22 Actors Who Almost Didn't Get Cast in Their Breakout Role
A TV or movie character is only as iconic as the actor who plays them. And while some characters were written with certain actors in mind, others didn't exactly have an easy time scoring their career-making role. Some actors were almost passed up for bigger names. Some were initially dismissed because they had bad auditions or the wrong "look." There are even actors who almost missed out on their big break because they doubted their own abilities. We've rounded up notable actors who almost didn't get their biggest roles, and you may be surprised by some of the people who were close to missing their chance.
Chrissy Metz as Kate Pearson on This Is Us
Though Chrissy Metz was pretty much born to play the role of Kate Pearson on This Is Us, NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke almost cast a very different actress for the part. During a September 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Salke revealed that the role of Kate had come down to Metz and a similarly unknown but significantly thinner actress. "The other actress was a sort of 'Hollywood overweight person,' struggling with losing, maybe, 20 pounds," Salke said, and it was Metz's authenticity and honesty that landed her the part.
Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out
Before appearing in Black Panther, Widows, and Queen & Slim, among others, Daniel Kaluuya got his big break playing Chris Washington in Jordan Peele's thriller Get Out. However, Peele originally had his doubts about casting a British actor in a movie centered around the American Black experience with racism. During a panel for the nominees of the BAFTA Rising Star Award in February 2018, actor Timothée Chalamet told Kaluuya he "thought it was fascinating when you said Jordan really wanted to cast you, but the only thing he was nervous about was you weren't American, and that you were British."
"Yeah, it was a lot of that because I think in America, they don't really know stuff which happens outside of America," Kaluuya joked in response, later adding, "Basically, [Peele] didn't know the Black British experience. Because a lot of people don't. I think a lot of people in England don't. So then, he just asked me a couple of questions and I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, I know. I know what's happening.'"
Lucy Liu as Ling Woo on Ally McBeal
Lucy Liu's big break came when she played lawyer Ling Woo in Ally McBeal. Surprisingly, Liu almost decided to appear in a play rather than accept the life-changing role. As Liu told Metro in January 2014, "I had auditioned for a more regular role on Ally McBeal and I didn't get it, but then they came back a few weeks later with this guest star role, and at the same time I was being offered a play. The TV role was only eight days' work; the play was running for three months and I wanted to do the play because it was more artistic."
Luckily, her manager insisted she take the part of Ling Woo. "She told me I was going to pass on the play that time and I was going to do this show, and that was that," Liu added. "Then, of course, it became such a part of the zeitgeist and changed my career."
Gabourey Sidibe as Claireece "Precious" Jones in Precious
It's hard to imagine someone besides Gabourey Sidibe playing the titular role of Claireece "Precious" Jones in Precious, but producers initially had a bigger name in mind for the role: Jennifer Hudson. However, after portraying Effie White in Dreamgirls, Hudson wasn't interested in taking on another character whose weight played a significant role in her story. In her 2012 book, I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down, Hudson wrote, "As much as I was moved by this film, I wanted to try a role that had nothing whatsoever to do with my weight." Later, after auditioning 500 women, director Lee Daniels finally discovered Sidibe.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave
When Chiwetel Ejiofor was first offered the part of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave — his biggest role to date by far — he wasn't sure he could handle the responsibility of the weighty role. As he told BBC in January 2014, "When I read the script, I thought it was an extraordinary story but I did feel the weight and the responsibility of it. I didn't want to be the guy that messed it up . . . so to be handed that kind of opportunity and the responsibility of telling [Northup's] story — I just questioned myself and was stuck for a moment with the questions of whether I could do that." Of course, the Academy Award nomination he later scored made it clear that the role was meant to be.
Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men
Thanks to Mad Men, we have Jon Hamm, but the role of Don Draper could have gone to a few different actors, including 1922's Thomas Jane and Younger's Peter Hermann. During an October 2011 appearance on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, Hamm revealed that Jane reportedly passed on the part because he "does not do television," though (as Hamm pointed out) Jane went on to star in HBO's Hung.
