrey, who told Howard Stern that he approached his costar in a diner (apparently, you really shouldn’t bother the guy while he’s eating). “I hate you, I really don’t like you,” Jones said to Carrey as the two hugged. “I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”