Seth Rogen says that Nicolas Cage came very close to playing the villain in the 2011 Green Hornet movie. Rogen starred as Britt Reid aka. Green Hornet in the film, based on a script that he cowrote with his longtime partner Evan Goldberg. The movie's villain was ultimately portrayed by Christoph Waltz, with Jay Chou costarring as the Hornet's highly skilled sidekick Kato and Cameron Diaz rounding out the main cast as Reid's secretary, Lenore "Casey" Case.
Directed by Michel Gondry, Green Hornet earned lukewarm reviews and took in $228 million at the global box office, against a $120 million budget. It's generally agreed the film has its inspired moments, but struggles to blend Rogen and Golberg's trademark buddy action/comedy style with Gondry's quirky and surreal storytelling. If nothing else, the movie would have been even kookier had Cage been brought on to play the villain... or more specifically, if Rogen and Goldberg had gone along with Cage's idea for the role.
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In an interview with Vulture, Rogen confirmed that Cage came "really close" to playing the villain in Green Hornet. However, Cage wanted to play the character (mobster Benjamin Chudnofsky) as a "white Bahamian or Jamaican" and even showed off his accent for the role to Rogen and his collaborators on the film over dinner. While Rogen thought the accent was "good", he admitted that was the beginning of the end for Cage's involvement with the movie:
"[I] think he could so viscerally tell that we didn’t like the idea that he just left right in the middle of dinner. He was just like, “I gotta go.” It was as if I just stood up right now with you and walked out. That’s how abrupt it was. Then he called me two days after that and said, “I’m getting the sense that you don’t want me in this movie.” That’s what happened. But God bless Nicolas Cage. I’m a huge fan."
Looking back, Green Hornet represents an interesting stage in the evolution of the superhero and comic book genre. Shared universes hadn't taken off yet (this was pre-Avengers, after all), so Green Hornet was more standalone and self-contained compared to most superhero films released today. Studios were still figuring out much they wanted these movies to be filmmaker-driven then too, which is how the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Mood Indigo wound up working on a $100 million movie about a costumed crime-fighter in the first place (to mention nothing of Rogen's outside the box casting as Britt Reid).
Waltz's portrayal of Benjamin Chudnofsky as a villain who, in essence, has a mid-life crisis is likewise something one wouldn't expect to see in a mainstream superhero romp today. Cage's idea for the role is even more out there, so it's not surprising that he was quick to realize the minds behind Green Hornet weren't necessarily all in on the concept. Regardless, this is another fascinating anecdote to add to the pile of stories about would-be Nicolas Cage superhero projects, along with all the tales about his infamous abandoned Superman Lives movie.