If there’s one thing that pop culture fans are good at it, it’s fantasy casting their favorite shows and movies. Well, it turns out, casting directors, film studios, and even comic book writers aren’t afraid to dream up their ultimate line-up either.
The difference is, though, that when big Hollywood players start to imagine their pet projects, they actually stand a decent chance of making those dreams a reality. Some auditioned their favorite actors for popular roles, while others went as far as to film pilots with their performers of choice before finally seeing the light.
Over time, iconic characters almost seem to merge with the actors that brought them to life, making it impossible to envision anyone else in the role. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine the crazy alternate film universes that could have been.
How would the Hollywood landscape have changed if Silence Of The Lambs hadn’t won all of the awards in 1992, proving a little darkness can go a long way in the world of film? Would Leonardo DiCaprio have had a longer or shorter wait for his Academy Award if he had never played Titanic‘s dreamboat, Jack?
As crazy as it may seem, many of your favorite characters almost looked, sounded, and acted completely different.
For better or worse, here are the 15 Famous Actors Fans Didn’t Know Were First Choice For Iconic Roles.
15. Tamzin Merchant As Daenerys
Most of the actors on this list merely auditioned for these iconic roles, and a few never even made it past consideration, so it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that the Mother of Dragons herself was actually played by a different actress in the pilot entirely.
Emilia Clarke’s Khaleesi took the world by storm, creating a trendy new baby name in the process, and it almost didn’t happen.
Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors, Salem) originally played Daenerys Targaryen in the Game Of Thrones pilot. The show’s execs never gave a reason for replacing Merchant with Clarke, and even went as far as to say they had no issues with Merchant’s performance, but Clarke’s incredibly versatile range playing the simultaneously vulnerable innocence and fierce power of Dany is hard to deny.
14. Hugh Jackman As James Bond
Many an action star has been considered for the role of Britain’s most famous double agent, Mel Gibson claimed producers found him physically too short to play the part.
Liam Neeson turned down the chance to become Bond a good 20 years ago because his then-fiancée was uncomfortable with the thought of her future husband cozying up to a bunch of Bond Girls. While execs mourned the loss of their would-be spies to varying degrees, there is one special actor who will always be known as the one that got away: Jackman. Hugh Jackman.
For Jackman, turning down the Bond franchise was an easy choice, he simply didn’t have any faith in the material. He told Variety that the scripts had become “unbelievable and crazy.”
13. Oprah Winfrey As Amanda Waller
Oprah Winfrey is making a splash right now with her anticipated role in A Wrinkle In Time, her inspiring Golden Globes speech, and her maybe presidential campaign?
Note that Winfrey is typically known for her positivity, in life and in the roles she chooses to portray. Which makes it all the more interesting that she was very heavily considered for the part of Suicide Squad‘s actual villain, Amanda Waller.
As crazy as it may seem, Winfrey was once actually Warner Bros. top pick to play the morally ambiguous Waller. Of course, both Winfrey and the eventual Waller actress, Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder, The Help), are Academy Award winners. This one honestly feels like it would have been a win either way.
12. Christopher Walken As Han Solo
Quick, name an iconic character from Star Wars. Is it all of them? It’s all of them, isn’t it? Despite the franchise’s enormous roster of famous characters, perhaps the most iconic is the lovable rogue, Han Solo.
Harrison Ford perfectly embodies Solo’s rakish charm (largely due to Ford’s own ne’er-do-well personality) but believe it or not, he had fierce competition for the part of the infamous smuggler.
Ford told Rolling Stone the studio had narrowed down their choices to two separate “trios” of actors. He was in one, Christopher Walken was in the other.
When met with surprise over this bit of trivia Ford was quick to defend the casting choice, saying he could absolutely see Walken piloting the Millennium Falcon. While that’s certainly a gracious point of view, we’re glad Ford shot first.
11. Michelle Pfeiffer Or Meg Ryan As Clarice Starling
Jodie Foster captured audiences from a young age with her wise-beyond-her-years performances in movies featuring super heavy subject matter, such as Taxi Driver.
