Timothy Olyphant was offered to role of Dom Toretto in The Fast and the Furious, but turned it down, with Vin Diesel eventually taking the part. When the sleek car-based action flick The Fast and the Furious was released to theaters in Summer 2001 by Universal, it’s unlikely that anyone would have predicted the film would spawn one of the most profitable and long-running franchises in recent cinema history. Budgeted at only $38 million – hardly a blockbuster budget even back in 2001 – and sporting a cast that were hardly household names at the time, The Fast and the Furious soared past all expectations at the box office, earning over $207 million worldwide.
The Fast and the Furious franchise has since continued via six sequels, with all of them – aside from the underperforming 2006 misfire Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – hauling in huge profits. In total, the seven films in the series so far have earned nearly $4 billion at the worldwide box office, an impressive number by just about any measure. That winning pattern looks to continue with this weekend’s release of the eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious, which is projected to bring in over $400 million worldwide over the course of its opening weekend.
While they didn’t star in every film, undoubtedly the two cast members most associated with the Fast and Furious franchise are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Walker’s Brian O’Conner character was sadly removed from the franchise by his tragic 2013 death, a death which almost led to the cancellation of 2015 sequel Furious 7. With Walker gone, Diesel’s Dom Toretto is now the true anchor of the series, set to appear through at least the planned 10th entry. Surprisingly enough though, producer Neal H. Moritz recently revealed on Bill Simmons’ podcast that Diesel was not the person originally offered the role. That honor instead goes to Justified star Timothy Olyphant.
According to Moritz, when he and Walker pitched the concept of The Fast and the Furious to Universal, the studio was willing to greenlight the project, provided Olyphant was cast as Toretto. Olyphant said no, with the role then being offered to Diesel, leading to the movie getting made and the rest being history. While Moritz acknowledges that Olyphant is a talented actor – and wonders how the movie would have turned out had Olyphant been cast – he feels that in hindsight, Diesel was clearly the right man for the job.
What Moritz didn’t spell out is why exactly Universal was so enthused about the prospect of Olyphant co-leading The Fast and the Furious, as he wasn’t nearly as established a commodity in Hollywood back then as he is now due to series like Justified and Deadwood. To be fair though, Olyphant – who had by then appeared in over 10 theatrical features – was likely at least a bit more well-known to the masses at that point than Diesel, who was then best known for playing a small role in Saving Private Ryan, voicing the Iron Giant, and starring in sci-fi sleeper hit Pitch Black.