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Many movie roles come together naturally. The actress or actor the creatives have in mind want the part and is available. Everything seems to fall into place from the beginning as if it was meant to be. Examples of these pairings are Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’ with Bill Murray and Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ with Ralph Fiennes.
However, sometimes the person in mind for the role isn’t able to do the job. It can be because of scheduling conflicts, or sometimes they just don’t like the part. Whatever the reason, they pass on the role, and it has to be played by someone else. Ultimately, the actor who steps up turns out to be the perfect fit, and it feels like the character couldn’t have been portrayed by anyone else.
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Below is our list of some of the actors and actresses who made roles iconic after others passed on it.
Wolverine: Hugh Jackman (Dougray Scott) — ‘X-Men’
Hugh Jackman wasn’t even the second choice for Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men’. According to a Yahoo! Entertainment article, Russell Crowe was Singer’s first choice. Crowe passed on the role and recommended fellow Aussie, Jackman. First, Singer offered the part to Dougray Scott, a more known quantity at the time, but because of scheduling conflicts with ‘Mission: Impossible II’, Scott had to pull out of the role. Jackman was then given the part and made it hard to imagine another actor ever releasing the claws.
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen (Stuart Townsend) — ‘The Lord of the Rings’
While the story of why Stuart Townsend was fired from ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ isn’t clear, the fact is he was fired a day before filming was due to commence. The much older Viggo Mortensen, who took the role with encouragement from his son, replaced Townsend as Aragorn. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy won seventeen Oscars and is a landmark in Cinema. Mortensen’s Aragorn was a crucial component of the success of the films.
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Morpheus: Laurence Fishburne (Sean Connery) — ‘The Matrix’
Initially, the role of Morpheus was offered to Sean Connery. He turned down the part because he didn’t understand the script. Laurence Fishburne ultimately was cast as the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar. Unfortunately, Fishburne’s Morpheus is not returning to the new installment in ‘The Matrix’ series. However, his performance in the first three Matrix movies established an iconic character in film history.
Miyagi: Pat Morita (Various) — ‘The Karate Kid’
In a Television Academy Foundation interview, Morita described how the higher-ups didn’t want him for the role of Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’. He was viewed as a comedian and a comedic actor who wasn’t right for the part. Morita credited the efforts of director John G. Avildsen in regards to him getting the role of Miyagi. They had gone through many actors in the audition process, and finally, Morita was given a chance to read for the part. He did a pretty okay job.
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Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson(Emily Blunt) — ‘Iron Man 2’
‘Iron Man 2’ was not the most successful film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, it was crucial for the introduction of the prominent character, Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow. Emily Blunt was initially considered for the role but was contracted to something else at the time. Johansson stepped up to fill the prominent Marvel character’s shoes and established herself as a fan favorite for the rest of her run in the series.
Michael Corleone: Al Pacino (Jack Nicholson) — ‘The Godfather’
While some actors regret passing on major roles, Jack Nicholson doesn’t regret the decision of turning down the part of Michael Corleone. Instead, Nicholson decided to star in ‘Chinatown.’ The performance earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars, while Al Pacino launched his career in ‘The Godfather’. Corleone was Pacino’s third role in a feature film and is arguably one of his best. It certainly was the first of many.
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Precious: Gabourey Sidibe (Jennifer Hudson) — ‘Precious’
Gabourey Sidibe’s first role in film was a breakout performance in ‘Precious’. It is hard to think of anyone else portraying the character of Precious with the skill and depth Sidibe brought to the part. Jennifer Hudson was in consideration for the role but ultimately decided to pass on it. The film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Sidibe, and went on to win two.
Han Solo: Harrison Ford (Al Pacino) — ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’
Al Pacino was the beneficiary of Jack Nicholson turning down ‘The Godfather’, and Pacino passed on the karma when he turned down the role of Han Solo in ‘Star Wars’. Many were considered for the part, but it ultimately went to Harrison Ford. At the time, Ford was making a living as a carpenter with an eye still on acting. He helped Lucas out by filling in as Han Solo to audition other actors for Luke and Leia. Ford had no expectations of becoming Han.
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Indy: Harrison Ford (Tom Selleck) — ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’
Harrison Ford, again, landed an iconic role in film because another actor passed. Initially, director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas didn’t want to cast Ford as Indiana Jones. Instead, Tom Selleck was the first choice for the role. Selleck was huge in the 1970s, and it was actually because of his contract on the famous show ‘Magnum P.I.’ that meant he couldn’t take the job. Ford was brought in to fill the part of Indy, and it became another iconic role for the actor.
Holly Golightly: Audrey Hepburn (Marilyn Monroe) — ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
Audrey Hepburn is a legendary actress in Hollywood history. She was nominated for five Academy Awards for acting, including one for her performance as Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. The movie was loosely based on the novella by Truman Capote. However, Capote had another famous actress in mind for the role of Holly in Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s mentor, Lee Strasberg, thought the character would be bad for her image, so she turned it down.
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For every role written, there is a possibility of it being turned down. Sometimes that decision is made by an actor or actress for good reasons, and others it becomes a missed chance. Whatever the reason, passing on the role creates an opportunity for another actor to step up. In the above examples, the roles were made iconic by those who filled in.
Undoubtedly, there are examples that were missed. Below is a list of honorable mentions to cover more movie history of iconic roles that were passed over. It is interesting to look into the backstories of roles that were made famous after the first choice opted out and to wonder what could have been. Hopefully, this article gives you a good starting point on the topic.
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James Bond: Daniel Craig (Hugh Jackman)— ‘James Bond’
Leticia Musgrove: Halle Berry (Angela Bassett)— ‘Monster’s Ball’
Neo: Keanu Reeves (Sandra Bullock/Will Smith)— ‘The Matrix’
Forrest Gump: Tom Hanks (John Travolta)— ‘Forrest Gump’
Elle Woods: Reese Witherspoon (Christina Applegate)— ‘Legally Blonde’
Django: Jamie Foxx (Will Smith)— ‘Django Unchained’
Annie: Sandra Bullock (Halle Berry)— ‘Speed’
Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler: Mark Wahlberg (Leonardo DiCaprio)— ‘Boogie Nights’
Harvey Dent: Aaron Eckhart (Matt Damon)— ‘The Dark Knight’
Gandalf: Ian McKellen (Sean Connery)— ‘The Lord of the Rings’
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Drew Alexander Ross writes for Hollywood Insider with the aim of bringing the reader an uplifting and insightful experience. He combines his degree in film and business to show a unique point of view on cinema and his beliefs coincide with Hollywood Insider‘s values of promoting positive and meaningful content. Drew enjoys reading at the pace of one to two books a week and loves movies of all genres. He has placed in several screenwriting competitions and has short stories featured in several different publications.