Even Bugsy Malone with its silly ice cream guns and retro vibe managed to show off Foster’s incredible acting chops. You would think she would have been a lock for the role of fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling in the stupendously creepy Silence Of The Lambs, but she was far from it.
Producers had an eye on Michelle Pfeiffer from the very beginning, but Pfeiffer found the source material too dark. From there, director Jonathan Demme moved on to Meg Ryan, who was reportedly “offended” that she, the then-queen-of-romantic-comedies would be considered for such a terrifying film.
Despite Foster already lobbying hard for the part, Demme attempted to cast Laura Dern, only to find the actress wasn’t famous enough for the studio’s liking at that time. Foster was finally given the shot she rightfully deserved, and the rest is movie magic history.
10. Courtney Cox As Rachel Greene
Friends is iconic in more ways than one. They truly cared for each other behind-the-scenes, insisting on approaching salary negotiations in an all-for-one manner.
They set trends (The Rachel) and dominated tabloids with their romantic exploits (Brad Pitt, anyone?). However, mostly, they were known for being part of a beloved sitcom with perfect casting. Of course, that almost wasn’t the case, and we have Courtney Cox to thank for saving the whole darn thing.
As hilariously perfect as Cox was in the role of bossy germaphobe Monica Gellar, NBC had different plans. The network initially insisted that Cox play Gellar’s best friend and roommate, Rachel Greene. Cox recognized the error of the network’s ways and asked for the part of the neat freak instead.
9. John Travolta As Forrest Gump
For a while there, John Travolta was everywhere. A series of weak film choices may have tarnished his star a little, but the fancy-footed actor seems to have gotten back on track with prominent (and well-received) roles in projects like the upcoming Gotti and American Crime Story.
While we can probably say with some confidence that avoiding Battlefield Earth would have prevented such a devastating lull in Travolta’s career, it’s hard to imagine what the Hollywood landscape would like had he not turned down the role of Forrest Gump.
Tom Hanks became the first actor in 50 years to win two Oscars in a row thanks to his turn in the film of the same name in 1994. However, that doesn’t mean Travolta was slacking off, he was busy creating a slew of Hollywood’s most iconic movie moments ever Pulp Fiction that very same year.
While we can’t imagine this little slice of film history turning out any differently, Travolta has been kicking himself for passing over this role ever since.
8. Sean Connery As Hannibal Lecter
OK, Jodie Foster may have been a lock as Clarice Starling, but her no-nonsense agent, while iconic in her own right, will always be remembered as a distant second to the dangerous charm of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. While it’s almost understandable, that Jonathan Demme would overlook Foster for the hugely famous (and also wonderfully talented) women on his Lambs shortlist, passing up Hopkins as Lecter is downright head-scratching.
Thankfully, Hopkins was much higher on Demme’s list than Foster, but Hopkins was still the director’s second choice after Sean Connery. Demme thought Connery was “fiercely intelligent” with a sense of “serious physicality” that would absolutely do the part of Lecter justice. Just like the ladies who turned down the role of Starling, Connery found the Lambs script to be “disgusting” and shot down the role right away.
7. Hugh Jackman As Jack Sparrow
Apparently, Hugh Jackman is Hollywood’s go-to guy for… everything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Jackman is certainly a tremendous Hollywood talent.
That’s why screenwriter Stuart Beattie wrote the role specifically with Jackman in mind and even claimed to have named the character after his intended portrayer. As fate would have it, Disney would go on to turn down Pirates Of The Caribbean for ten straight years before finally giving Beattie’s script a shot.
Johnny Depp nailed his off-kilter performance of the crazy-like-a-fox captain, sending any and all doubts that he could handle the blockbuster role out to sea.
Sadly, both Depp and the Pirates franchise, in general, continued on to a fall from grace. Depp thanks to domestic violence accusations and legal troubles, and Pirates thanks to… well, dragging a tired franchise on for five films. Jackman seriously dodged a bullet here.
6. Bob Hoskins As Wolverine
Did we say Hugh Jackman was Hollywood’s go-to for everything? While that certainly seems to have been the case, it wasn’t so for Jackman’s most iconic role-to-date: Wolverine. Yep, Jackman wasn’t always in the running to play Wolfie, comic book writer, Chris Claremont, had his own fantasy cast in mind for his story.