Christina Wayne, a former senior executive at AMC, also told TV Guide in July 2017 that AMC executives needed some convincing to cast Hamm. "Matt originally sent us tapes of Jon Hamm and Mariska Hargitay's husband [Peter Hermann]," Wayne said of Mad Men creator Matt Weiner. "Those were his two choices and he said he was leaning more towards Jon. We were like, 'Really? This is the guy you want?' It was not a particularly great audition." Pilot director Alan Taylor added that he was turned off by "Jon's handsomeness" as well. "It was only after we started to work with him and see that there was a kind of sadness and vulnerability . . . that I started seeing that side of him," Taylor said.
Corey Hawkins as Andre "Dr. Dre" Young in Straight Outta Compton
For the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, rapper Dr. Dre reportedly wanted Michael B. Jordan to play him, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Unfortunately, Jordan had already accepted the role of the Human Torch in the (ill-fated) Fantastic Four reboot, so he wasn't available at the time. Instead, the role went to a rookie actor, Juilliard grad Corey Hawkins, who has since starred in 24: Legacy, BlacKkKlansman, and 6 Underground, among others.
Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera in Knives Out
Since appearing in Knives Out, Ana de Armas has become one of Hollywood's fastest rising stars. That's why you might be surprised to learn that she almost turned the part of Marta Cabrera down because she didn't like how the character was initially pitched to her. During a February 2020 interview with Vanity Fair, de Armas explained how Marta was initially described as little more than "Latina caretaker, pretty," which didn't exactly appeal to her, as Latina characters so frequently lack depth and characterization. "Or else it's 'sexy with a temper.' And it's who we are," she said. "There's nothing wrong with it so long as it's not only that." Thankfully, the actress eventually changed her mind.
Henry Golding as Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians
Henry Golding's career took off in a big way after he landed the part of Singaporean heartthrob Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians, but he almost got replaced. During an April 2018 interview with Unreserved, Golding — who started off his career as a presenter for BBC's The Travel Show — confessed that he initially said no to the career-making role, even as he was urged to audition.
"I was asked to audition three or four times, but I turned it down because I was like: 'You know, I'm sure I'm not suitable. I'm a presenter. I'm sure they want an actual actor who they can market. They are not going to get somebody new.' So I kinda turned it down," he explained to Esquire in September 2018. And we couldn't be more grateful that he later took a chance on himself.
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope on Scandal
When the role of Scandal's DC fixer Olivia Pope was written, producers initially had Nashville's Connie Britton in mind. However, show creator Shonda Rhimes stepped in and insisted that the role of Olivia — who was inspired by real-life lawyer Judy Smith — belonged to a Black actress. "When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, 'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.' I said, 'It would be, except Olivia Pope is black,'" Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter in April 2017.
After testing Kerry Washington, Jill Scott, and Anika Noni Rose, Washington was eventually cast, making her the first Black woman to play the lead in a TV drama in 37 years. "It was Kerry from the moment I took her to meet Shonda," casting director Linda Lowry recalled to THR.
Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl
Lonely boy Dan Humphrey may not have been Penn Badgley's first role, but it was definitely the one that put him on the map. Of course, he wasn't the only actor up for the part and, according to casting director David Rapaport, he wasn't the first pick, either. In an April 2019 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rapaport admitted that Alden Ehrenreich from Solo: A Star Wars Story was initially his top choice. "Before Penn was involved, I desperately wanted Alden Ehrenreich to play Dan," he said. However, the actor ultimately lost the part because producers decided he was too short compared to costar Blake Lively.
Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove in Monster's Ball
Thanks to her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster's Ball, Halle Berry became the first (and, as of now, only) Black woman to win the Academy Award for best actress. However, the part almost went to Angela Bassett, who decided to turn down the part because she found the role demeaning. "I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film," she told Newsweek in June 2002. "I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality." Later, she added, "I can't and don't begrudge Halle her success. It wasn't the role for me, but I told her she'd win, and I told her to go get what was hers."
Apparently, Vanessa Williams was also up for the role, but since she'd just had a baby, she wasn't comfortable accepting the role. In a July 2014 episode of Oprah's Master Class, Williams said, "I just had a baby, and I was like, 'I am not getting naked in front of a crew of people at this time!'" Later, she added, "I saw [Berry] win the Academy Award, I was happy for her, but given a different set of circumstances, I might have done that role."
