?Here’s a news flash: most movies take a long time to make. Things that seem to be indisputable elements of a final film may arise at the end of unseen hours of toil, indecision, mass layoffs and complete reboots from scratch. Casting is a notoriously malleable part of film production, and many roles that seem like perfect fits to the movie-going public are really accidents of chance that could have gone a zillion other ways. What’s more, many very famous films have unknown histories in which their choice parts almost went to someone else, for better or worse. Some of these are well known: Eric Stoltz is probably as famous for not getting cast as Marty McFly as anything else, and Tom Selleck’s not entirely terrible Indiana Jones is the stuff of what-if legend.
Why do we care about the road not taken when it comes to movies? Isn’t it water under the bridge by the time it gets to us anyway? Well, yes, but in some cases it’s absolutely heartbreaking what might have been, and keeping these missed opportunities in our hearts is the only way to acknowledge some great performances we will never see. In other cases, we hear that, say, Nicholas Cage could have been Superman, and shiver at the very thought, thanking the Gods for being merciful. But the main reason we revel in such trivia (aside from the fact that it distracts us from real problems, of course) is that it helps us remember how complicated making anything as big as a feature film really us. Also, it gives us a great excuse to dick around in Photoshop. Of course, sometimes the right actor enters the audition with a heavenly beam of light around them and that’s that. Most of the time, they don’t. Here’s your proof.
11) Danny DeVito as Sallah, Raiders of the Lost Ark
?We were robbed, brothers and sisters: the large and boisterous Egyptian excavator could have been played by a tiny foul-mouthed New Yorker in what is one of the most hilariously bits of alternate casting to imagine ever. In fact, DeVito was Spielberg’s first choice, and I’m guessing the character was originally conceived in a mold suitable for his…uh…style. This also would have allowed us the chance to own Mr. DeV in action figure form years before his childhood-destroying turn as the Penguin. Still waiting on that fully articulated Frank Reynolds, by the way.
10) Sissy Spacek as Princess Leia, Star Wars
?The word is that Carrie was casting at the same time, and Spacek and Carrie Fisher auditioned for each other’s roles. While I can see Fisher as Carrie, not just because it’s her name, I can’t really see Spacek working as Leia. She would have been too warm, and lost that toughness that Leia had even when forced to sing weird songs about Wookie Life Day. For a long time there was a rumor that Fisher turned down Carrie because of the nudity, but that’s not actually true (supposedly she said that she loves to be naked and would have done it even then, although that certainly doesn’t jive with what I’ve heard about her experience with the metal bikini). She probably just wasn’t cast, pure and simple, just as Spacek wasn’t.
9) Will Smith as Neo, The Matrix
?As tired as you may be of seeing Will Smith’s giant, front-facing head on billboard ads, he is actually a talented actor as well as a Hollywood favorite. Although he might not seem tonally right for the bleakness of the Wachowskis, this could have been good, provided he made an actual effort to be convincing as a morose hacker/messiah and dialed it down a little bit. Had he been cast, this movie would have had not one but two badass black guys in major roles and could have inspired a whole wave of grad school papers about African-Americans in post-apocalyptic/dystopian science fiction. But to Smith’s credit, he turned it down because he felt he would have “messed it up” and wasn’t ready for a movie this serious. Against Smith’s credit, he opted to make Wild Wild West instead, although I guess that just proves his point. The only major disappointment here is that we didn’t get a chart-topping summer hip-hop hit called “Bullet Time (Black Suits Comin’)” or something to play over the end credits, which of course would have improved the film immensely.
8) Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina as Lister and Rimmer, Red Dwarf
So these both seem like pretty strange choices now, but remember that in the early late ’80s these actors were a few rungs lower on the British acting ladder and less solidified in the public mind. Molina could have worked: despite his dramatic background, he can do comedy and would have made a decent (though somewhat flavorless) Lister. He was apparently cast as Rimmer, which also seems acceptable, maybe a better fit for him. I can see him as dry and stuffy while also being prattish and neurotic. But Rickman? Hard to imagine him fully at home in either role. His Rimmer wouldn’t have been elastic or fallible enough and his Lister would definitely have been too depressing. Maybe it could have succeeded as something, but it wouldn’t have been the show we now know and love. Plus, Rickman got his big cross-continental break as the bad guy in Die Hard around the same time, so it’s not like anyone in this equation missed out.
7) Dustin Hoffman as Deckard, Blade Runner
?I’m a little ambivalent about this one: while this obviously is not a role that plays to Hoffman’s strengths, I’m not convinced it wouldn’t have at least been interesting to watch Rain Man as a jaded Replicant hunter. Apparently his Deckard would have been darker than even Ford’s final version, “a mean and embittered little man”, as producer Michael Deeley says in his memoir. However, it seems Hoffman made one too many demands for re-writes, insisting that his character be put in less physically demanding situations, and the studio gave up and decided they wanted “a real leading man” for the part. Ouch. But you can’t say they didn’t have a point, and again, it’s not as if this really hurt his career.