Claremont had wanted to see an X-Men movie starring Angela Basset as Storm (no arguments here) and imagined the lovable Bob Hoskins as the adamantium-clawed Logan. Claremont felt Hoskins was “short and feral” just like Wolverine.
Claremont and Stan Lee actually pitched the X-Men idea to James Cameron, who Claremont hoped would produce while his then-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, would direct. Cameron had a different superhero in his sights, Spider-Man, and the pitch quickly lost steam.
5. John Cusack Or Matthew Broderick As Walter White
When Bryan Cranston was announced as the actor attached to play drug-dealing, wife-abusing Walter White, the world let out a collective, “Wait, what?” Cranston, with his comedic background and dopey, neglected dad roles, seemed like a total fish out of water as the intimidating Heisenberg.
Boy, were we all wrong. Cranston was a perfect fit in the powerhouse role… which leads us to wonder whether or not AMC may have been on to something with their original choices for the part.
AMC initially had interest in two ’80s romantic comedy icons for Walter White: John Cusack and Matthew Broderick. Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, was adamant that the network give Cranston a shot, insisting the goofball actor had the props to pull off the nuanced role.
4. Will Smith As Neo
For a few magical summers, we knew there were two things in life that were certain: death and a Will Smith Independence Day weekend blockbuster. Smith proved himself more than capable of carrying an action flick, making him the natural first choice to play to play Neo in The Matrix trilogy.
He turned down the role, though, because he was already attached to the critical failure Wild, Wild West. However, Smith never once regretted his choice. He very humbly admitted that Keanu Reeves was great in the role and that he believed he would have “messed it up” had he actually been in the films.
3. Marilyn Monroe As Holly Golightly
Audrey Hepburn was a superstar in her own right long before Breakfast At Tiffany’s. But the spirited role of Holly Golightly, the original manic pixie dream girl, cemented her as a fashionable Hollywood icon forever. Yet, it was almost another type of Hollywood bombshell who almost inhabited the svelte socialite’s skin.
The original book’s author, Truman Capote, envisioned vintage vixen Marilyn Monroe as the star of the film adaptation, a thought many considered to be an “idiosyncrasy” of the eccentric author’s.
However, Capote had been good friends with Monroe for years before the film, so it’s likely his interest in casting her was more than just silly fancy. Still, it’s hard to envision Monroe’s seductive confidence in the awkwardly depressed Golightly. Hepburn was truly inspired casting in this film.
2. Matthew McConaughey As Jack Dawson
Titanic was the shipwreck film that launched a thousand schoolgirl crushes. Leonardo DiCaprio had been a successful (and talented) child actor for nearly two decades before the serendipitous role of Jack Dawson came along.
However, DiCaprio’s charming and carefree performance as the doomed lover was the role that really shot him to the top of the Hollywood ladder, a perch he’s enjoyed ever since.
Despite the obvious popularity of DiCaprio’s ragamuffin character, he wasn’t actually the first choice for the role. Kate Winslet revealed that she had originally auditioned with Matthew McConaughey, who was the studio’s preferred actor.
1. Thomas Jane As Rick Grimes
Andrew Lincoln almost seems to have a kinship with The Walking Dead‘s Sheriff Rick Grimes, but he wasn’t the series developer, Frank Darabont’s, first choice to play popular zombie slayer. That honor went to Darabont veteran, Thomas Jane.
Darabont has a habit of recycling actors in multiple films. Melissa McBride (Carol), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), and Laurie Holden (Andrea) were all featured in Darabont’s emotional adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist in 2007, as was Jane.
Luckily for Lincoln (and AMC, for that matter), Jane was busy starring in HBO’s Hung, sparing him from the dangers of the zombie apocalypse. Darabont went on record saying he felt “doomed” when he realized Jane wouldn’t be able to commit to the series, but his tune quickly changed when Lincoln came in to audition.
Can you think of any other famous actors who nearly played iconic roles? Sound off in the comments!
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