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones
Before Emilia Clarke was cast as the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones, actress Tamzin Merchant from The Tudors was actually picked for the role. Merchant even played Daenerys Targaryen on the first pilot made for the show, but showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff ended up reconsidering. Eventually, Emilia Clarke was eventually tapped to replace Merchant and the pilot was reshot. "Emilia was the only person we saw — and we saw hundreds — who could carry the full range that Daenerys required," Weiss and Benioff explained to Vanity Fair in May 2018. "Young actors aren't often asked to play a combination of Joan of Arc, Lawrence of Arabia, and Napoleon."
Steve Carell as Michael Scott on The Office
It's hard to remember a time when Steve Carell wasn't famous, and it's pretty much impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role of Michael Scott on The Office. However, the president of NBC Entertainment at the time, Kevin Reilly, had a different actor in mind for the role: Billions actor Paul Giamatti. However, the actor declined. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman was also offered the role, and he, like Giamatti, turned it down.
Even after Carell was taken into consideration, the role almost went to Better Call Saul actor Bob Odenkirk due to scheduling conflicts. Carell had signed on to appear in the NBC sitcom Come to Papa around the same time The Office was finding its cast, and Odenkirk was even presented as a member of the cast when the series was pitched to NBC.
But then Come to Papa was canceled after four episodes, and Carell jumped at the chance to join The Office near the very end of the casting process. "Bob has an edge to him," casting director Allison Jones later told Andy Greene, author of The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. "His take on Michael was just as funny as Steve's, but it was darker . . . The worst thing I ever had to do is tell Bob Odenkirk's agent that he didn't get The Office."
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Though Jennifer Lawrence first proved her acting chops in 2010 Winter's Bone, it was her role as arrow-slinging Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games that really skyrocketed her to fame. She beat out several actresses for the role — including Hailee Steinfeld, Shailene Woodley, and Abigail Breslin, just to name a few — but she almost turned it down out of fear. In fact, it took her three days to say yes after she was offered the part.
"I called my mom and she called me a hypocrite, because when I was doing indie movies and everyone was asking why I didn't do studio movies, I said, 'The size of the movie doesn't matter.' And she said, 'Here's a movie you love and you were thinking of turning it down because of its size,'" Lawerence explained to The Hollywood Reporter in February 2012. "I thought, 'I don't want to miss out because I'm scared. Me being scared, I never want that to stop me from doing something.' But I knew in my heart that I wanted it — it was about working out all the fears." And we're very glad she did!
Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City
If the creators of Sex and the City had it their way, Dana Delaney would have played the lead role of sex writer Carrie Bradshaw rather than Sarah Jessica Parker. "It's something I've never mentioned, but the show's creator Darren Star asked me to play Carrie," Delany told The Daily Mail back in October 2008, but she ultimately decided she wasn't comfortable with the show's sexual content and joined the cast of Desperate Housewives instead.
Riverdale's Mädchen Amick — who previously starred on Central Park West as Carrie Fairchild — also had the chance to play the Manolo Blahniks-loving icon. Her character was being spun off into her own series, which ultimately became Sex and the City, and Amick received the offer to continue playing her character. However, as she revealed on Live With Kelly and Ryan in January 2019, she turned it down to be with her young kids. Though SJP was already known from her roles in Square Pegs, Footloose, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, among others, her Sex and the City role turned her into a bonafide star.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Thor
Due to a not-so-great audition, Chris Hemsworth almost lost his chance to play the god of thunder. Even worse: he almost lost the part to his younger brother. "Months went by and then my brother, my little brother, Liam, was in Australia and sent a tape across and he got a call back, then another call back and then was down to the last kind of four or five people for it," Hemsworth revealed in a September 2017 interview with W. "I came in kind of with a little, I guess, motivation and maybe frustration that my little brother had gotten further than me." When he did finally get a callback, Hemsworth delivered and landed the role.
Hemsworth had also come "very close" to landing the title role in GI Joe at the time (as he told Variety in May 2019), which would have kept him from taking on Thor.
Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy
Grey's Anatomy without Sandra Oh? Totally unimaginable. But in her 2015 book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Shonda Rhimes confessed that — just like with Scandal — the role almost went to the wrong actress. Before Oh's audition, the team was pushing to cast a particular actor, and Rhimes just wasn't sold.
