A recent deep-dive article dedicated to the 20th anniversary of John Woo’s Face/Off reveals a very interesting alternate version of that film, with Nicolas Cage potentially having gone up against a young Johnny Depp instead of John Travolta.
There was a time pre-Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland movies when Depp was an underrated gem of a performer, with diverse performances in films like Donnie Brasco, Ed Wood, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? setting him on a path to stardom. The studios recognized this talent and appeal early in Depp’s career, and with these past attempts to push him toward leading man status comes an interesting bit of trivia regarding the Nicolas Cage/John Travolta action hit Face/Off.
20 years after its release, Shortlist explored the making of the action thriller. An interview with screenwriter Michael Colleary reveals that in the carousel of directors and stars attached to the project, Depp was considered for the John Travolta role when Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla was attached, but chose not to do the film because of a misunderstanding about the movie’s plot:
“Around this time, Paramount were trying to turn 27-year-old Johnny Depp into a movie star. The studio said that they would only agree to including Nicolas Cage – who wanted to be in the film – if Depp could star opposite him. After finally reading the script, however, Depp refused to take part. Having read the title he thought the film would be about hockey. He was disappointed when he discovered that it was not about hockey. He was out – and with him so was Brambilla.”
For those who don’t know, Face/Off was directed by John Woo in 1997 and stars Nicolas Cage as a terrorist and John Travolta as a government agent in a game of cat and mouse that becomes so complicated they physically switch faces. While the plot has no relation to sports, the benefit of the doubt can be given to Depp that the title does resemble something like a hockey film.
It’s unclear whether Depp took a meeting to have the concept described to him beyond the title, but it seems like a bit of blessing in disguise that he had little interest in the film. As adversaries, Travolta and Cage match each other’s unique manic energy fantastically, and Face/Off wouldn’t be as memorable as it is without their performances and the direction of Woo, who wouldn’t have been involved if Depp had gone through with the project.
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