6) Eddie Murphy as Winston Zeddemore, John Candy as Louis Tully and John Belushi as Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters
?Ghostbusters began life as a completely different project involving time travel and wands and Paul Reubens in a business suit as Gozer. Eddie Murphy’s pass for the Zeddemore character is well-known and was probably not a huge loss as he was poised to become a megastar at the time anyway with Beverly Hills Cop; plus, his absence allowed poor Ernie Hudson a juicy franchise to latch onto. Candy missing out on Tully is a bit of a shame but also probably a good thing, since apparently he really wanted his version of the character to have a thick German accent and several dogs for some reason (probably a Canadian thing). Belushi is perhaps the biggest lost opportunity, but his casting comes from an earlier vision of the film as one of many proposed Aykroyd/Belushi buddy flicks rather than the ensemble comedy it became. Plus, I think we can all agree that Ghostbusters minus Bill Murray = infinite sadness. Speak of the devil…
5) Bill Murray as Han Solo, Star Wars
?In the early casting stages of Star Wars, a whole bunch of now-improbable names were thrown around for the role of the now-iconic intergalactic rogue, and I’m almost positive none of them would have had the tremendous swaggering impact of Harrison Ford. Christopher Walken would have been too sneery and removed, Jack Nicholson too unhinged. Al Pacino would have been… interesting. Out of all of these, though, Murray seems to me the strangest choice, especially at that point in his career. Sure, he proved he can handle the wisecracking/action star combo of something like the Ghostbusters series but even in those films he wasn’t exactly a swashbuckler, nor was he ever meant to be. As much as he may regret the enormous residuals, it’s probably for the best that they kept Murray out of the cockpit, although if he had been cast he might have finally got his lounge lyrics into the theme tune. If you’re really torn up about this, there’s always that fantastic Bill Solo shirt, available at Pop Chart Lab along with a few other alternate Bill Murray shirts. The internet is truly an astounding place.
4) Pamela Anderson as Dana Scully, The X-Files
?Dear God. This is almost too horrible to contemplate, but whatever Pam Anderson has that keeps getting mistaken for sex appeal (I think the technical term is “humongous tits”) almost won her one of the key lead female roles in ’90s television (“You mean ASIDE from Baywatch?” Fuck you). Supposedly one of producers’ key complaints with Chris Carter’s choice of Scully, mousy little Gillian Anderson, was that she wasn’t sexy enough, which is ridiculous considering Gillian became a premier TV sex symbol as a result of her role. In this hot-blooded reporter’s opinion, it’s no contest. Casting the future Mrs. Anderson-Lee would have turned a seminal science fiction program into something odd and incongruous, suitable only for the most masochistic of cult audiences. Either that or it would have been incredibly stupid and formulaic and thus become a hit (we call this the Two and a Half Men route). Fortunately Fox stopped dicking around and picked the right Anderson, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that just this once, breasts the size of mutant eggplants did not win the day.
3) Dan Akyroyd as Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
?If this seems completely outlandish, remember that Hitchhiker’s had a long and weary history of development decades before the meh-inducing final product. In the early ’80s Ivan Reitman was actually originally attached to this project before being wooed away to Ghostbusters by Aykroyd, who was more interested in his own script than whatever they had to go on at the time (years later, something similar would happen with Men in Black, causing much understandable animosity between Douglas Adams and Hollywood). It’s unclear what that original Hitchhiker’s movie would have been but it almost certainly would have sucked, even in the ’80s, and Aykroyd doesn’t quite seem quirky and otherworldly enough to pull off Ford unless he was planning on doing him as a Conehead, so we can definitely file this under “for the best” with a lot of these. Including…
2) Robin Williams as Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
?I for one am heartily glad that this never came to pass, and I’m not even a huge Potter-buff. Williams was reportedly interested in “a couple of parts” in the first film and Warner Bros. certainly pushed for him to be Hagrid, probably giddy with excitement imagining the crinkly-faced comedian adorned in long hair reminiscent of his glory days in Jumanji. Fortunately for most sane human beings, J.K. Rowling declared that the production would use only British actors, singlehandedly saving/revitalizing the careers of anyone even remotely famous and British within a 500 km radius. This included good ol’ Robbie Coltrane, who, prior to this had starred in such mega-hits as Nuns on the Run and was probably looking for half-eaten kebabs at the bottom of a dumpster when they cast him (I keed, of course: he had appeared in two of the Brosnan Bond films and a well-received crime drama, Cracker).
1) Sean Connery as Gandalf, Lord of the Rings
?The universe is a cruel and arbitrary place, and there is stauncher proof of this cruelty than the fact that history will probably record the shitty League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie as Sean Connery’s last live-action performance (I don’t even want to think about Delgo). Hell, if I had been in charge, I would have jumped through whatever hoops necessary just to get the man on board. I’m not arguing that Ian McKellen shouldn’t have played his signature role, but this would have been a fuck of a way for Connery to go out, and also would have apparently netted him six figures and a 10-15 % cut of the entire worldwide box office, allowing him to launch himself into space in a capsule made entirely of diamonds or whatever for the rest of his life (not that he can’t do that already, of course). It also might have drawn in more Boomer-aged audience members less familiar with McKellen and other daunting aspects of Tolkien. However, Connery reportedly didn’t “get” the script and also wasn’t too keen on hanging out in New Zealand with Peter Jackson for 18 months, which is understandable. I just hope it was worth depriving humanity of a Bond vs. Dracula wizard duel.