"I, too, thought she was great," Rhimes said of the actor. "But I did not want to cast her. Now I know what I did not know then — at this level, everyone is a great actor; there are no bad actors, there are just actors who do not fit your vision. This actor was just . . . not the key that fit the lock that turned the story in my brain." The next day, the team met Oh, and the rest is history.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson in Titanic
If the producers of Titanic had gone with their initial favorite, Matthew McConaughey would have played the iconic role of the ill-fated artist Jack Dawson. During an appearance on Watch What Happens Live in January 2019, McConaughey revealed that he'd auditioned for the role of Jack and felt certain he'd landed the role. "The audition went really well," McConaughey told host Andy Cohen. "Well enough that you get outside and call your agent and go, 'I nailed it.'" However, he said rumors that he got the role and ultimately turned it down are false — DiCaprio beat him out fair and square.
Even after director James Cameron was blown away by DiCaprio's audition, DiCaprio was hesitant to play a traditional romantic lead role. "His character doesn't go through torment, and Leo previously and subsequently in his career was always looking for that dark cloud," Cameron told People in April 2012. "It became my job to convince him that it was a challenge to do what Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart did in previous generations, to stand there and be strong and hold the audience's eye without seeming to do very much. Only when I convinced him that was actually the harder thing to do that he got excited."
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde
The role of sorority girl-turned-Harvard Law student Elle Woods, which made Reese Witherspoon a household name, was almost given to a different actress. Christina Applegate was shown the script before Witherspoon, but — as she'd just finished her run on Married With Children, where she played a ditzy blonde — she was afraid of being typecast. "I got scared of kind of repeating myself," Applegate explained to Entertainment Tonight in July 2015. "What a stupid move that was, right?"
Producers at MGM weren't convinced Witherspoon was a good fit for Legally Blonde after seeing her in 1999's Election, where she played overeager student Tracy Flick. "My manager finally called and said, 'You've got to go meet with the studio head because he will not approve you. He thinks you really are your character from Election and that you're repellent,'" Witherspoon told The Hollywood Reporter in December 2019. Obviously she was able to change his mind.
Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green on Friends
It's hard to imagine anyone else playing Rachel Green on Friends, but apparently, the role could have gone to Saved by the Bell's Tiffani Thiessen, who also auditioned to play Rachel. During an October 2018 appearance on Nikki Glaser's SiriusXM show, Thiessen revealed that she did a screen test but ultimately wasn't the right fit, as she was only 20 at the time. "I was just a little too young," she explained. "I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them."
Even after producers decided that they wanted Jennifer Aniston, scheduling conflicts kept her from committing. Before getting cast on Friends, Aniston landed a role in the CBS comedy Muddling Through, and according to her contract, she wasn't allowed to be on any other shows unless Muddling Through was canceled. "The fear was that we would shoot four or five [episodes], and CBS, just to screw with NBC, would pick up Muddling Through, and then we would have to recast and reshoot the first five episodes," co-creator David Crane explained to The Wrap in June 2018.
According to Saul Austerlitz's book, Generation Friends, NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield purposefully aired TV movies adapted from Danielle Steel novels in the same time slot as Muddling Through in order to ensure its cancellation. The plan worked: the CBS sitcom was canceled due to low ratings, and Aniston was able to commit to Friends.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni Jean in Beyond the Lights
Since getting cast as Noni Jean in Beyond the Lights, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has gone on to appear in Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and The Morning Show, among several others, but she was almost denied the breakthrough role. During a July 2015 interview with VODzilla.co, Beyond the Lights writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood explained that — because Mbatha-Raw isn't a trained singer and was an unknown actress at the time — Prince-Bythewood had to fight to get her the part.
"The issue was that she wasn't a star," Prince-Bythewood said of Mbatha-Raw. "She was unknown and the studio that I was at said I couldn't cast her. But as a director, your talent is in your choices, and I knew in my gut that Gugu was right for the part, so we parted ways, the studio and I, and I started going to other studios, trying to get it set up again with Gugu in the lead. We kept getting turned down, really for that reason, just that she wasn't a star and they didn't want to bank millions of dollars on someone that was unproven. But, finally Relativity, which is a smaller studio, and BET as well, stepped up, recognized her talent, and paid for the film."